More 2084 than 1984, Nicholas Lamar Soutter’s The Water Thief is set in a near-future dystopia where corporations have taken over from government, perception is more important than truth, and usurping a legitimate businesses right to regulate water might result in a death sentence—all for the common good of course. Socialism and big government are equally scorned as failed enterprises of the past. Human sympathy is the folly of the weak. And “futures” are sold, freedoms willingly traded off in the name of deregulation.
Charles Thatcher is a regular man keeping his head down and his nose to the grindstone as he slaves towards his next promotion. At the back of his mind he’s sure there must be more to life. Then a chance accident sets him investigating where that “more” might be found. Likeably inept, honest, intelligent, and curious, Charles soon finds himself in over his head, falling in love and falling out of favor.
The author uses dialog very effectively to build his future world, and introduces much food for thought about the present in the process. “Manage perception, and you create reality” is an interesting idea as an American election approaches. Arguments about capitalism and socialism, the failure of religion, the desire of the poor to cut levies on the rich in the vain hope they might one day be the rich… “We knew the sounds, the grammar and vocabulary, but the words all had different meanings.”
The plot is dark and Orwellian, with society split and ruled by lies, mankind turned into willing fodder for the corporate machine. Orwellian too is the feeling of stark plausibility and helpless dismay. The Water Thief is a scarily plausible dystopian tale filled with warnings for the present and thought-provoking analysis of political and corporate greed.
Disclosure: I met the author on Gather and was pleased to be asked to read and review this novel.