Paolo Bacigalupi tells us about his new eco- thriller
Before he became a full- time novelist, Paolo Bacigalupi worked at an environmental magazine, High Country News. Here, his colleagues included journalists looking at “climate change and water scarcity in the Colorado River basin”, reporting that inspired Bacigalupi’s 2006 short story, “The Tamarisk Hunter”. “That was the first time I seriously went after climate change as a science fiction topic,” he says.
There things might have rested, except that Bacigalupi became concerned about what he sees as “an amazing strain of climate- change denialism here in the US, an almost religious ferocity”. As Bacigalupi returned to the topic of how water in the western US is being over- exploited, the short story helped to provide the inspiration for his new novel, near- future eco- thriller The Water Knife.
The title refers to an agent, Angel, charged with securing contested water supplies. He’s a thug, but not portrayed unsympathetically. That’s deliberate on Bacigalupi’s part.
“In most historical situations where there’s a lot of pressure put on people, whether those are wars, moments of ethnic cleansing, natural disasters, or political upheaval, you see people reacting in a wide variety of ways,” he says. “Some people turn into monsters, some turn into saints. I’m not sure that any of us knows for certain what kind of person we would become.”
There’s already a real buzz about the book, which is unsurprising when you consider that Bacigalupi’s debut, The Windup Girl ( 2009), took Nebula and Hugo Awards. Subsequently, though, Bacigalupi has written four YA books. Partly, Bacigalupi says, that’s because his YA publisher was “very open” to ideas; and partly because he wanted to talk to young people “about where we’re headed”. Plus using “different creative muscles” has helped him improve as a writer: “I learned a lot about plot and pacing that I didn’t know from my adult work, and that in turn means that The Water Knife is a tighter, more gripping thriller.” The Water Knife will be published by Orbit on Thursday 28 May.