With their futuristic, otherworldly settings, science fiction novels aren’t generally meant to strike close to home. For residents of the Four Corners area, however, acclaimed western Colorado author Paolo Bacigalupi’s best-selling, green sci-fi novel, The Water Knife, does just that.
The Water Knife is set in a climate-change- wracked Four Corners of the not-too-distant future. Bacigalupi, raised in Paonia, envisions our corner of the world as a rainless region where a crooked Las Vegas cartel has wrested control of the Colorado River’s water flow for the benefit of themselves and their cronies, with predictably grim results for everyone else.
Las Vegas is studded with immense glass bubbles known as arcologies that house the super-wealthy in water-spouting excess. The rest of the Southwest has become a Mad Max-like dust bowl. Sandstorm-plagued Phoenix is fast turning into a mass ghetto that is home to millions of thirsty, desperate Arizonans, or “Zoners,” and swarms of refugees from Texas who have fled the desertified wasteland their state has become. Everyone in Arizona is scheming to make their way to Las Vegas or beyond, to the well-watered north.
Into this nightmarish world is injected detective/assassin/spy-with-a-heart Angel Velasquez. As a water knife, Angel “cuts” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority — which is to say, he does whatever needs doing to keep the water of the Colorado River flowing to the Las Vegas arcologies.
In Phoenix, violent circumstances lead Angel to Lucy, a hardened journalist, and Maria, a young Texan migrant. As the city teeters on anarchy, the three find themselves pawns in a water scheme far more sinister than any of the vicious Southwest water battles that have come before.
Four Corners area residents familiar with High Country News will enjoy learning Bacigalupi is the former online editor of the Paonia-based environmental bi-weekly, from which, he readily admits, have come many of the environmentally based ideas for his science fiction.
Bacigalupi appeared at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango last month to promote the release of The Water Knife in paperback. He began his fiction career with the adult novel The Windup Girl, named a Top Ten Book of the Year by Time magazine in 2009. He also writes young adult science fiction, and was nominated for the National Book Award for his YA novel The Ship Breaker.
Marking Bacigalupi’s return to adult fiction, The Water Knife became a bestseller in hardback upon its release last year. With its paperback release, the tale is well worth local discovery as the Southwest’s real-life water wars continue to heat up.
Scott Graham is the National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of eight books, most recently Yellowstone Standoff (Torrey House Press), the third installment in the National Park Mystery Series. Visit him at scottfranklingraham.com.