Review Blog

Dec 21 2015

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Orbit, 2015. ISBN 9780356502120
Adults only recommendation. Anyone who has travelled in the Southern States of America would know that the large cities that sprout in the deserts must have a supply of water to keep them alive amidst the cacti. In The Water Knife we see the future when water becomes such a source of power within the States dependent on the might of the Colorado River that the supply and absence of water leads to major catastrophic social conditions. Southern States become destitute without a regular supply of water and terrorism and the manipulation of power and the subsequent refugee crises go hand in hand. The 'water knife' is an expression to describe the violent 'right hand man' of one of the Power wielders holding onto to water and keeping it from the ordinary people. He is the enforcer, the one who clears the way by any means, to ensure that ultimate control remains in the hands of one ruthless power-wielding water mogul based in Las Vegas.
Only those with power and money (those from rich water-controlling regions including California; and the Chinese whose technological skills have been utilised) can survive in the harsh deserts. Money is not always legally obtained (imagine gangs and thug standover tactics, combined with drug cartels). The moneyed few can buy into the artificial micro-climate facilities (arcologies) that enable almost total recycling of all water. Technologies to enable recycling of all body fluids keeps the poor from total desiccation. But the horror of living in this parched existence, with some excluded from easy access to any water, leads to a lawless world, and kindness and compassion are casualties. In the midst of this we see the lives of several survivors - ordinary people who need to make a living by any means to escape the extortion of local power-lords, and a Journalist who won't let a story go. These stories become linked amidst assassinations, violence, corruption, prostitution; and this is all woven into an amazing story that is powerfully compelling, despite the horror of the descriptive work of Bacigalupi. This is not a book for the faint-hearted or the squeamish. The violence is horrid . . . as is the view of the world that is possible where moral rule seems to have lost its influence, and where dollars rule. Trust is the first casualty, closely followed by compassion.
This is an astonishing and gripping thriller and is very much an adult book. It is a potential map of an apocalypse waiting to come. America beware! Abusive language, extreme violence - including sexual violence including horrific rape, all described in graphic detail – no holds barred - make this an impossible choice for a school library, but it is a compelling book with an author who wields the plot and descriptions of the people enmeshed in the disaster with complete mastery. This book is shocking and yet its window into a potential and disastrous future is so compelling it is difficult to turn away.
Carolyn Hull

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