Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher
That's why I'll never forget the first time I saw Kai. He was standing in the open road drinking a glass of water like it didn't matter - water from an old plastene cup.
When Vera first spies Kai, he is dumping the remains of a cup of water into the dust near her Republic of Illinowa home. This very act is unheard of, illegal, grotesque even, in a world where severe water shortages have divided what was the United States into several warring republics. In Vera's world, the Breadbasket of the United States has been transformed into desert, the moisture-less air is practically poison to breathe, and most adults can be referred to as "shakers" because the years of constant thirst have taken their toll. Kai is a mystery. The son of a driller, he travels in a limo with a bodyguard, yet relishes the humble company Vera and her family have to offer. He even claims to know the location of a secret river, something that has fallen to the status of mere myth in a world where people depend on the government's paltry rations of the world's remaining water to survive. Unfortunately, before Vera can figure out Kai's story or her feelings for him, he disappears.
The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher is a fast-paced, thrill a minute dystopian that leaves virtually every chapter at a cliffhanger as Vera and her brother, Will, embark on a desperate, often nearly hopeless journey to find Kai. In their journey, they come upon all kinds of humanity from the unexpectedly righteous to the dangerous to the greedy and merciless, all locked in a battle for water and wealth that must be won by whatever means possible. Stracher's world without water is terrifying. The greed and power-mongering caused by such a severe shortage of what we truly require to survive is realistically drawn. Stracher's vision of the political and economic implications of the panic caused by the dwindling of one resource nations once treated as infinite is wholly believable.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of the book isn't. Maintaining such a fast pace to the story results in a great many contrivances. The times that Will and Vera are saved from an impossible situation at the last possible second by an unlikely occurrence are practically innumerable. In fact, the very premise of the story asks readers to rely on a quickly and thinly constructed fascination with Kai's improbable knowledge of where to find water and a possible blooming romance between Vera and Kai. The beginning rushes through this crucial set-up period, and this makes Will and Vera's sudden eagerness to find and save Kai on their own seem that much more inexplicable. Vera herself is a lovable enough narrator that you can't help cheering on, but the lack of a very distinctive voice makes it seem that the story could just as easily have been narrated by anyone.
Until the politics and economics are fleshed out midway through the novel, Stracher's future feels a little flimsy, driven more by the awkward renaming of everyday things than by explanation. Inexplicably giving something old, a clever new name doesn't quite manage the daunting task of creating a future earth. For example, the pedicycles Will and Vera use to get around. There's no reason given to think that a pedicycle is anything more than a simple bicycle with a new name that seems meant to say "Hey, look, it's the future. We call things different names now." That said, I will say that the new name for synthetically produced avocados - quasi-vocados - put a smile on my face.
Despite some problems, The Water Wars is an entertaining, extremely fast-paced adventure that readers will race through. Stracher's got a good handle on the way human nature might restructure a world with a profound shortage of water - the wars that would take place, the companies that would spring up to take advantage of the situation, the bribery and thievery that would become a daily threat to society. For readers who might prefer a more action-packed dystopian story than the more slow-burning, character-driven ones that I seem to prefer, The Water Wars has all the right stuff, but this reader was left just a little lukewarm.
(Thanks go to the publisher, Sourcebooks, for providing me with a copy for review.)