New York 2140 • 2017 • CliFi novel by Kim Stanley Robinson

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

I wrote this review in May 2017 at GoodReads. I thought it’s a good idea to transfer it to this blog as part of the other KSR book reviews.

Water, water everywhere – do you want an impression how your neighborhood might look like?
You can find a nice projection here. Or in the novel at hand:
What a beautiful cover art – drowned Lower Manhattan, in the background Upper Manhattan with super-skyscrapers and balloons, skybridges all over.
KSR structures this novel similarly to his Mars trilogy: A handful of POVs plus one stream-of-consciousness POV (“the citizen”). POVs come from different parts of society but live together in the Met.
One of the POVs, trader Franklin, would give a villain in other novels. But here, he is hilarious. I guess, that people who don’t like to read about shorts and longs will need to read a different book. But this is yummy: he invented a financial index, linked it to Roman law of intertidal being public land. He knew that it will be a bubble, invented the index, hedged against it. Now, the bubble is going to pop. But how does he know about Margaret Hammilton – is that KSR’s own voice? Speaking of economy and trading, KSR failed to build a correct projection, they just feel exactly the same as business is done today. Only, that it won’t in my opinion for two reasons: first, there is A.I., and second there are blockchains (distributed ledgers) with smart contracts – a Chicago or Shanghai based stock exchange simply won’t exist anymore in over a hundred years. These two technologies will completely disrupt our economy as known today, and KSR didn’t do anything to get it into his setting. In a novel so heavily focusing on economics (besides of being a great CliFi), this should have been done better than just presenting a kind of contemporary economic thriller with a Venetian background.
There is another POV called “the citizen” which probably many readers won’t like at all, because it is simply info-dumping. KSR gets snarky and lets the POV get metafictitious: “know that any more expository rants, any more info dumps … will be printed in red ink to warn you to skip them (not)”. A third POV are really two hackers who infodump by hallucinating dialogues on literary like Waiting for Godot or the Ilias. This is another field where KSR didn’t get his projections correct, because there simply won’t exist a single programming language which will exist in the known form for the next 120 years. But I liked his neologisms, like intergender “amphibiguity”, or “delanyden”.

The other POVs where really great. Most of all, New York as the main protagonist with the Met tower as a focus.
So, setting (Venetian New York) lovely, future projection unrealistic in parts, plot too thin, halve of the POVs really nice.
KSR did one thing absolutely great – the CliFi in New York – while neglecting other essential novelization elements.

I recommend this book to readers who can ignore these shortcomings.

If you’re interested in other works by KSR, I’ve some reviews up:

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13 Responses to New York 2140 • 2017 • CliFi novel by Kim Stanley Robinson

  1. JJ says:

    As you’ve correctly pointed out, one of the things that has really irked me about the recent KSR novels which I’ve read (or tried to read) is that he seems to be writing from a knowledgebase of where technology was 20 years ago, and he utterly fails to extrapolate a plausible future state of tech because his own background is so woefully out-of-date.

    Another is that I find his characters terribly flat (especially because there is always at least one whose main purpose for existence is infodumping), and feel absolutely no interest in finding out what happens to them.

    I found the details of what a drowned NYC looks like to be overlong and tedious, but I would imagine that many New Yorkers would find that very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      I very often noted flat characters in his novels. But one never knows, because in other novels he does the exact opposite, e.g. in Shaman, Antarctica, or his Green Earth. I don’t count those infodump “characters” as characters at all but as literary devices. Maybe KSR tried to bring out other entities (like the ship AI in Aurora or the city itself in this novel) as characters? And that’s why he wrote “overlong and tedious” details of NYC as a kind of tight third person narration?

