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Interview: Paolo Bacigalupi on “A Hot Day’s Night”

– Tell us a bit about “A Hot Day’s Night.”

A hot day’s night was a chance to look at near-future climate change and drought in the Southwest. Lucy Monroe, the main character is a journalist who has just come to Phoenix, a city that is collapsing due to its lack of planning, and Lucy is on the hunt for stories that illustrate the place that Phoenix is becoming.

One of the things that interesting to me about places when they break down is that they don’t simply turn into the stereotypical wastelands of roaming cycle gangs and hardy survivors–collapse is much more complex. There are losers, but there are also, oddly, winners when everything changes, and I’m interested in those people who find ways to adapt, and survive despite the fact that everything seems to be falling apart. Charlene is one of those people, and so it was interesting to have Lucy go on a sort of ride-along with Charlene, as to see the broken world of Phoenix through Charlene’s opportunistic eyes.


– “A Hot Day’s Night” gives us a glimpse into the world of your new novel, The Water Knife. Can you tell us a little of what the book is about?

Yes, “A Hot Day’s Night” is sort of a prequel to The Water Knife. Lucy is one of the main characters in the novel as well, and by the time of the novel, she’s much more experienced and hardened by life in Phoenix.  The Water Knife is really my attempt to get a grasp on the hazards of climate change coupled with the hazards of our seeming stubborn determination to do nothing to plan for it, or mitigate against it.  It’s the worst case scenario future, but again, there are winners and losers. Some people are profiting and thriving in the apocalypse, while others are hurting deeply. The story follows three characters, Lucy, plus a Texas drought refugee names Maria, and finally the “water knife” of the title,  Angel Velasquez, a sort of hired gun who acts to secure water rights and control for the city of Las Vegas, which is Phoenix’s main competitor for water on the Colorado River.  The story centers around a hunt for water rights, but overall is story of these three characters each trying to figure out what their moral and ethical obligations are in a broken world, even as they try to survive it.


– How is your writing shaped by your experience at High Country News?

High Country News had a huge impact on my early SF writing. The journalists I worked with there continue to provide inspiration and insight into our changing world, and I rely on them heavily.  Working with them meant that I always had access to the small details that have been harbingers of greater change. For a book like The Water Knife, people like Matt Jenkins and his reporting on the water politics of the Colorado River gave me insight into how fragile and vulnerable the Western U.S. was to drought. It inspired my first short story about climate change, “The Tamarisk Hunter,” and that also eventually grew in both “A Hot Day’s Night” and The Water Knife.  Numerous other stories were also deeply influenced by their reporting. Journalists like Michelle Nijhuis, Laura Paskus, Greg Hanscom, and many others continue to inspire new stories.  Really, without the reporting and experiences of working with those journalists, I would never have become the writer I am today.

“A Hot Day’s Night” appears in the September/October issue of F&SF, which you can purchase here:

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