Books, Art, & Visual Culture


Writing and design by Melissa Hill, graphic designer.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi


It’s a cruel, hard world that Paolo Bacigalupi has created in The Water Knife, but I think it’s one that we can recognise. Despite being a sci-fi, this broken world is chillingly familiar, because the scenario and the way society reacts to it is all too plausible. Water is a controlled commodity and the characters of The Water Knife sell it, trade it, do shady back room deals over it, sell their souls to have access to it, kill and die for it. Forget drugs, dealing in water rights is the big money spinner. The divide between the haves and the have-nots is an insurmountable chasm and there doesn’t seem to be any way out for anybody. This is Phoenix, but I think we can imagine the same thing happening anywhere.

I’ve previously read The Windup Girl and The Drowned Cities, and although I enjoyed both, I did find them more difficult to get into initially than The Water Knife. I’m not sure why this is — whether it’s just that something as primal as a need for water is an easy concept to relate to, or maybe it was because I was particularly drawn into the story of Lucy, one of the main characters. As a strong female character and the only protagonist to have chosen to be in this collapsed city, I really kept reading to find out more about her and how she would ultimately end up. A disturbing, but satisfying read.