“The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 384 pages, $15.
“The Water Knife” is not billed as a horror story, but it is terrifying nonetheless.
The story is set in the near future, when water is scarce and has become a luxury good worth fighting and often dying over. The states have become less than unified, with most having their own guard to keep out refugees from areas that have fallen apart. Texas has been pretty much abandoned, and Phoenix is on its way to becoming irrelevant.
The story centers around three main characters.
Angel is the titular water knife who “cuts” water rights for the woman who runs Las Vegas, which has become a literal oasis in the desert. This is where the rich go to block out the wasteland the outside world has become.
Lucy is a journalist who has come to Phoenix to document its collapse, but she finds herself feeling and acting more and more like a resident of the city.
And Maria is a refugee from Texas trying to escape the brutal slums that have been created as cities disappear.
Their stories start to intertwine as they close in on a conspiracy that could affect all of Phoenix, and the violence builds. Beyond the heavy feeling that is constant throughout the book, there are several vivid descriptions of torture some readers may find distasteful.
Despite being a science fiction novel, Bacigalupi’s words feel like a prediction that could easily come true. With California facing extreme drought and the refugee crisis in Europe, the story rings close to home.
— Ellen Zielinski