Oh my goodness – why did I not find Robinson’s books before? Oh well – time to catch up because I really enjoyed this one. It’s way, way more than genre science fiction.
I can’t even begin to describe what all goes on in this tale of climate catastrophe in New York circa 2140. First of course, the globe has warmed and New York is a big wet mess with Lower Manhattan submerged under water and buildings collapsing into the brine. This is slowly and irregularly, of course, and it’s been continuing for some time. People just try to make do and life goes on as usual, as much as possible anyway. Robinson gives us some back-story on that – not a lot, just what’s necessary. (The oceans really are rising, fwiw: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sealevel.html )
New York 2140
by Kim Stanley Robinson
2017 / 613 pages
read by Suzanne Toren plus cast
Rating: 8 ~ A+ / literary sci-fi – economics
The tale follows the adventures of several residents of the MetLife building which is in Midtown Manhattan where they can get a good view of both the basically submerged Lower Manhattan and the skyscrapers of Upper Manhattan. Robinson gives us some details of the refurbished buildings, underground nightclubs, overhead skybridges, etc. More streets as canals. (Look at that cover!) Living conditions are different in each section and include some underwater living spaces and rooftop gardens as well as new materials to reinforce walls and structures.
I think a main idea here is that if global warming starts wreaking some terrible damage, life will go on anyway. We won’t all disappear in a matter of weeks or months or years or even decades because global warming and other forms of climate change do not have steady patterns and they take time. On the other hand, we can’t prevent change and preserve life exactly as we know it.
Another of Robinson’s themes is value – what creates value in terms of the markets and money as well as what values do the characters have – what values create value? This gets fairly philosophical but for the purposes of the book, what happens to New York and other coastal property values when they’re going under water? How do people not change? What scams lay hidden beneath the surface of capitalism as we know it?
Anyway, it’s 2140 and global warming has taken a serious toll, but life in New York City is going on as best it can with the rich doing much better than the poor, as usual, because big-money capitalism is trying to hold things together as best it can for as long as it can. The police, private security firms protect the higher-ground and upscale apartments from the worst of the waters and refugees. Lower Manhattan, where many refugees are from, is essentially submerged but thanks to engineering and new products some parts are useable. Midtown is livable with roof-top gardens and various kinds of boats for general transport. Upper Manhattan has sky-scrapers and although the streets are like canals here, too, the apartments are luxurious and nicely maintained – the owners are frequently away so many are empty at any given time.
Robinson has a goodly number of characters most of whom who live at the MetLife building having adventures which thread through the narrative with their tales mostly told in alternating chapters.
Mutt and Jeff (Muttchop and Jeff Rosen), both finance computer coders, have ideas on how to “fix” the system using sixteen points of coding/economic theroy. Jeff sets off a test run which might have worked. Mutt was not so enthusiastic about this scheme, but then … the two disappear.
Two young orphaned boys, Stephan and Roberto, find what they believe to be a treasure under the water. When a building partially collapses the old man who has been working with the boys to locate this lost treasure, loses his home (and historical maps) as it is slowly toppling into the waters. The boys save him, bringing him to the MetLife where they know Vlade, the manager because the boys sleep illegally at the roof-top farm.
Amelia is a video star who gets involved with transporting polar bears from their homes in the melting northern Greenland glaciers but she gets way-laid with the bears in New York, lands at the MetLife en route to Antarctica – this is pretty funny.
Then there’s Franklin Garr, a savvy finance man who meets and then dates Jojo, another employee in finance but more interested in venture capital in projects which will help humanity than Franklin. Franklin and Jojo live separately at the MetLife. He explains things to her.
Franklin senses a deal in real estate (everyone is always interested in real estate). Considering the situation, not much of the real estate south of Midtown has a lot of value at this point, but there is an odd offer for the MetLife building for more than it’s worth and not much is known about that. Franklin thinks about the future of real estate.
Charlotte is a lawyer dealing in refugee settlements as well as a resident in the old MetLife building – very cynical and rather grouchy because of the way the “system” manipulates people, her clients. As an owner/occupant, she is also concerned with the financial offer made for the MetLife building. – Finance is really quite a big part of this novel –
Jen is a cop, NYPD, first looking for Mutt and Jeff, and wondering who put out a bid on the MidLife building. Jen goes to Lower Manhattan where the old subway tunnels have been renovated and people can live in some places and there are lounges and pools and Jen has several friends and contacts and gets involved in some serious business.
There are other characters, but the narrative switches between these main characters as it develops tension and speed. Some characters tell their stories in first person while other sections are told in third-person. Robinson makes masterful use of the structure in several ways. But for all that, the speed and tension rarely get really high thanks in part to a very loquacious narrator who, although full of informative and relevant information interferes.
These characters are well drawn and fleshed out, easily distinguished from one another. These are not the flat little 20th century genre sci-fi characters of my youth. There is also a really lecturing type of narrator.
There are quite a lot of literary allusions and references sprinkled throughout – rather fun and insightful.
The main theme concerns value. What makes value, how financial value via markets works, the value of capitalism, bubbles, busts, and what might happen if this or that plays out. There are other themes such as love and alienation, choice and creativity. Science plays some part in the novel, but mostly it’s dystopian futurism with an emphasis on finance.