This book is serendipitously timely, given this headline, that I just saw yesterday: Rich Californians balk at limits: we're not all equal when it comes to water (title links to article).
For those of you who don't remember Chinatown, it is a movie directed by Roman Polanski (fucking pervert), starring Jack Nicholson, in which the main character, private investigator Jake Gittes, must unravel a murder. The motive for murder is - as the motive for murder so often is - gain, in the form of a reliable water source for a hitherto not particularly valuable area of California.
Water is the lifeblood of the world, right? Los Angeles is a city of millions, caught literally between the devil (better known as the Mojave desert) and the deep blue sea. And the entire Southwest, from The Bellagio and its fountains in Las Vegas to the skyscrapers of Phoenix, exist because of the water that comes from the Colorado River.
“If I could put my finger on the moment we genuinely fucked ourselves, it was the moment we decided that data was something you could use words like believe or disbelieve around.”
This is all a long beginning into a review of a book that is a post-climate change dystopian where water rules the world, drought is the norm, and there is not enough water to go around. It is gritty in all senses of the word - violent, bloody, dirty, dusty, and thirsty. Paolo Bacigalupi has written a book that explores what will happen when, if, the thin blue line of the Colorado River dries up, and people get their water on the black market, by the cupful.
Let me give you a hint. Rich people win. Rich people always win.
But, in all seriousness, it is difficult to write a book that relies upon an obscure legal principle, in this case, the law of water rights, senior and junior, and turn it into a thriller, which the author managed to do. And on the way, there was more than a little bit of irony and, probably, some payback. Texans, often known for their hostility towards Mexican immigrants who swim the river or jump the fence to flee problems in their native country, become victims of this same type of hostility when the social order completely breaks down and the northern states realize that they cannot absorb all of the inhabitants fleeing the dessicated southwest.
"Thanks to the centrifugal pump, places like Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas had thrown on the garments of fertility for a century, pretending to greenery and growth as they mined glacial water from ten-thousand-year-old aquifers. They’d played dress-up-in-green and pretended it could last forever. They’d pumped up the Ice Age and spread it across the land, and for a while they’d turned their dry lands lush. Cotton, wheat, corn, soybeans—vast green acreages, all because someone could get a pump going. Those places had dreamed of being different from what they were. They’d had aspirations. And then the water ran out, and they fell back, realizing too late that their prosperity was borrowed, and there would be no more coming."
So, yes, it's timely, and a harrowing look at what the future could hold, although hopefully not. Lucky for me, I live in Oregon.