Paolo Bacigalupi’s new speculative fiction novel titled “The Water Knife” is a genre-busting, genre-dissolving novel that is set ten minutes into the near future of America, and it ushers in a new chapter in the Colorado author’s career.
In a recent blog post for the New Yorker magazine, staff writer Dana Goodyear surveyed the current drought impacting California and wrote: “It’s hard to escape the feeling we are living a cli-fi novel’s Chapter One.”
Welcome to the new worldbuilding of Paolo Bacigalupi, one of America’s finest novelists, with a conscience to boot. He’s very aware what’s happening with climate change and water shortages worldwide, and his new novel lays it out in bold, pulsating prose.
And it’s not just in America where this consciousness is arising. Indian movie director Shekhar Kapur is currently in pre-production for a climate-themed movie about future “water wars” in New Delhi and titled “Paani,” a Hindi word for water.
Publishers Weekly, the book industry trade magazine, introduces Bacigalupi’s “The Water Knife” without ever once mentioning the sci-fi term, opting instead to praise the author as delivering ”an ambitious, genre-dissolving thriller and a timely cautionary tale.”
Key word: ”genre-dissolving.” In one explosive novel, Bacigalupi has busted out of genres entirely and created his own unique place in American literature.
While he once wrote novels that were marketed by his PR team as ”science fiction,” “The Water Knife” is pure “cli-fi.” The Knopf PR team does not even mention sci-fi in its promotional materials for the new book.
The story Bacaigalupi tells seems almost ripped from daily newspaper headlines about heat waves, droughts, water shortages and, well, “water wars.”
Clay Evans, reviewing the novel for the Boulder Daily Camera in Colorado, didn’t use the sci-fi term in his thumbs-up review, either, writing: ”The talented if gloomy Bacigalupi is back with a near-future enviro-thriller that is less science-fictional, more violent and more pessimistic than anything he has written before. ”
The novel is set in a dystopian near-future that seems like our worst nightmares come true. There are no aliens, and not much in the way of science fictional stuff. Call it speculative fiction, a climate thriller, a genre-busting explosion of plot and red hot prose.
Bacigalupi is famous for saying that one of the classic questions that resonates with him as an author is: “If this goes on, what will the world look like?”
At a recent appearance at the annual American Library Association convention in Chicago, Bacigalupi introduced his new novel this way: “You want a drought? I’ll give you a drought!”
One might call “The Water Knife” a “thriller” in the Lee Child or Stephen King sense. And while the novel is not really SF in the traditional sense of the genre term, it does nevertheless display some ”science fictional” elements that will certainly please SF fans: Plastic bags that filter potable water from urine, advanced electric cars with filtration systems capable of purifying the air of pathogens, trucks with toilets on board that circuit a city to collect waste for methane generation.
However one frames it, Bacicalupi has imagined the future in “The Water Knife” with a genre-busting, genre-dissolving tour-de-force that might very well re-define his career and his work. We’ll just have to wait to see what his next four contracted-novels will bring.
Bacigalupi has a big future ahead of him, no matter which genre hats he wears.