I spent a chunk of time in Oregon in the recent past, and a signature note of the time was seeing locals smirk at drought-ridden California next door, and then pointing at snow-capped Mount Hood and grinning that they were just fine for water. This year, twenty of Oregon’s thirty-six counties are in official drought condition, under the lowest snowpack level on record.
I don’t know if Paulo Bacigalupi would agree, but, to me, his new novel THE WATER KNIFE bears the mark of John Brunner’s monolithic works of social science fiction, THE SHEEP LOOK UP and STAND ON ZANZIBAR. THE WATER KNIFE is not as strict in its structure, or as forbidding — it follows a standard thriller-novel structure, following three different people’s lives and then tangling the threads of their stories — but, nonetheless, the near-future coping situations for creeping environmental disaster and the deeply involved observation of their social situations remind me of Brunner’s two great statements. It crackles along as a thriller, and I particularly (predictably?) enjoyed the skein following the journalist Lucy Monroe in a dust-choked Phoenix AZ as it dies of thirst. But the book lives in the details: from people on the street drinking their own piss through water-processing sacs to the legal and physical mechanics of managing and stealing water supplies in an America of permanent drought and existential panic. As a speculation, its accessibility, intelligence and storytelling velocity may make it the most effective near-future warning sign this year.