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I’ll Stick to My Coffee

Greenraystudio, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia

I’m Pat Tyrer from Canyon, Texas for the High-Plains-Public-Radio-Readers Book Bytes for Spring 2024. The Water Thief by Nicholas Lamar Soutter is a science fiction dystopian novel which ironically is only tangentially about water. As Soutter writes in the afterword, “The Water Thief was written as a rebuttal to Ayn Rand’s ( ein /, it rhymes with “fine”) novel Atlas Shrugged (and to the body of Objectivist-influenced economic policy that’s come since).”

Soutter attempts to demonstrate how neoliberal economies fail because the two required aspects of objectivism, “first that people must be genuinely responsible for their own actions—subject to the negative consequences of their behavior [and second] transactions must be in good faith, the product of a mutual and informed agreement in which those making the agreement do not lie, cheat, steal, or deliberately dupe others” are unrealistic and fail to account for the natural human penchant for self-preservation. What occurs in The Water Thief suspends both aspects of objectivism, and what develops is the story of a world in which everything needed for existence (food, water, even air) is owned by corporations and must be purchased.

The main character, Charles Thatcher is the property of the Ackerman Brothers Securities firm where he works in the Perception Management department, a Delta-grade colleague. He shares his cubicle with another Delta-grade colleague to reduce his cubicle rent and spends his days monitoring the price of everything from overhead lights to the cost of the water he uses to flush the toilet. His job in Perception Management is to deal with unfavorable press, ratings, or reviews of Ackerman Brothers which he does by scouring the news, reading whatever literature and papers he can scrounge, and filing written reports which earn a commission on any reports that make or save the firm money.

The story begins when Charles finds a minor story in a court record about the arrest and preliminary hearing of an Epsilon, a low-ranked woman named Sarah Aisling, who has been turned in by a neighbor for stealing rainwater which she’d been collecting in buckets and then using a solar extractor to evaporate it into drinkable water. Charles is intrigued by Sarah who rather than admitting her guilt and paying her fine, argues with the judge that water should belong to everyone, not owned by the Ackermen Brothers.

Quickly becoming fascinated by this outlier, Charles goes so far as to pay for the full court transcripts and what he reads astounds him. He becomes obsessed with finding out the basis of Sarah’s beliefs and about what ultimately happens to her. This curiosity is the catalyst that portends his ultimate downfall. Since the world is populated by greed on a corporate and an individual level, it is impossible for Charles to locate any information or individual that he can fully trust. In the end, he is left with few answers and no future.

The Water Thief begins with an intriguing premise and a unique setting, but neither the characters nor the plot is particularly engaging even though it deals with complex themes such as environmental decay, corporate greed, and social inequality. Although the work examines our relationship with the environment and the consequences of unchecked corporate power, it is somewhat convoluted and at times overly didactic making it a less enjoyable read for me.

This story may very well be your cup-of-tea, but as for me, I’ll stick to coffee.

Again, I’m Pat Tyrer from Canyon, Texas for the High-Plains-Public-Radio-Readers Book Club.

Spring Read 2024: Water, Water Neverwhere 2024 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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