Book review: The Water Knife (2015)

images (1)Someone elses summary: “In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, detective, leg-breaker, assassin and spy. A Las Vegas water knife, Angel “cuts” water for his boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert, so the rich can stay wet, while the poor get nothing but dust.

When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in drought-ravaged Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist with no love for Vegas and every reason to hate Angel, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas refugee who survives by her wits and street smarts in a city that despises everything that she represents.  With bodies piling up, bullets flying, and Phoenix teetering on collapse, it seems like California is making a power play to monopolize the life-giving flow of a river. For Angel, Lucy, and Maria time is running out and their only hope for survival rests in each other’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only thing for certain is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.” [http://windupstories.com/books/water-knife/]

So, is it any good? I would have to say a definite  yes. Perhaps the believability of the near future vision of the Water Knife is its greatest triumph. It is genuinely frightening, presumably all the more so for anyone who lives in a region of current water scarcity.

However, there are also other things to like about this book. The women in this book are better written. It feels like either someone talked to Paolo Bacigalupi, between the Windup Girl and the Water Knife, about his female characters  or else he just developed this aspect of his own accord. Bacigalupi writes, in the Knife, that Maria realised that she could not expect any of the men in her life to take care of her, or to know any better. I did not mark the passage – so that is just an approximation. But it is nice. Throughout this book the women are effectively written on par with men.

In the Windup Girl, Bacigalupi/Anderson likes Emiko fundamentally because of her otherness; because of her labrador dog DNA; and her impractical skin structure.  In the Water Knife Bacigalupi/Angel likes Lucy because he realises she is not much different from him. They have both seen, learned, and  written or played out stories about the horrors of life in their world. [Spoiler alert!] Actually, I think Paolo Bacigalupi also takes pleasure in having one of the two key female characters shoot the other at the denouement, solely over the issue of water policy/rights. (One could, um,  argue about whether this *really* is a positive step forward in feminist terms… but I liked it.)

Minor quibbles: the characterisation and writing is thrillerish – and racy – with a lot of tough-guy behaviour from his characters. And I dont think it really needs quite so much of this. For me, it detracts a little too much from the believability of the story; a little more human reaction, and human fallibility, would have been more than okay.

Anyway, its good. Very good. I like Bacigalupi and this book a lot.

 

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