The world changes, but not that much. 2016 looks a lot more like 1976 than anything in the movie Blade Runner. The power of Paolo Bacigaulpi’s novel The Water Knife is there not so much because he nails the future tech (which he does handily), but because he knows how the present gets layered over the past to form the future. One moment, one minute, one year at a time.
Further into the current drought, things have grown worse. There’s a surprise we all see coming. The rich have continued to grow richer and now in the US, the poor and the middle class have become itinerant. Turn off the water in any suburb and you have an instant dystopia sans any futuristic trappings. Angel Velasquez is the man cuts off the water. Lucy is a journalist who is following a story about water. Maria hangs on to life at the bottom of the water barrel. The ties that bind the water go back to the early twentieth century.
Bacigalupi expertly creates a world of enclosed arcologies and desolated post-suburban, post-urban, post-industrial landscapes. It’s intensely depressing because it feels so just-around-the-corner. You pull a couple of plugs and the whole shebang comes apart at the seams. Against this background, Angel finds himself enmeshed in a level of violence generally reserved for the warzones of other countries today.
Having this play out in a recognizably deconstructed America is compelling and terrorizing, and it is to Bacigalupi’s credit that we are engaged with characters trapped in a very recognizable hell. And it’s fun to see a great thriller plot play out in this version of reality, even as it’s filled with a resonance that is generally reserved for endeavors that are generally labeled as literary.
There’s a temptation to label this novel dystopian, but it does not fit the mold. This is not our world gone bad. If the end were near, it would be a relief. As reluctant as we are to admit it, this is our world now. How many summers of rationing are we away from this? When you finish this book, try, just try to water your lawn on a sunny day. Water will come out of the hose! The world of The Water Knife is not a dystopia. It is real life, this moment. Today, yesterday, the day before – that was when we lived in utopia.
Hear my lightning-round interview with Paolo Bacigalupi about The Water Knife by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
Or just listen here:
Hear my in-depth interview with Paolo Bacigalupi about The Water Knife by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
Or just listen here: