16 November 2017

Global Warming Made Good: A Review of New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson

Trundling down the street, ineffectively bundled for the sharp Arctic wind that has stolen my city's breath, I am returning a book. Kim Stanley Robinson's ecologically new future behemoth, New York 2140 made a satisfying boom as I dropped it at the library counter. Nary an eyebrow rose, even though the thunk reverberated through the quiet space, ending an intense reading relationship that had enclosed me for nearly two full weeks. Surely a bookmark was in order, some small acknowledgement of my commitment to lugging this beast to the play park, the bath, and the karate dojo. Nothing though, not even a hi-five, it was all so anti-climatic that my time spent felt somewhat lost, never wasted but definitely ill defined.

Global Warming has fulfilled its ultimate destiny, ice caps have melted, and sea levels have risen resulting in two confirmed pulses of global mass destruction. Every species is in crisis - humans ever adaptable have created new waterproofing technology to hold the waters at bay, for now. New York has been baptized Super Venice - an island, existence precariously determinant upon the tides. Lower Manhattan has sunk, streets and avenues now canals with Upper Manhattan home to the ultra-rich, safe behind newly constructed towers that rise ever higher. The 1% continues to flourish all the while the globe strains to find placement in this flooded world.  

Is this science fiction, near future dystopian or a love-letter to New York? New York 2140 is Kim Stanley Robinson's first truly character driven novel. A world-builder, Robinson weaves words to assimilate an atmosphere that few in science fiction properly master. An image from his 2312 novel of Mercury's expansive city, Terminator revolving on tracks around the planet, keeping just shy of the coming deadly sunrise, lives deep in my imagination. The best of generational space odyssey has Aurora top of my list. 

I have always loved Robinson's plot lines, hated his characters. Red Mars, the book that brought SF infamy to his door, sits forlornly on a side-table because my annoyance for the protagonist cannot surpass my general curiosity. Can world building sustain a novel or novels as with Kim Stanley Robinson's catalogue of work? 

New York 2140 worked as an entertaining read because the city became the star. Without the highly developed backdrop, the human elements of the story would lie flat, despite me liking everyone. It is more a question of time relevance. In recent years, the Canadian city I call home experience stretches of snowless winter months, cool summers, and unseasonably hot autumns. Global warming is not my future it is my present. Reading a novel so close to my reality unsettled my complicity. Good science fiction should be unnerving, a talisman of the times, even a beacon for what may come. I internally debate whether New York 2140 is simply an okay book wrapped in glitzy gift wrap or something greater, something ever more complex. 

I am a Kim Stanley Robinson fan, convoluted, but none the less, a fan. His books are remembered years later, a metric that many a book I read fails to accomplish. New York 2140 is easily readable, and undeniably relatable whether you like it, is something I am curious to discover. 

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