GNBC: The Water Knife

Knopf/Oliver Munday

Welcome to the first review post of the GeekyNerdy Book Club!! Last month, I asked you guys if you would be interested in participating in a bi-monthly book club and the response seemed to be fairly positive, so here we are!

Since no one seemed to have a particular preference in terms of fiction or non-fiction, I decided to kick things off with The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, which my former co-worker J recommended to me. I had been dying to read it ever since he first recommended it to me, so making it the first book club selection was the perfect way to get it off of my “To Be Read” list! 

Now, I had a feeling that I was going to like The Water Knife before I even started it, partially because I trust J’s opinion and partially because I’m a sucker for a dystopian tale. Also, as someone who totally believes in the possibility of resource wars and has traveled extensively throughout the Southwest, Bacigalupi’s novel almost seemed written just for me. And it was fun reading about all of these places I’ve been to, though less fun trying to picture the devastation that he described.

I also enjoyed the “whodunit” aspect of the book. Trying to put the pieces together – sometimes before the characters – is one of my favorite parts of reading thrillers and The Water Knife did not disappoint! Because the world Bacigalupi envisioned feels fairly believable, you can just focus on the story and I loved how all of the different character threads finally merged into a single narrative.

Warning: There will be spoilers from this point on, so proceed at your own risk!

1. But while I really liked The Water Knife, I couldn’t help feeling like it had been miscategorized at times. It is labeled as “science fiction,” but outside of the epic drought that has decimated most of the American Southwest, it really felt more like a crime novel to me than anything else.

Merriam-Webster defines the genre as “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component,” so The Water Knife definitely counts. But after reading things like The Hunger Games and The 5th Wave, I guess I’ve grown accustomed to these imagined futures being a little more extreme than the one Bacigalupi created. Maybe that’s the point though; that the world you’re reading about feels a little more realistic and prompts you to ask – like I did over the State Independence and Sovereignty Act – “That couldn’t really happen here, could it?” But what do you guys think? Is this just me, or was The Water Knife not quite what you expected either when you heard that it was science fiction?

2. One of the biggest moments that had me shaking my head was near the end of the book when it is clear that Catherine Case, the head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, has lost faith in her water knife, Angel Velasquez. Over the course of two pages, as Angel tries to get back in her good graces over the missing water rights that everyone is after, she lays out all of the reasons why – regardless of the outcome – she thinks that he already has them and was simply trying to sell them for his own profit. But while there seems to be no way for Angel to convince her otherwise, at least to the reader, he remains determined.

Personally, I thought that Angel’s efforts were completely futile from this point on because trust is one of those precious things that once it’s gone, it’s gone. Or at least I don’t quite know how you get it back. Do you feel that way too, or do you think Angel has a chance? I mean, I guess it’s possible since he is likely returning to Las Vegas and Case with three witnesses who can back up his story, but it still seems like a bit of a long shot.

3. Most books end with a tidy conclusion – well, if they aren’t the first or second book in a trilogy – but The Water Knife was a bit more open-ended. True, Angel has ended up with the water rights and the other three main characters seem set to go to Vegas with him, but with Case’s helicopters bearing down, I couldn’t help feeling like they weren’t going to rescue them. I mean, after all of the maiming and killing that Case was willing to met out to her enemies in the rest of the book, it just seemed more natural to me that someone in the chopper would grab the rights and shoot everyone else, before flying back alone with the prize. Again, that could be my own pessimism coming through, or did you feel a bit of apprehension too? If so, and even if not, how do you think the rest of the story would have played out? Or how would you have liked to see things end?

Alright, that’s it for our first GeekyNerdy Book Club! Hopefully you enjoyed reading The Water Knife as well, and had fun thinking about and responding to these questions. I’d also love to know what thoughts ran through your minds as you read Bacigalupi’s book, so please share those in the comments too!

Now, in terms of our next read, which would be for May, I’ve been debating between Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) and Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I had been thinking of alternating between fiction and non-fiction reads, but so many people have been talking about Chambers’ book lately that I thought I would leave it up to you! Add your vote below and we’ll go from there!

3 thoughts on “GNBC: The Water Knife

  1. I just finished this! I enjoyed it; I’ll write a post about it next week, too, I think.

    I had a lot of the same thoughts as you. I’ve only read Bacigalupi’s YA novel Ship Breaker, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After reading, I definitely felt the genre label “sci-fi” is too limiting, when I could see Western, thriller, mystery, etc. in addition. It was not quite was I was expecting, but I still liked it. It was a good mix, and I think it would appeal to a lot of different readers.

    Catherine Case was an interesting character. I think, like Angel, she’s pretty unemotional about betrayal. She trusts patterns, not people. So I’m not sure it’s fair to say she ever “trusted” Angel, in the way I would think of trusting someone. I think it’s possible she’ll let Angel work for her again, but I think it’s also possible she’ll still have him killed for something else in the future.

    I had mixed feelings about the ending. I really wonder how Lucy will handle being taken to Vegas. It actually hadn’t occurred to me, but I like your interpretation that the chopper is just coming to take the rights and kill them. That seems like it would be a fitting ending!

    1. And either of those books sound good for next time! I wouldn’t mind reading more nonfiction. I’d never heard of Chambers’ book, but it sounds interesting.

    2. Thanks for participating Mei-Mei! I’m really glad you enjoyed the book too (I was so worried that I had picked a dud!) and I can’t wait to read your full review whenever you post it 🙂

      I also like your take on Catherine Case and the whole issue of “trust.” I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but you’re right – she and Angel seem to be the kind of people who trust what they see more than “fuzzy” things like emotions. Or maybe it’s that they assume everyone’s working an angle, so they aren’t surprised when that proves to be true. Personally, that’s not the way I want to live my life, but in the future Bacigalupi imagines, maybe that’s just the way it is.

      As for the next GNBC read, since I’ve been trying to read more non-fiction books too, let’s go with Felicia Day’s memoir. I’ve always wanted to read it and have a feeling it will provide some interesting insight and inspiration! To make sure everyone has plenty of time to read it, I’ll plan on doing my review post on Monday, April 11. Until then, happy reading!!

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