So we have to nurse the world back to health. We’re not good at it. But we have to do it…
I know my program is only a small part of the process. I now it’s only a silly cloud show. I know that. I even know that my own producers keep stringing me out in these little pseudo-emergencies because they think it adds to our ratings, and I go along with that because I think it might help, even though sometimes it scares me to death, and it’s embarrassing, too. But to the extent that it gets people thinking about these projects, it’s helping the cause. It’s part of the larger thing that we have to do. That’s how I think of it, and I would do anything to make it succeed. I would hang naked upside-down above a bay of hungry sharks if that would help the cause, and you know I would because that was one of my most popular episodes.(259)
Kim Stanley Robinson’s most recent novel follows up on the themes and subjects of Aurora. If earth is, for the foreseeable future, the only place we can live, how will we deal with a world altered significantly by global warming and other potentially disastrous trends? In the New York of the next century, several characters deal with the consequences of raised sea levels, as their lives converge into one story.
Title: New York 2140
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
First published in March, 2017
The First Pulse was not ignored by an entire generation of ounce brains; that is a myth. Although like most myths it has some truth to it which has since been exaggerated.
In the next century, global warming has turned New York Venetian. Several characters interact in a complex plot involving political/economic revolution, kidnapping, a centuries-old city mystery, and a cloud star relocating animals.
New York 2140 may deal with politics and economics, but it features a sense of adventure and a certain amount of humor. The sections concerning Amelia Black (“Amelia Airhead!”), who “believed with all her heart that every mammal was as intelligent as she was, an idea given solid support by evidence from all sides,” prove at turns heart-touching and hilarious. Her position as an entertainer bringing attention to serious issues mirrors Robinson’s, a writer whose novel gives us a treasure hunt, adventurous street urchins, future romance, a kidnapping, white-collar crime, and a detective who keeps in touch with the ground (or, in this case, the canals), but which aims to educate and provoke thought and action.
Instead of addressing our potential to spread off-world, Robinson concerns himself with stewardship of the earth, and the human capacity to address challenges. We nevertheless have a contemporary version of classic science-fiction: the story explores some heady ideas, proposes possible solutions, and makes us think.
This novel needed some judicious editing.
It’s not just the length: a lot of great books run longer than 600 pages. But New York 2140 has been stuffed like Manhattan Island with excesses. When a writer has a character, the Citizen, who exists for no other reason than to provide context-building exposition in his chapters, it’s a good idea to trim the exposition elsewhere, just a little. And if you begin with the kidnapping plot—a fine choice—even in a novel about economics, don’t begin with characters engaged in a dry discourse about economics.
I had a second, lesser issue with the novel’s use of allusions. I recognize that allusions can be a problem in a novel set in an imagined future, and that the copious references to the pop-culture of the twentieth century might be a kind of short-hand. Their frequency took me out of his meticulously-constructed future. Okay, so the characters still know the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. I’m good with that. They should not then continue referencing pop culture of the same era, including many already-faded references (I make an exception for the Citizen, who obviously has made an extensive study of NYC’s history, among other matters).
Imagery: 6/6 Robinson has always excelled at creating believable worlds. Although I’ve been critical of his excesses, he successfully immerses us in future New York.
Story: 5/6 After a slow start, the novel’s multiple plot threads weave together in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways.
Characterization: 5/6 Characterization is good, especially when one considers the number of characters Robinson juggles here. Voices needed to be differentiated further. Not even all New Yorkers talk this much alike.
Emotional Response: 5/6 The first hundred pages turn slowly, but the novel pays off.
Overall score: 5/6 Robinson deliberately exaggerates the rate at which the seas are likely to rise, and you may not like the solutions he proposes to the problems that will create. However, he’s in a grand tradition of SF writers, addressing science-based issues with thoughtful proposals.
In total, New York 2140 receives 34/42