Paolo Bacigalupi‘s second novel, The Water Knife, continues in the vein of an environmentally damaged future, as in The Windup Girl; but, instead of focusing on fossil fuels and food, water and a drought-ridden southeastern United States are the topics Bacigalupi explores.
In this dystopian landscape, individual states flex their muscles to protect their borders. Texas has collapsed, causing waves of migrants to flee to other states; however, with border patrols in place the Texans are relegated to refugee status. The currency is water and water rights. California dominates the region by ruthlessly securing water rights. In competition with California is Nevada, specifically Las Vegas, which operates paramilitary forces to destabilize competing cities. Imagine Halliburton or Black Water mercenaries working for a city to destroy another American city. That idea is the bulk of The Water Knife.
The novel roughly shifts through three perspectives. Angel, who is a water knife. Basically a hired gun to assassinate all who stand in the way of Las Vegas’ pursuit of water. Lucy is a Pulitzer-winning journalist who has gone native and makes Phoenix her home. Finally, there is Maria, a Texan, teenage refugee living in Phoenix and doing whatever she can to survive. Phoenix itself is more like a war zone. Abandoned, crumbled infrastructure, full of dust and heat are the backdrop for this novel.
The plot of the novel revolves around water rights that are supposedly worth billions of dollars and the dead bodies that pile up in pursuit of them. Do the water rights even exist or is this a fantastic quest based on rumor and hope?
I found The Water Knife to be an enjoyable novel. The characters have depth. The world is wonderfully constructed and the future seems disturbingly possible. Of the world, though, I would have liked to see how the Great Lakes states fared in this new water-driven economy. Maybe it’s because I’m from Michigan, but it seems like those states should have had some mention in the novel.