Competing mercenary organizations vie for control of the American Southwest’s depleted water supplies in Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife.

The Water Knife presents a pretty dire vision of the near future. What inspired you to write it?

I used to work for a newspaper that covered local resource issues, and my coworkers and friends were journalists. Their reporting work was always pretty grim. We’ve known for a long time that there isn’t enough water in the Colorado River and that the Southwest is overbuilt and overdependent on it. At root, I wanted to write fiction that would make some of that environmental reporting feel more real, more immediate and visceral than it is when you read it (or avoid reading it) in a newspaper. I think fiction narratives have a power to contextualize otherwise pretty dry and wonky information and make it feel real and meaningful.

Do you think many of us have much of a sense of just how fragile this system really is, or have most of us been lulled into a false sense of security?

I think that we live in a highly specialized, technologically advanced society. Highly developed societies tend to have very remote understandings about what underlies our prosperity. We don’t know how or where our technological toys are built. We don’t know how or where our food comes from. And with water, we don’t know where our water is stored, how it is transported, or how it comes conveniently pouring out of our kitchen taps. There are so many levels of ingenuity and expertise that go into providing us with our modern conveniences, and almost all of them are invisible. I think the complexity of our support systems distances us so much that we all, almost inherently, have a false sense of security.

Many of the characters in The Water Knife show great bravery and humanity even as they are being crushed by the system. Any thoughts?

I’m interested in how we react when we’re heavily pressed. When we’re vulnerable and our survival is in question, how do we behave? It seems like survival pressure can create devils out of us, and it can also produce angels. I don’t know why we choose to reach out to help another person, or why we decide that we can’t and withdraw and try to care only for ourselves, but I’m fascinated by that choice.

The next 20 to 30 years will be game changers. Would you agree?

It does sort of feel like the decisions we make (or fail to make) right now are going to define everything for our descendants. I suspect they won’t thank us.