Saturday, 13 May 2017

New York 2140

New York 2140
Kim Stanley Robinson

Orbit hardcover £20

***** (5 stars) review by Christopher Geary   

Just like his book ‘2312’ presented us with a cogent picture of post-human futurism in a fully populated Solar system, this instantly engaging novel scales down SF narrative from interplanetary concerns to matters with a closer focus on a single city, albeit one with global renown and vigorous citizens. New York 2140 is a distinctly pro American take on Ballard’s Drowned World views. Not so much an exploration of eco-regressive traits, as in Ballard’s London of 2145, this type of US SF is, ultimately, about escaping from debt as the modern form of slavery. They don’t own you but you owe them is the message, and that’s the way they like it... until something changes the system.      

Manhattan is a flooded island, now a super-Venice project becoming a centre for new breeds and brands of wholly progressive - not recalcitrant - survivalists, and home to a colourful batch of unlikely heroes with or without political ambitions and important practical guidance from extended, meta-familial attachments. There’s Charlotte, the reluctant politico; Vlade, the building superintendent; Amelia, the flying starlet of a cloud-media circus; Franklin, the rogue trader with a hedged betting scheme/ scam to burst the cluster-cloistered financial world’s new bubble; Gen, the big black female police inspector; Mutt and Jeff, a pair of brain-trust ‘brothers’ from nerds-ville; and a couple of crazy kids, Stefan and Roberto, the gloriously rebellious orphans and chums without a cause that bring Huckleberry elements of reckless (bight me!) adventure to the solidly pragmatic and watertight drama of big issues.    

Here are tales from the burning edge of edginess and the waving-not-drowning moral panics of careerist interlopers bound together by authorial voice of ‘the citizen’ whose chapters provide both insider knowledge relief, and incisive commentary of a ranking outsider. New York 2140 is not any sort of New Atlantis, it’s far more grimly realistic, despite a gloomily predictive model of how badly rampant climate change could very soon devastate coastlines and break economies around the world. In keeping with previous works, Kim Stanley Robinson maintains his firmly ingrained, but non-dogmatic, anti-capitalist and pro-social themes that surge and ebb like tides throughout the storyline and its numerous historical references. Comedy and tragedy rub shoulders, and nobody emerges from the murky aftermath of the climate-climactic and catastrophic storm unscathed.