New York 2140
By Kim Stanley Robinson
Published March 14th 2017 (Orbit)
2312 is the only other book by Kim Stanley Robinson that I have read (a scandal, I know!) and I loved it so much I had to grab this one too. New York 2140 is about well, New York in the year 2140. This is a future where we haven’t done enough to prevent global warming, and all the great coastal cities of the world have been drowned by rising sea levels. Even though the entire planet has been devastated, we focus on just a handful of characters who live in the Metropolitan Life Tower. Each character has their own story, and eventually they all come together.
The world building in this book is superb. Robinson goes into great detail laying out the flooded future city. Skyscrapers are self-sufficient islands, traffic is boats (except in winter, where the flooded streets freeze and walking becomes possible) and every day is a struggle to keep the city standing. This post-apocalyptic New York feels terrifyingly real, and all too plausible.
I loved the environmental parts of the world building, and the characters were all fun too. There weren’t any parts where I just thought ‘let’s get this over with and get back to the cool characters’, but at the same time no-one really stood out as a favourite character. It’s also interesting that the writing style changes for different characters. For example, Franklin’s parts are all told in first person, while Mutt and Jeff’s parts are mostly told through dialog, and the ‘citizen’ parts are all very stream of consciousness. The characters were interesting enough, but they weren’t the stars of the story. What you’re really here for is the ideas, and the huge disasters that have befallen the city.
We have downtown New York completely flooded. Animals going extinct so often that more extreme measures are being taken to protect them. We have crazy weather wrecking the world. My favourite part of the book was when a huge hurricane hit the city, and the characters were all doing what they could to stay safe and help others clean up afterwards.
I loved reading about this future and the state of the world. Unfortunately, the climate focus was only the main focus for the first half of the book. For the rest of the story the focus is on the financial aspect of the world. This was good for a while, but the world financial system is unbelievably complex and boring. Also the ending dragged out much longer than it should have.
I also better mention the info-dumps. Because it just wouldn’t be a Kim Stanley Robinson book without entire sections dedicated to dumping both plot-relevant and trivial information on us. I feel Robinson is one of those rare writers whose writing style makes such info-dumps quite pleasant to read. In the first such info-dump chapter, he even mentions that it is entirely possible to skip these sections, a bit like what Victor Hugo did with Les Misérables. We get info-dumps on finance, climate, history of New York, geography of New York, basically a lot of topics that fill out this future more.
I glossed over some of the info-dumps about financial systems, but while I would have preferred to read more about how climate change wrecked the world and the changes it has forced us to make, the focus on Wall Street didn’t ruin the story for me. I think it’s very important that the story wasn’t entirely about a group of tenacious people trying to be carbon neutral and thrive in a post-carbon world. The focus was on why we didn’t solve all our environmental problems until well after it was too late. The focus was on the regular people being unable or unwilling to change a world system that made the extremely rich richer while the people and planet went down the drain. This story reminds us that profit can still be made on a warming planet, hence why there is so much resistance to protecting the environment.
It made me angry, but angry with the real world rather than the story. I can see our system treating the world and us this badly. This book made me want to do something about the way the world is run, while also reminding me that no single individual can save the world. New York 2140 talks about a range of problems we’ll face in the future; the obvious environmental changes, the animal extinctions, the refugee crises, and uneven wealth distribution all get discussed in great detail. Do not read this book if you don’t want to find yourself depressed and angry with the world. Do read it if you care about global warming and the challenges that’ll bring.