      I don’t know about his knowledgebase. But he uses newer innovations like distributed ledgers for his financial extrapolations (like in this novel or in his newer Ministry for the Future). I’m fine with that but it doesn’t awe me as one hundred years away. I never read KSR because of those forms of technological extrapolations. His terraforming parts are great, though 🙂

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  2. pdtillman says:

    The sea-level rise stuff is pretty much pure propaganda by the climate alarmist politicals. We have excellent records of sea level changes at major ports (from the tide gauges) and they all show a very gradual rise, at a rate that’s hardly changed in more than a century. A few mm/yr is unlikely to inundate Manhattan! KSR should have known this, had he done a bit of homework. Shame!

    Why I read little Cli-Fi. Too little science, too much politics!
    My field, or close enough to it that I know the science well. Disturbing that the political nonsense gets such a steady drum-beat in the press. While scientists who should know better, remain silent. You’ve clearly touched a nerve!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      Thanks for your contribution to the discussion.

      Yes, it’s mm/yr. “hardly changed in more than a century” was correct until 1993 (1.4-1.8mm/y). Now, better data is available out of satellite radar based measurements which weren’t available before, and it has accelerated 1993-2017 to 3.1mm/y. Newest measurements from this year’s reports show 3.6mm/y. That’s not “hardly changed” but still in the mm/y area. Even conservative groups like IPCC corrected their prognosis to the previous worst case scenarios. I guess, the truth will be somewhere between IPCC data and your more “alarmist” groups.

      All of those data disregard intentionally the glacial instabilities because they are extra hard to figure out. Greenland ice shield has a potential of 6 meter sea level rise, same for the Western Antarctic ice shield. Both have tipping points where it doesn’t help to go back to pre-1990 green house gas levels. We’ll see effects in the next hundreds of years.
      Thing is, that the tipping point for Western Antarctica seems to be reached already, as the glaciers there became instable (sea water under their base), breaking away large, stabilizing chunks.

      “A few mm/y is unlikely to inundate Manhattan” – that’s true, but you’re confusing the novel’s motivation completely. You didn’t read it, right (because you don’t like KSR’s leftist agenda in general and the climate argumentation specifically)?

      Ever since his Antarctica novel, KSR extrapolates the potential 6 meters of sea level rise in the Western Antarctic Shelf – compressing the effects from several hundred years down to one hundred. That’s why we see skyscraper’s basements and first levels of lower Manhattan standing in water in this novel.

      I just wonder why I’m going into that discussion. I know that I won’t ever convince you. Let’s just agree that we disagree, shall we?

      Liked by 1 person

      • pdtillman says:

        OK!

        It’s true that I find KSR a deeply annoying writer, when he’s pursuing a leftist agenda. With which I am *deeply* unsympathetic. It’s also true that he is a great (or near-great) writer…..

        Liked by 1 person

        • Andreas says:

          I know two novels by him without leftist: Shaman and Years of Rice and Salt. Both aren’t among his best.

          Like

          • JJ says:

            I hated Shaman. I had little interest in the subject matter to begin with, but the fact that it was historical fiction being deceptively marketed as speculative fiction (which is what I went in wanting and expecting) really pissed me off.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. pdtillman says:

    Yes, the ice=sheets have all melted before. And could again. Just not likely (in my judgment) to do so so quickly as to disrupt our civilization (much), Opinions differ, and I could be wrong. We could also over-react to the CO2 ‘hazard’, sentence millions of poor people to continued energy poverty, and inadvertently trigger a return of the glaciers! You guys in northern Europe *definitely* wouldn’t like that! But, in the arid American West: Green Heaven!

    Absolutely none of this will happen in my lifetime, or yours. Still, fun to speculate, right?

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  4. pdtillman says:

    PS: The accuracy of the satellite sea-level measurements is still being debated, No one (TMK) debates the accuracy of the tide gauges.
    And I don’t think I’d ever before seen the IPCC reports described as ‘conservative’!

    Deep enough! ⚒︎

    Like

  5. bormgans says:

    I felt that this was a bit too formulaic KSR, and didn’t convince. Not a bad book, but among his weakest.

    Liked by 1 person

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