Paolo Bacigalupi is rapidly becoming one of my favorite dystopian authors. I find his bleak visions of the future all too plausible. For me they’re right on the thin edge of horror fic, with scenarios wrought from human greed and lack of foresight. Humans scare me, monsters don’t.
The Water Knife tells the story of the American west in a not-so-distant future when water has become increasingly scarce and water rights are worth billions of dollars in the private market. Angel is the water knife of the title, a man who goes to communities to cut off their water when it no longer belongs to them, turning them into ghost towns, creating waves of refugees which other states turn away at gunpoint. Or kill.
Angel gets involved in a scheme to sell senior water rights to the highest bidder, a scheme that gets him shot saving a journalist from a pair of sadistic thugs who want the rights for themselves. And in the end, we’re left wondering if anyone is going to win this game.
It took me a while to become immersed in the story, but I suspect that had something to do with an unexpected reading slump. However, I did have some trouble with the narrator, whose work was serviceable, but who changed her pronunciation of a word I’d never heard before — cholobi — back and forth from cho-LO-bee, to CHOLO-bee. Yes, it seems like a minor thing, but where it would be simply annoying with a word I was familiar with, in this case it threw me out of the story over and over because I kept thinking “Wait, what?” and “Is there a reason for this?” I even tried looking it up but didn’t get very far. By the end I’d stopped paying attention.
Oh and the sex scenes? So completely uncomfortable that I ended up fast-forwarding through them. One lasted almost an entire chapter, so I’m laying the blame for how they made my skin crawl on the author, not the narrator.
But in the end, the book pulled me in and I finished by racing through chapter after chapter. I had no idea how it would end, and when it did, I felt like it was one of those endings where the author had to do something to break the stalemate, so he did the most expedient thing. It didn’t feel like any sort of ending at all to me.
I sound as if I didn’t like it, but that wouldn’t be true. I just wasn’t entirely satisfied with it. Flawed but interesting.