New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

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New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: JY Saville
Reviewed by JY Saville
Summary: This is a surprisingly optimistic novel about a future where climate change has raised the sea level by fifty feet and the residents of half-submerged New York's so-called Super Venice are not going to be bossed around. Recommended for those interested in politics, as well as the science fiction fans.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 624 Date: March 2017
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-0356508757

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By 2140 sea level has risen by around fifty feet, leaving coastal cities the world over with major problems. Some places will always be desirable, however, and when you've invested a lot of time and money somewhere you're reluctant to leave. Consequently New York remains a thriving, popular place even though half of Manhattan is under water and the streets are now canals. There are still financial traders, local politicians, celebrities, street urchins (albeit known as water rats) sharing the city and getting by. It seems like New York has stabilised into a new, watery normal but when a couple of programmers go missing from a building on Madison Square and some of the other residents start looking into it, a question begins to be asked: Does it have to be this way?

For a novel about catastrophes caused by manmade climate change and capitalism's wilful disregard for long-term consequences, this is pretty utopian. The optimism and belief in people's ability to come together and make a difference are what made this book so wonderful, in my opinion. Kim Stanley Robinson hasn't won all those awards for nothing, and of course he's created a believable and detailed version of a battered but functioning city tackling partial submergence, and he's populated it with a cast of varied and mostly engaging characters having adventures and love affairs. However, for me it was the political tension that kept me on the edge of my seat during the latter part of the book.

Structurally it was an interesting novel. When I heard that New York 2140 gave us a picture of the future city via the residents of one apartment building on Madison Square, I was expecting something like overlapping short stories. What I got was one long, coherent novel split into eight parts like the acts of a play. Within each part there are chapters headed by a character name, that chapter being told from that character's point of view (pair of characters, in the case of the programmers or the water rats), for instance the NYPD detective or the building supervisor. At first it was disconcerting to have some chapters in first person, some in third, some in past tense and some in present, but it soon became part of the character's voice. One 'character' is an unnamed citizen, not directly caught up in events but there to comment on the city as a whole, fill in some backstory and put things in context – not everyone will like that intrusion into the day to day story but I thought it worked beautifully as a way to look at the bigger picture and it never felt like it slowed down the pace of the book.

Ultimately, although the initiating event of the book is the disappearance of a couple of idealistic programmers the novel doesn't have much of a mystery to it. The reader knows what's happened to them before long (though not why), and it's clear that it's mainly a trigger event that brings other characters together. The real mystery seems to be why global finance is still allowed to take precedence over people's lives, how certain financial behaviour has remained legal, and how 'too big to fail' was ever acceptable as an excuse.

For a different take on climate change as a backdrop to fiction, you could try Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver or Solar by Ian McEwan, but if it's immersion in the magic of New York you're after, I recommend the fantasy version in A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky.

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Buy New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson at


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