I remember my first visit, playing mini-golf in the desert in the Eighties, fountains and waterfalls everywhere, thinking “these people are crazy and this place can’t last.” The next day we had to run like hell for the airport. Oh wait, this is a review of The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, which is terrific.

The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi

What happened was, we’d flown from Vancouver to pick up a suitcase full of magtapes (the old reel-to-reel kind you used to see on movie computers) full of source code for some behemoth mainframe thing, you couldn’t possibly transfer that much data over the network. But there were issues. [Will you get to the damn review already? –Ed. Oh, right. –T]

Our book · This is a stylish action-packed page-turner with atmospherics that get out there into William Gibson territory. Phoenix is running out of water fast — the people who want it in Las Vegas and California are meaner and richer and better armed — and choked with refugees from Texas where all the water’s long-gone. Our heroes are a murderous enforcer for Vegas’ water-rights queen (the “water knife”) and a plucky Pulitzer-prize winning journalist (blonde of course).

The postapocalyptica is polished and the plotting totally deft and you gotta love Angel and Lucy. There’s a glaring believability gap in that people suffer grievous gunshot wounds and torture, then bounce back by the day after tomorrow. Also, some will gripe about the ending; I’ll just stay out of spoiler territory and say I thought it fine.

Just like the cliche says, un-put-downable; cost me quite a bit of one night’s sleeping time. 2015’s best sci-fi so far if you ask me, and that includes the latest Expanse outing.

Related works · I’ve previously written about Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, perhaps even more atmospheric than The Water Knife, and similarly with a flavor of environmental devastation.

Starring in The Water Knife is another book, Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, which I read many years ago and now will again.

Oh right, Phoenix · That Eighties trip we had a long evening to while away and so I and my companion Gary, a South African dude with Asian genes who bailed when Chinese were reclassified as white and became eligible for the draft but he didn’t want to die for Boer glory, went mini-golfing, played on way past midnight, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but the next day we started late and he couldn’t get the Phoenix mainframe to co-operate so we didn’t burn rubber out of the corporate parking lot till way too close to plane time and had a sticky time explaining the extra suitcase full of magtapes to officials at both ends of the trip.

But anyhow, a lot of smart people don’t think Phoenix should really be there at all for reasons of hydrology; The Water Knife lays out a totally plausible and very ugly end-game for it. And is a ripping yarn, too.


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June 10, 2015
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