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Water covers some seventy percent of our planet’s surface. It is the stuff of life. It isn’t just in oceans, lakes and rivers. It exists in the air as water vapor, in solid form as icecaps and glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture and aquifers, and it is even a vital part of our physical bodies. What happens when that delectable liquid begins to disappear? This is the question asked by Paolo Bacigalupi in his new science fiction thriller The Water Knife. A drought has changed the landscape of the world, and water - always our most valuable resource - has become a precious commodity. Cities we arrogantly built in deserts now fight in the courts and through covert military actions for the water contained in the Colorado River. The American government turns a mostly blind eye to the turmoil in the West and allows states to set up barriers which keep citizens from changing locations. Hundreds are dying of starvation and dehydration, desperate to get to water but kept from crossing the border to such states as Nevada and Arizona to get to the few drops of moisture the river offers. Vast communities lay abandoned as people congregate in places where for the right price one can get something to drink. Crime abounds. Murders go uninvestigated and it seems everyone is on the take. Girls like Maria who sell themselves for the money to pay corrupt landlords, and keep body and soul together are everywhere. Reporters like Lucy, who takes to Twitter and the Internet to get her stories out, are the new Fifth Estate. When the young lawyer finds some paperwork that he thinks will change the balance of power in the area, he creates a maelstrom in this already turbulent world. The author doesn't just plunge us into his dark dystopian universe but he engages us in it through the characters of Maria, Lucy and Angel. We experience the battle for life in the American Southwest through their eyes as the desert reclaims the land humanity painstakingly stole from it. California, Nevada, and Arizona all battle for water rights for the few natural sources of the fluid remaining. The warriors they utilize for these skirmishes are brutal men who know no law. Angel is one of them, a dangerous, meticulous man known as a Water Knife. He cuts water from other states to ensure that Las Vegas has more than its share. But he is so much more than just that. As the pages of our story unfurl and we watch Angel interact with Lucy and Maria we see an optimistic man who longs for a time when love and trust were real things and not just illusions used by people ready to stab you in the back. We see someone anxious for a hero, even if it is someone he only sees on a TV screen. We see his heart, which is full of an eager, naïve friendship, and loyalty. But we also see a hard man, a survivor who knows how to live till the next day and who ruthlessly pursues that goal with a grim practicality. Bacigalupi writes with such clarity about how these characters interact with their world and gives us such a clear idea of how horrific that world is that you find yourself feeling as thirsty and dusty and dirty and desperate as they do. He writes them with such depth that you know exactly why they feel the way they do. Part mystery, part dystopian thriller The Water Knife takes us on a violent, fearful ride that is also ultimately optimistic. Beautifully written, richly imagined, and peopled with dark, fascinating characters, this is a must read for fans of the genre.
Even before I knew what the plot was going to be, I was sucked into this book by the voice of its narrator, Lt. James Shelley. Soon, I was immersed in the realistic details that created a near-future world I could believe in, even though my initial ideas of where the plot was going were all wrong. If you don't normally read military SF, don't worry. The author gives you exactly as much information as you need to enjoy the plot. For instance, the jargon that Shelley uses is clear and evocative of the kind of world he lives in, a world that's only a few steps beyond ours. In his world, power is shifting from governments to massive corporations that have grown from defense contracting companies. In our world, governments declare war. In his, DCs - Defense Contractors - arrange wars among themselves, for profit. Meanwhile, soldiers occupy a similar status to today's world, somewhat at the mercy of wars they don't control. The book starts small. Lt. Shelley and his unit - a shorthanded unit - have just received a new sergeant and are running repetitive patrols in the African desert. Shelley gives us all sorts of mundane but specific details about his duties and how he feels about them. Because of that, he swiftly became a character I cared about, so when the plot twisted and he was suddenly in a lot more danger, I was breathless with worry for him. When people he loved came into the story, I found myself worrying for them too. The story expands quickly and exponentially, shifting from small-scale military SF to political thriller meshed with science fictional extrapolation. Plus, it's filled with engaging characters. Shelley's voice ties it all together and kept me turning pages until far past my bedtime. I'm already recommending this book to my friends, and I can't wait for the sequel.