Underground Reading: Mordant's Need by Stephen Donaldson

Underground Reading: The Day New York Went Dry by Charles Einstein

The Day New York Went Dry The Day New York Went Dry (1964) is a Fawcett Gold Medal original, and the lone novel, by Charles Einstein. The brilliant Gold Medal brand (yellow spine = buy, buy, buy) is taking a plunge in this book, with an offbeat, blackly comedic, science thriller about drought hitting New York City. 

Far from a strangely-premised John Wyndham apocalyptic thriller, The Day New York Went Dry has a simple idea at its heart. Low rainfall plus high water consumption adds up to a very thirsty city. 

Einstein is good at getting simple, environmental messages across without making them sound like lectures as well. By the third chapter, the reader know where water comes from, where it goes, and why the industrial world is starting to look a little parched. 

The book's hero is Don Marlowe - a wise-cracking journalist with political connections, a liver of iron and a certain disheveled sex appeal. 

Without having ever met the author (or even read anything about him), he feels uncomfortably like a Mary Sue character. He's charming - definitely - but his random grab bag of playboy skills (blackjack, drink mixing, etc) goes past comic pastiche and into the realm of awkward wish fulfillment.

That aside, Marlowe is a good guide. In partnership with a particularly prescient New York Congressman, Marlowe serves as sexy-and-sarcastic framing device, carrying the reader from one parched scene to another. Throughout, the book takes a simple problem/solution structure. Although the individual problems (and often, the solutions) are quite clever, Einstein doesn't work hard to disguise this repetitive format.

The Day New York Went Dry is also more of a social or political comedy than it is a science-based thriller. In their quest to keep New York's taps on (at a frugal and functional level), they encounter such villains as New York City society fops and a Pennsylvania Senator with an eye on the White House. 

Ironically, thirst itself is never the enemy. There's the occasional mention of possible forest fires, and the surprisingly grim threat of cholera, but otherwise, the presence (or lack thereof) of water is a understated menace. Although Einstein does a good job of presenting the dry facts in an entertaining way, the actual fact of dryness is never really part of the entertainment. 

35 years later, the topic of water use and abuse is as relevant as ever. Apparently those crazy sixties apocalyptic liberals weren't quite as short-sighted as everyone thought. There's a lesson there, I'll think about it after my bath.

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