The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi book review

Paolo Bacigalupi returns to science fiction with The Water Knife

Water Knife

After his acclaimed novel The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi returns to science fiction with this disturbingly plausible and entirely gripping near future tale.

America is ravaged by drought. As the lakes dry and the rivers slow to a dribble, the entire south of the country is divided up into states as the notion of national identity is thrown out of the window. Angel is a ‘Water Knife’, an enforcer for the incredibly powerful Nevada water magnate Catherine Case.

When Catherine sends Angel to Phoenix, Arizona to relieve his colleague, he finds a city in its death throes. He also finds himself caught up in the hunt for a mysterious contract that people are willing to kill for. Together with journalist Lucy Monroe, Angel struggles to navigate the killers, the politicians, and those just trying to stay alive.

It’s hard to read The Water Knife and not think about how timely it feels. With their most precious resource running out, communities crumble as everyone starts looking out number one. Wealth is denoted by water features, bathing and laundry are luxuries. Despite the harsh realities and occasional violence, there is hope to temper this view of humanity.

There’s some excellent hardboiled roots on display here too, beyond the contract MacGuffin. We meet Angel as he’s en route to blowing up a facility, which will ruin countless lives, but he’s a fascinating character who’s more complicated than his job suggests. Similarly, Lucy’s stoic determination to see the story through and her growing realisation that she can no longer separate herself from her subject makes for compulsive reading.

The Water Knife is intricate but accessible, tough but humane. This is superb science fiction that you need to read as soon as possible.