The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi – action packed and gruesomely violent

I don’t consider myself squeamish, but this was a bit much for me.  I would have liked some warning and so I offer it up first hand.  There is torture, people being eaten by animals, many many guns and very little is left to the imagination.  Just so you know.

The Water Knife reads like an action movie.  The plot is fast-paced and filled with schemes and twists.  It’s fun (if you can get past the violence), but not particularly deep.

Climate change has reduced the west and southwestern states to desert wasteland (so… next monthish?) and what water remains is controlled by government and corporate interests that are indistinguishable from an organized crime syndicate. Only those with money have access to water and those without live in shanty towns living hour to hour. Most will do literally anything for a drink.  The federal government exists, but individual cities and states have become all but sovereign nations with their own corporate militias charged with protecting and expanding their water supply and keeping thirsty civilians out of their territory.  Bacigalupi paints a picture of a dark and violent near future in which human life is worth less than the cost of a liter of water.

So, the premise is right up my alley, but the rest of the novel fails to meet my specs.  The violence is not the only thing that is overdone in this book.  The messaging is too in your face and the plot saving deus ex machina occurs too often.  The characters are perhaps the most disappointing.  They wear their theories about humanity on their sleeves – humans are basically good, humans are basically bad, humans are basically machines programmed to respond to environmental stimuli, humans need each other, and so on… Each character gets a turn to wax philosophical about their beliefs about humanity, but so few of them come accross as even a little bit human.  They are super heroes bouncing back instantly from wounds both physical and psychological to kick ass and take names.  They are zen masters placidly accepting attacks and betrayals as a matter of course.  They are an ex-con with a heart of gold, a journalist with ice in her veins, a kid who’s seen it all and has learned to be tough as nails… They are types.

The premise is great.  The plot is smart enough to keep your brain moving.  The characters and writing are a little thin.  I would call it a beach read if it weren’t so depressing and gory.


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