Bacigalupi is always for basic needs: in the The Windup Girl, people struggle for food, in the Water Knife it is water as the central driver. Southwest U.S. states like Nevada, California, and Arizona depend on their lifeline in the form of the Colorado River. Refugees try to cross state borders where they dream of enough water. They pay „coyotes“ to lead them, but they dump them dead in the desert, or they are shot by border militia or hung up in razor wire. Two short stories – The Tamarisk Hunter and the newer „Shooting the Apocalypse“ (my review) – led to this novel.
It is a dystopian SF, a so-called „CliFi“ (for climate fiction), set in a very near future with hints to a toothless Britney Spears, which is the least horrific image this novel places in your mind.
Phoenix is a dying city, at the edge of loosing its water rights and simply being cut off from it. Bacigalupi steers three main protagonists through a hunt for those water rights: Angel Velasquez is the eponymous water knife who does the tough operations for a business lady; then there is Lucy Monroe, a Pulitzer winning journalist from the East Coast who settled in Phoenix and writes about the „collapse porn“ of the dying city, mirroring the contemporary ruin porn of Detroit: it is a picture of refugees, spies, narcos, and aid workers. And in between is Maria Villarosa, a teenage Texan refugee.
Bacigalupi cuts very short POVs which seems to be prepared as a script for movie adaption. In fact, it has most elements of a thriller – lots of violence, murder and torture on the edge of horror, prostitution, a couple of sex scenes. Sometimes, it was hard for me to stomach the A Clockwork Orangelike violence. But in the end, the tense plot, the protagonists, and the disturbingly believable setting drew me into the story and I couldn’t let it go.
Relentless, realistic, recommended!