Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife (2015)

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi debut novel from 2009 was popular, smart and powerful, but didn’t excite me. I found it a bit grotesque and too full of political anger. And I did not like the ending (that I’m not going to spoil here).

Novel about a world of the future, plagued by environmental collapse, food scarcity and energy shortage, with disastrous consequences for societies, reaching even greater levels of corruption, racism and violence. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? But I couldn’t really care about – or identify with – any of the characters, I  was not wholly convinced by the worldbuilding, and aforementioned ending… still, it was a powerful image, and I respected author’s passion, so I awarded it three stars on Goodreads 😉


The Water Knife has the same passion, but better characters, more thought-through plot, and after the recent leftward shift in my political views – is very emotionally satisfying. Reading about the collapse of America, and with the red states hit the most, due to global warming, just after Trump decided to withdraw from Paris Agreement – priceless.

“If I could put my finger on the moment we genuinely fucked ourselves, it was the moment we decided that data was something you could use words like believe or disbelieve around.”

Amen. Not a new thought, but worth repeating over and over again. Too difficult to comprehend for many. Climate change deniers in our timeline, and Merry Perrys from Water Knife, proud Texans who first refused to do anything to prevent the disaster, and than followed the advice of their former governoor and opted to pray for God to revert the changes. Minor spoiler – it did not help.

So, the US of our world might have some time to wisen up, but their version from Bacigalupi’s vision got their comeuppance. Only, the ones hurt most were, of course, the innocent.

The most shocking part of the book is not that it depicts a broken, failed society. We have quite a lot of them already, in our very real world. But, this time, it’s Phoenix, Arizona. People like us are coping with problems we only see on TV. And the cope the way people in Libya or Afghanistan do today. Society is replaced by a mass of ruthless individuals, political corruption increases tenfold, no one is safe and almost no one can afford to be sympathetic to all the suffering. Impoverished Texans are exploited by human traffickers as cynical and brutal as their predecessors in North Africa AD 2017. Arizona is a place where you trade away your freedom for just a little safety, and rarely get even that.

Welcome to the third world.

While China, in relatively good shape, installs high-tech solar panels to serve the privileged minority of soldiers, corporate executives and humanitarian workers from more fortunate parts of the world.

Oh irony.

This is the game-board where states, cities, gangs and companies fight for what is left of the most crucial resource – water.

By itself, it would be interesting. In the hands of experienced and imaginative writer, who adds interesting characters and decent plot, it turns out to be a very good novel.

Protagonists are flawed, but more human than the ones from Windup Girl. Tired, weary journalist Lucy Monroe, who can’t stop caring about the city and its people, water knife – secret agent and murderer serving Las Vegas – Angelo Velasquez, who turns out to still be human, and minor characters who try to survive, and sometimes try not to hurt other people as they do. Even the ending is very good, not totally surprising, and a little troubling, but as optimistic as possible in this hopeless world. To make you believe there is some room for change…

A good movie adaptation might change some stubborn minds, maybe the Chinese could finance it 😉

It’s a fast paced, violent story taking place in a world roughly sketched to look as frightening as possible, deeply political, but, and that is not always the case, author remembered to make it readable.

Score: 7,5/10

2 thoughts on “Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife (2015)

  1. Hmm, maybe it’s time for another Bacigalupi… I was not fond of The Windup Girl, but I appreciated the author’s undeniable writing talent. If Water Knife is better than The Windup Girl, all the better for us 🙂


  2. Pingback: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future (2020) – Re-enchantment Of The World

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