As California continues to struggle with their worst drought on record, Paolo Bacigalupi’s newest book The Water Knife looks increasingly prescient.

During an author event I attended last week, Bacigalupi, who also wrote The Windup Girl, revealed how his books seem so prophetic.

Actually, as Bacigalupi explained, he tends to write based on current trends, making his books extrapolations of what could happen if a trend continues.

A few years ago, while researching The Water Knife, he attended a drought conference.

During an author event, Bacigalupi talked about writing and drought.
During an author event, Bacigalupi talked about writing and drought.

“Turns out there’s no security at a drought conference,” Bacigalupi quipped. “No one is worried about drought conference crashers.”

At the time, Colorado was facing a serious drought and Bacigalupi asked an expert to explain how long it would take before a city simply couldn’t survive the drought. The official responded it would probably take about 5 years— at that point, not just lawn would be dead, but all the trees as well and more.

So what is the likelihood of that happening? “Well, it’s never happened in the past,” the official responded.

Paolo Bacigalupi calls the moment he learns about a probable catastrophe “great if you’re a science fiction writer, just sad if you’re not.”

The Water Knife is set at the point where a drought is severe enough that the societal structure is starting to fall apart. One city suffered from the same “failure of imagination” the official exhibited and didn’t plan for catastrophic drought. Another city is a little better prepared.

In same ways, Bacigalupi says he hopes his books call attention to problems that need to be addressed.

Drought may be a serious subject, but Bacigalupi himself was an entertaining speaker and talked about his other books and writing in general.

The Windup Girl cover
The Windup Girl won multiple awards, including the Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Before the award-winning The Windup Girl was published, Paolo Bacigalupi wrote two short stories (“The Calorie Man” “Yellow Card Man”) based in the same universe. With less pressure to get a piece published, the process of writing a short story can be looser.

In addition, short stories, he says, are a good way to explore a concept before writing a full-length book.

Although the short stories were well received,Bacigalupi was convinced that being a writer meant a “life of poverty.” The Windup Girl‘s success was still unexpected, as were the results of the success.

“People started paying attention to me, like on Twitter,” said Bacigalupi. “You’re still the same idiot you were before, but now people were listening.”

Most of the time, being a successful writer is great and has taken him to new places (like France) and allowed him to meet new people. We were certainly glad he was able to visit Powell’s Books for the event!

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