Review of New York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson

Posted: March 15, 2019 in Review, science fiction

The waters rose, submerging New York City.

But the residents adapted and it remained the bustling, vibrant metropolis it had always been. Though changed forever.

Every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island.

Through the eyes of the varied inhabitants of one building Kim Stanley Robinson shows us how one of our great cities will change with the rising tides.

And how we too will change.

New York 2140

Kim Stanley Robinson


Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

After “Aurora” which I had found a difficult and somewhat depressing read, I wasn’t looking forward to “New York 2140”, but I should not have worried; this is an altogether lighter and very timely novel. Extremely well-timed in my case… Just as I was reading the chapters where Hurricane Fyodor was battering the Venice-like New York of 2140, the news was full of Hurricane Harvey hammering into Houston. The parallels were astonishingly accurate.

Which might lead you to assume that this novel is all about climate change and its consequences, and so it is. But it’s also about the economic causes of climate change, and what might be done to reclaim the world for democracy. It’s also about a group of people connected simply by where they live; by the Met, aka the Met Life Tower on Madison Square. Which is a point – a map would have been extremely useful, along with drawings of buildings, for those of us who are unfamiliar with New York.

Those characters are disparate enough to be interesting – the big black woman cop was one of my favourites, along with the “assisted migration” cloud star, the hackers, and the orphan boys. Each has their part in the story – that of the orphan boys and their elderly friend is more important than it might seem, and adds an important sense of adventure and levity to what might otherwise be a damp and dismal scenario. Relationships evolve and develop as stuff most definitely happens in the world around them.

For me, the climax was a little too soon, and the denouement a little too long, but overall I rather enjoyed this novel. I suspect that it helps that I share some of the views on matters economic and political that are being propounded here. There is no doubt that there is a message here; more than one, in fact. I confess that I really have little understanding of economics on this level, but Robinson blocks most of the lecturing into separate chapters headed “the citizen” which the reader can easily skim without losing the plot. It may be about New York of 2140, but it’s also very much about 2019.

Can we do something about these issues now? Or will the human race continue to stick its collective head in the sand as the waters rise around us? Unfortunately, it’s probable that the people who really need to read this book are unlikely to do so. And that is a pity.

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