Scarcity Val­ues

Paolo Baci­galupi tells us about his new eco- thriller

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Red alert -

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.

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