New York 2140: KSR imagines a future NYC

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson science fiction book reviewsNew York 2140 by Kim Stanley RobinsonNew York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson is among the best there is at hard science fiction; he can write characters who feel like real people and give you ideas that keep you thinking well after you’ve set the book down. Unfortunately, New York 2140 (2017) is not up to the mark of his best work; fortunately, that still leaves plenty of room for it to be enjoyable and thought-provoking.

New York 2140 is, among many other things, a love letter to New York, or, as it is known in 2140, SuperVenice; the chapter titles and a number of references throughout (Archy and Mehitabel, anyone?) reference the city’s past (and, from our point of view, future)

In fact, much of the fun of New York 2140 is in Robinson’s re-imagining the city under fifty-ish feet of water; it hasn’t really changed all that much, considering, with water taxis replacing taxicabs and each skyscraper (waterproofed with a handwaved graphene polymer) functioning as its own little island.

In particular, we meet a number of members of the MetLife co-op — a financebro, a policewoman, an attorney, the building super, two street (I suppose it should be “canal”?) urchins — and Robinson weaves the pattern of their interactions into a number of plots. There’s a search for buried treasure, attempted transplantation of polar bears to the South Pole, politics, diving, financial shenanigans, more politics, and a love story, or maybe one and a half love stories. The overall effect is of a distributed plot and character web with no individual character or plot predominating. This works well to keep the main focus on New York itself, but it makes the book feel slightly unfocused at times.

In fact, I felt New York 2140 seems to be a bit at cross purposes with itself on a number of points; for example, Robinson makes a watery New York sound like so much fun (jetting around town in a hyperfoil!) that it somewhat undercuts the essentially tragic nature of New York’s transformation. For another example, it’s kinda hard to take two characters named Mutt and Jeff seriously, even when they’re trying to take down the global banking octopus. I wasn’t very taken with the love story, but the buried treasure part was fun; similarly, I found the financial shenanigans more plausible than the political outcomes that supposedly resulted from them.

Overall, I wouldn’t put New York 2140 up with Robinson’s MARS trilogy, but it’s a fun read with some good moments and some good ideas, and if you like Robinson’s work you’ll like New York 2140.

Published in 2017. NOMINATED FOR THE HUGO AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL 2018. New York Times bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson returns with a bold and brilliant vision of New York City in the next century. As the sea levels rose, every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island. For the residents of one apartment building in Madison Square, however, New York in the year 2140 is far from a drowned city. There is the market trader, who finds opportunities where others find trouble. There is the detective, whose work will never disappear – along with the lawyers, of course. There is the internet star, beloved by millions for her airship adventures, and the building’s manager, quietly respected for his attention to detail. Then there are two boys who don’t live there, but have no other home – and who are more important to its future than anyone might imagine. Lastly there are the coders, temporary residents on the roof, whose disappearance triggers a sequence of events that threatens the existence of all – and even the long-hidden foundations on which the city rests. New York 2140 is an extraordinary and unforgettable novel, from a writer uniquely qualified to tell the story of its future.

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Unbeknownst to all, including himself, NATHAN OKERLUND has been preparing for the role of "reviewer of fantasy novels" since he first read Watership Down thirty-odd years ago. He is especially fond of Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance, Steven Brust, Neil Gaiman, and books that have to be read twice to be understood at all, but will happily read anything which does not actually attempt to escape the nightstand. When not occupied with the fantastic he takes brains apart to see how they work, as a postdoctoral fellow studying neurodegeneration, and supports his wife and daughter in their daily heroics.

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One comment

  1. I like a lot of Robinson’s work, so I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for this one at my local library. Thanks, Nathan!

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