Book Club — “New York 2140”, part three

A first for me, I’ve completed the book and now can blog about it leisurely. 

This is in response to Bryan’s post about Part 3 of our reading (which is Parts 5 and 6 of the book). I’m calling this post “Part 3” to remain in parallel with that, even though it’s only my second post about the book. 

One thing that it’s been hard to pin down at this point is what exactly the book is about–sure it’s about climate change, and New York, but there’s not really a strong plot.  But we’re getting a start as our protagonists contemplate changing the entire global political and economic system.  It’s really hard to not inject our present-day ideas into this book–partly because he keeps bringing up the 2008 crash and current events.  I already commented on how I keep making analogies to present presidential politics; I also have been thinking a lot about the California wildfires; and the Congressional campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the rise of the Democratic Socialists of America in general, as the ideas they’re posing are similar to the ideas of the 2140 progressives (clearly the 2018 progressives were less than successful in the universe of Robinson’s book).

And still the book is filled with imagery of my daily life:

I know this is bringing extra poignance to the book as I read it–its characters traveling the same streets that I do, living in buildings around the corner from my office.

I will now attempt to answer Bryan’s discussion questions:

  1. ““Assisted migration” is a theme from the book’s first section, and it keeps returning throughout (35 times by my count).  What do you think the term means at this point in the novel?  How many senses does it have?  Who assists whom?” — Obviously the most direct sense is Amelia’s attempted migration of the polar bears to Antarctica.  But I believe that migration also refers to the migration of people from a pre-Surge world to the present.  It’s migrating Roberto and Stephan (and Mr. Hexter) from their rickety Chelsea apartment to the nurturing community of the Met Life building.  It will likely refer to the migration of the world’s economic and political systems to something perhaps more sustainable.  Everyone is migrating to something different and new, and everyone is being assisted in some way.
  2. Education: still no sign of formal education.  Is the book celebrating informal learning? — While there is some references to the character’s educations, we see no mention of anyone particpating in any sort of K-20 education.  The two children in the book are basically existing outside of society’s systems, and are not being traditionally educated.  But there’s nothing even mentioned about public K-12 schools, or higher education (consider that there are several current IHEs in the flood zone–I can think of Baruch, BMCC, NYU, SVA, FIT, The New School and Touro College off the top of my head).  Of course I want to know what happens to these places in the future of the book.   Would the CUNY and SUNY buildings be maintained the way that private buildings like the Met Life tower are?  I’d imagine NYU would be able to preserve their infrastructure since they are handsomely endowed (and the economic inequality of the book would likely serve them well.)  No doubt Columbia would still exist at the high end of Manhattan.  It seems that other than specific impacts of schools in the flooded areas, public education would be at least similar to now, but there’s no mention.  It would be interesting to hear if the authors’ omission of education is intentional, or if it was just a case of the story not fitting it.
  3. “Escalation of commitment is when people double down on sunk costs.  Where do you see this in your world?” — I think it’s extremely common in higher ed, and higher ed IT in particular, to think that we need to keep going on things that don’t matter.  Much of my new job has been getting people to understand that we can do new things–because the things we’re relying on are from the past fiscal years, and thus might as not exist.  Capital budgets are different of course, but in general since most of my funding is on a fiscal year, we can decide that an experiment failed and use the money for something (hopefully) better.
  4. “Charlotte gives a speech against a certain kind of economy (it starts “Fuck money…”, 5048).  Is this the book’s idea?  Do you agree?” — In general, yes.  I think we’re finding that Charlotte’s ideas and attitudes are the main point of the book–unfettered capitalism has led to the planet getting trashed, and the only way to save the planet is to reform capitalism.

A random note on this book’s availability.  I have access to e-books both through my home library and through the New York Public Library (anyone who works in the city can get a library card-which is a great benefit in itself).  I first checked out the book through my local library–but it appeared only when I logged in from my actual library, not the county library consortium (even though I use the same login either way).  This is because my home library also is part of other local consortia with neighborhood libraries, that the county consortium is not.  However, once I finished the two week loan I couldn’t check it out again, it was no longer available to me.  The NYPL loan is still working, but the e-reader app is somewhat buggy (I can get the book to disappear, and it comes back when I restart the app, I had trouble reserving other books, even scrolling through the book is a bit wonky, and it doesn’t support full-text search of a book you’ve checked out.)   I suppose I could have just splurged for the Kindle version but I think it’s interesting to explore the haphazard state of electronic book loaning through libraries.

Until next week.


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Mike Richichi

I'm an inveterate geek who's somehow become a leader in higher education information technology. These are some of my thoughts.