The Water Knife: Or cyberpunk goes eco-conscious

The Water Knife: A novel - Paolo Bacigalupi

I entered into this book with absurdly high expectations. For one thing I have enjoyed Bacigalupi's other adult novels, as well as his teen book Shipbreaker. And then there is also the fact that I've met Paolo a few times now and find him an absolutely fantastic human being. In fact, I was lucky enough to hear about this book over dinner several years ago when he was just starting it, and I knew it was going to be at the top of my Must Read list once it came out. So yes, absurdly high expectations. And it did not disappoint.


People have continually described this book as a thriller more than a sci-fi book, and I can understand why. Our heroes are somewhat morally ambiguous, as is the world. There's action, gun-play, violence, and explosions. There's corporate intrigue and the hunt for treasure (in the form of water rights). There is the stark contrast between the glossy Haves and the dusty Have Nots. It all felt delightfully familiar while simultaneously unique. And that's when I realized what this book felt like to me, and why I was so tickled - I was reading a cyberpunk book wherein the preoccupation was on climate rather than machines.


Cyberpunk books were big in the 80s and 90s, then they fell away as our technophobia morphed into technological dependance. (If you aren't familiar with the genre think Blade Runner, Johnny Pneumonic, or more recently Minority Report, just to name a few.) The core feel of such works is a Noir-esque gritty world rife with crime, wherein large corporations hold all the cards and the average person is left in the gutter. The Water Knife exemplifies this sort of storytelling, and takes it in a more modern direction shifting the focus away from fear of machines taking over our bodies and lives, and instead putting the focus on climate change, a hostile environment, and a desperate lack of water. If you are familiar with the cyberpunk genre you'll recognize the characters and the world, even though they are all well rounded and richly painted.


With all that in mind, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. I could taste the dust and picture the settings. I was genuinely invested in the fates of the characters. The action was well paced and fun. And I was onboard all the way up to the end, not really knowing where it would end up until the final pages. It's not a perfect book, but it is a great one. If you're in the mood for a dark future thrill ride mixed with plenty of ecological underpinning and a heap of violence then don't miss this one. Water rights have never been so edgy.