Book Review: “The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Bacigalupi new novel is set in the near future in the Southwest United States, when today’s drought has become chronic and the shortage of water has become desperate.

The wealthy and powerful live in tall, self-contained skyscraper arcologies, powered by abundant solar energy and efficiently recycling water. Everyone else scramble for metered water, the lucky ones with decent filters and masks against the dust and ash from forest fires. It’s horrible.

Not surprisingly, society has broken down, as everyone fights for water, and millions of refugees have no where to flee and exist in relief camps. Ironically, given today’s politics, the borders of Texas and Arizona are sealed by their neighbors, to prevent migration. National Guard and militias patrol the borders of the states, and only those with connections or money can get out.

Bacigalupi tells a tense and violent story of three people, caught up in a complex and lethal search for a treasure worth more than gold—old, senior water rights. If real, they could mean the life or death of whole cities and millions of people. Needless to say, people kill and die for this treasure, not to mention blackmail and betray each other.

I was moved to like many of the characters, and wish they could get out and be safe, though almost no one can be safe. The graphic violence including torture made it difficult to read in some places. The horror is obviously integral to the story (ecological disaster means the end of civil life), but I’m not sure all the details were necessary.

Overall this is an unforgettable read, well written, carefully imagined. I didn’t even mind the lectures about the Cadillac Desert.

By the way, if you willingly move to the desert after reading this book, I think you deserve everything you get.


  1. Paolo Bacigalupi,, The Water Knife, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.


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