A Friday off in the summer is allowing me to catch up on Bryan Alexander’s book club reading, the expansive, immersive “New York 2140” by Kim Stanley Robinson. This is the first novel of his I have read, which is clearly a cultural deficit I should attempt do rectify soon.
The book’s title tells you what the book is about, largely. The New York of 2140 is dealing with the impacts of a 50 foot sea level rise due to climate change. New York is underwater to around 30th Street, and much of the story takes place in the Met Life and Flatiron buildings around Madison Square Park, which make the story especially compelling to me as my office is only a few blocks east of here on 25th street (and whose building would be partially underwater in the book, although my 9th floor office would be above the waterline.) Perhaps when Bryan told me I “might like this one” his is what he meant.
A few impressionistic thoughts:
- After reading “Walkaway” by Cory Doctorow, and thinking of my favorite book club perennial also-ran in voting, “2030” by Albert Brooks, we’re getting lots of scenario building and world building around the possible futures our present choices are creating. It’s also hard for me to read 2140 and not think about the current US administration’s easing of climate legislation and rollback of environmental protection laws. I worry that the events outlined in the book (and they are described with precise timelines) might be happening sooner than this book predicts; and also, although the Surges are catastrophic, Robinson outlines a viable world that exists after them (although the extent of devastation and displacement are not fully explored, since the story does not take place then) but a world where wealth inequality and the triumph of global capitalism are decisive and permanent.
- I am an amateur enthusiast about the infrastructure and architecture of New York City and cities in general, so the discussion of the changes in the cityscape that the book describes are intensely interesting to me. The book has a lot to say about present-day New York in its description of the New York of 120 years in the future.
- It’s also fascinating how Robinson describes both what has changed and what hasn’t changed. The day-to-day of the denizens of future NYC is not very different than present-day, except perhaps with a lot more water. Computing technology seems basically the same, and there’s some advancement in materials (carbon fiber and aerogels get mentioned) but these are still fundamentally New Yorkers, recognizable to us today as such. I find it helpful to think about how 2018 New York would look to people at the turn of the 20th century–as far back from us know as we are from New York 2140. New Yorkers would still be recognizable to us, the street grid is identical, and many of the buildings would still be there (especially north of the intertidal in the 30th-streets area).
I’m gonna get back to reading and hopefully comment more. I just wanted to mark a few thoughts while I can. This is an amazing book and certainly worthy of its Hugo nomination.