I picked up The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi because I loved his award winning 2009 novel, The Windup Girl. Both have to do with a dystopian future where resources are scarce and hoarded by the few.
In the case of The Water Knife, the south-western United States is going through an incredible and destructive water shortage. To make matters worse, water is being hoarded by corporations who claim water rights on rivers and lakes, thereby owning the water and making it difficult for the majority of the population to access unless they are willing to pay large sums of money for it. The novel focuses on three characters; Angel, a mercenary-type character who works for the corporation running Nevada’s water supply, Lucy, a journalist that takes on the plight of the people, and Maria, a poor woman who is looking to escape the Phoenix “thirst” she has grown up in.
While it had many elements that I enjoyed in reading The Windup Girl, I had difficulty in becoming as immersed in the world he was creating. I found the description of the setting minimal and, perhaps because I have never been to that area of the world, found understanding the geography that made water so hard to come by outside of my grasp.
This however made the conflicts around the availability of water no less real to me. Bacigalupi made me reflect on how the drought we deal with in the Lower Mainland are nothing compared to what happens in other areas of the world. I might see an inconvenience in not being able to water my lawn, but I am not worrying about my survival or the survival of my loved ones. The horrible movie Water World had a similar premise, but it was dirt to grow food that was in short supply leading to conflict. This book has also made me listen closely to news reports about Nestlé outbidding the Township of Centre Wellington for their access to a new water supply and the ethical issues surrounding the ownership of water by private corporations. It was this same ownership of water rights that lead to the formation of the water corporations in the book and the water knives that were hired to enforce their ownership and leave people dying of thirst.