Book Reviews

Book Review: New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson

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New York 2140

By: Kim Stanley Robinson

Published: March 14, 2017

The Rundown: “It is 2140.  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.”

Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: The cover is an illustration of the New York of the novel.  The skyscrapers remain, but the streets between them are underwater, and it is clear that the buildings are at least partially submerged.  Sailboats drift between the buildings, and in the distance, there are what appear to be hot air balloons in the sky.  The blue of the sea and sky make the cover visually appealing, while premise intrigues.

What a Wonderful World: As you may have guessed from the blurb, the most important part of this novel is the setting.  Due to sea level rise, New York City now resembles Venice.  Instead of travelling by subway, people speed around the city in boats or use elevated walkways to get from building to building.  Other than the submergence of the city, not a whole lot has changed.  The residents still deal with contemporary issues, such as gentrification, tenement squatting, and financial bubbles.  In the novel, Robinson interweaves the real history of New York City with a fictional account of the city’s survival after it was flooded.

The Good Guys: New York 2140 features an ensemble cast, all of whom reside together in the MetLife Building, which has been converted into a co-op.  Mutt and Jeff are two unemployed quants who live in a hotello on the building’s farm floor.  They want to change the way the world operates through rogue coding, but are kidnapped.  Their disappearance is investigated by Inspector Gen, who works for the NYPD.  Gen works with one of the governing members of the co-op, an immigration lawyer named Charlotte, to solve the men’s disappearance.  But Charlotte has her own problems to deal with: someone is trying to buy out the building, and the building super, Vlade, reports signs of sabotage.  Vlade is friends with two homeless water rats named Stephan and Roberto, who are searching the canals for hidden treasure.  Due to their stupidity, they have to be constantly rescued by a market trader named Franklin.  There’s also an cloud star named Amelia who’s into saving wild animals, but she’s more of an ancillary character.  Eventually, all of these characters come together to try to resolve the iniquities endemic to the global financial system.

The Bad Guys: The real villain of this story is the unjust socio-economic system which privileges corporations over people.  So, down with the bourgeois capitalist oppressors?

The Love Interest: Franklin is interested in a fellow financier named Jojo.  Their relationship is based mostly on physical attraction, but towards the middle of the novel, Franklin dedicates quite a bit of energy to trying to appear altruistic to impress her.

A+: Much of New York 2140 is dedicated to a critique of contemporary capitalism.  There are long interludes in which the character “citizen” describes how the market works, and how it has failed to make life better of the majority of the globe.  The main goal of the characters towards the end of the novel is to find a way to rewire capitalism to work for the populace.  One aspect that I liked was how Robinson did not demonize the financier character, Franklin.  Rather than portraying him as a money-obsessed asshole, he comes off more as a geek.  It was a tad weird, though, that he and the other characters kept talking about the 2008 financial crisis.

F-: This book is really long: the audiobook is 22.5 hours.  This, in itself, is not a problem.  The problem is that there is almost no plot.  It’s a slice-of-life story, not a thriller.  The meandering nature of the story does not work for a book of this length.  What’s worse, the little plot that there is just sort of resolves itself.  For example, there is a subplot where one of the characters runs for Congress.  She doesn’t particularly want to be a congresswoman, and puts no effort into her campaign, even though she’s supposed to be angry at the political establishment.  Then, despite not caring and not trying, she wins the election.  Why was this included?  The character doesn’t care.  The reader doesn’t care.  Nobody cares!

Does it Represent…

Women: There are a lot of female characters in the novel who occupy positions of power.  There’s the NYPD officer Inspector Gen, the lawyer Charlotte, the financier Jojo, the mayor Galena.  Even the president is a woman.  However, we’re not going to talk about them.  We’re going to talk about the cloud superstar Amelia.  Amelia has a show in which she helps animals migrate to more habitable locations. The problem is that in the past, Amelia would get naked in order to get more views.  Even now, when she’s made the decision to stay clothed, she wears dresses that poof up around her and give her viewers a look at her ass.  She reads as a “slutty” Bill Nye.  Why did Robinson put this detail in the story?  Did he think the readers wouldn’t buy that a female science personality could become popular?  It doesn’t help that Amelia reads as ditzy and unintelligent.  Everything about her comes off as fanservice, and is very uncomfortable.

People of Color: Inspector Gen is black.  There’s a bit towards the end of the novel where Gen thinks of herself as the perfect representative of the law, the bane of white male criminals.  It’s a nice sentiment, but it feels a little weird coming from a white male author.  Also strange is the fact that there is no ethnic tension in the novel.  You’d think that something like a natural disaster that floods an entire city would make racial divisions worse, not better.  However, racism is not addressed in the novel.

LGBT People: No.

The Disabled: Nope.

Memorable Quote: “They published their papers, and shouted and waved their arms, and a few canny and thoughtful sci-fi writers wrote up lurid accounts of such an eventuality, and the rest of civilization went on torching the planet like a Burning Man pyromasterpiece.”

Recommended For: People who are willing to dedicate 22.5 hours or 613 pages to feeling “woke.”

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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