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REVIEW: New York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson

New York 2140

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About The Book

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.

The Review

I’ve been a Kim Stanley Robison fan since I read the Mars trilogy – Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars. I’ve read a few of his books that I thought were absolutely incredible, and a few (The Years of Salt and Rice) that left me scratching my head.

When I saw New York 2140 with its stunning cover of a half-drowned NYC, I had to get it, and it sat on my TBR pile for a year before I had the chance to read it.

This book is epic – if by epic, you mean really, really long at almost 700 pages. This book’s no slouch, though – it’s jam-packed with characters whose connections only slowly become apparent as you read the book.

There’s a beautiful (often half naked) cloud star (think influencer), a lesbian cop, a young Wall Street financial whiz, a couple young dock rats searching for buried treasure with the help of an old man with lots of maps, a building manager, a couple of quants who live in a rooftop tent, and a co-op board president.

Lower New York has become a Super Venice, with many of the buildings shored up and more packed than ever as humanity wages a slowly-losing battle with the sea. The rich have retreated to the upper part of town and Denver, built now that this new Super Venice has become hot and trendy, money is sniffing around again, and someone is trying to buy the Met Life building where most of the characters live.

This is social sci-fi at its finest. Robinson captures the rare essence of the Big Apple, undimmed by the ocean waters coursing through its streets. The main sections are separated by strange and fascinating facts about the city, presented in various ways, and NYC serves as the stand-in for all of the half-drowned coastal cities of the world.

Robinson gets a little experimental here – NYC Inspector Gen, Amelia the cloud star, Charlotte the board president, Stephen and Roberto the dock rats, and Vlade the building manager are in third person, past tense. Franklin the finance guy is a close first person past tense. And the “everyman” character called “a citizen,” who serves as the author’s voice in the story, is in third-person present. While this sounds confusing, it actually works fairly well, in large part because character POV’s are segregated into their own chapters, and they are distinct enough to stand on their own.

Our intrepid heroes take on the rich and big finance, a struggle that is familiar to anyone alive and paying attention today, in a way that ultimately was a little unbelievable, and yet Robinson takes pains to remind us that it’s always two steps forward and one step back in human progress, and that’s doubly true in American politics.

One thing that occurred to me while reading this – it was written pre-Trump, and of course also pre-Covid. I do wonder what the story would look like (ie: how hopeful it would be) if it were written now. In some ways, a functional world in 2140 now seems wildly optimistic. 2040 seems dicey enough, let alone another 100 years.

Still, this is a sprawling, ambitious, and ultimately successful novel about how life could be in a vastly changed future, and how we might tackle the immense challenges before us. Yes, it’s long, but stick with it. A fascinating vision of what’s coming.

The Reviewer

Scott is the founder of Queer Sci Fi and Liminal Fiction, and a fantasy and sci fi writer in his own right, with more than 30 published short stories, novellas and novels to his credit, including two trilogies.

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