New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson
The more I read Robinson the more I enjoy and appreciate him. In the tradition of Heinlein he has definite ideas of how the world should be run. I think he’s a better writer than Heinlein in several ways. Heinlein, for example, liked the tool of OGWATA. (Old guy with all the answers.) Sometimes it was a pipe-smoking dad on Mars, in The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress he uses Professor La Paz to describe the intricacies of the Heinlein world view.
Robinson can be nearly as didactic as Heinlein with a few more subtleties. There are two major threads in New York 2140. The most obvious is a view of a world radically altered by climate change. This, fairly naturally, reflects on decisions made in our own time. An even heavier hammer on our own time, however, is laid on the 2008 financial crisis and the decisions, good and bad, that were made to rise out of that crisis.
The general overview of the book, with its many characters and parallel plot lines, is that a major chunk of the Antarctic melted faster than anyone expected. Instead of a continuingly gradual increase in sea level there’s a very sudden increase flooding most of the islands of Manhattan and Long Island. Even drenched, however, New York City maintains its allure to millions, who now consider their city to be a new American Venice. So much so that new buildings are built on the underwater bedrock that was once Central Park. Like New York of today, however, there’s prime real estate and less desireable buildings built on the weaker soils which now begin to tilt and collapse as their foundations crumble.
With the climate changes comes increasing weather problems including hurricanes of much greater strength.
There are several story lines and some have a great deal of charm. A pair of orphaned boys guided by a book and map collector and the belief that they can recover a sunken gold treasure left by the British during the Revolution. A young financial trader who sees an opportunity to trade in equities of distressed real estate futures similar to what brought the 2008 crash. An airship pilot named Amelia who broadcasts her travels and adventures, including trying to relocate polar bears to the Antarctic to try to save the species.A police woman trying to keep order in an increasingly bizarre political and environmental situation. A building manager trying to maintain and protect his building from ferocious weather. And a coop member of the building, and the ex-wife of the head of the SEC, who is fighting off a hostile takeover bid of the property.
I read the Mars Trilogy and Years of Rice and Salt by Robinson. Since then he’s clearly read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century and some others (I’m guessing Joseph Stiglitz) and has some hard ruminations on our times and the even worse economy of 2140. I, being a former union thug and happy progressive, enjoyed it. Sci-Fi fans of the Sad Puppy inclination will probably pull their hair out. Fine with me. I have all my hair and will enjoy looking better at conventions. I sense that there will be some with aptitudes for science and engineering who may feel overwhelmed with talk of quantitative easing, nationalization, and rent seeking. Anyone with sympathies toward Occupy Wall Street will appreciate a trashing of a growing financial oligarchy and increasingly militarized and privatized security forces.
Any reader of the book will get some excellent stories and very appealing characters. You’ll also get environmental science, mineral science of New York, snippets of the history of New York, a look at the economy of 2008, a refresher on economics, and some happy story endings. Robinson is a thorough researcher. You may not dig his politics but you have to admire his ability to bring together a broad variety of ideas into a single book.