PrintE-mail Written by Jennie Bailey

Unless you’ve had your head deep in desertification, you will have noticed that there has been a healthy mushrooming of Cli-Fi; a – slightly clunky – derivation of “climate fiction”, with books by Margaret Atwood, Liz Jensen, Cormac McCarthy and others filled with climate change doom. This type of fiction tends to be speculative; wondering how life will be during, and after, the Anthropocene. To add to this literature, enter, via a massive tidal wave of glacial melt, Stan Robinson’s recent novel New York 2140 with a huge novel that does what it says on the cover: concerning the concrete city (where dreams are made of) in the not-so-distant future. And, oh my, what a mighty tome it is, one that covers lots of ground, or, more accurately water. Here the light dances off the flooded city as multiple characters allow the story to unfold. The ensemble cast share their living space, a densely populated skyscraper on Madison Square stuffed with various sized apartments. The plot, and the city itself, is seen through the eyes of its various characters: coders Mutt and Jeff, police inspector Gen, market trader Franklin, the apartment’s superintendent Vlade, an unnamed citizen, celebrity Amelia, immigration lawyer Charlotte, and Stefan and Roberto, two young “detectorists”.

Although 34th Street is under 50 feet of sea, it’s a recognisable environment; New York is still the city that never sleeps. Wall Street is alive and capitalism is kicking, market traders watch the world’s economies rise and fall, facilitating – arguably quite gruesome – bets on when, and where, the next climate catastrophe will hit. In fact, if there is a “baddy” in New York 2140 then it is the system itself – finance still makes the world go around even though it is nature that ultimately suffers.

In addition to the story, there are scientific references and literary epigraphs which help set the tone of the novel. This shows what a cultural heritage the US has, adding to the rich texture of the novel (once you’ve finished the book, you may want to chase these up!).

Robinson’s writing is so evocative that you can imagine that any one of his paragraphs could feature in the film of the book, from the water autobahns to the super hurricanes (which would look, and sound, incredible on the big screen). But this is no 2012 apocalypse, there is a strong and, somewhat optimistic, social and environmental justice thread that runs throughout the book. It is a thoughtful, innovative page turner, and a stark warning that it’s up to you (New York, New York) and all of us to ensure that the climate scenarios depicted in New York 2140 are mitigated.


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