New York 2140: Kim Stanley Robinson dreams vivid about weathering climate crisis


Originally published at:

In 2012, Kim Stanley Robinson published 2312, imagining how the world and its neighbors might look in 300 years, loosely coupled with the seminal Red Mars books, a futuristically pastoral novel about the way that technology can celebrate the glories of nature; in 2015, Robinson followed it up with Aurora, the best book I read that year, which used 2312’s futures to demolish the idea that we can treat space colonization (and other muscular technological projects) as Plan B for climate change – a belief that is very comforting to those who don’t or can’t imagine transforming capitalism into a political system that doesn’t demolish the planet. Now, with New York 2140, Robinson starts to connect the dots between these different futures with a bold, exhilarating story of life in a permanent climate crisis, where most people come together in adversity, but where a small rump of greedy, powerful people get in their way.


so wait, I was supposed to read 2312 before reading Aurora? Oops.


That’s the thing about suppositions - supposed by whom?


some works of literature continue themes, plots, and characters from other works of literature, and are written in the expectation that the reader is familiar with what what has come before. And others merely contain echoes.


No, no, NO!


Are you objecting to those hyphens? (Merriam-Webster has unputdownable and notes that it first appeared in 1935.)


Fair enough, though I’d like to see more about the reference.
I just hate the stench of “marketing speak” that it exudes, and have ever since I first encountered it in a James Patterson ad.


My comment is about the cover art… that’s not what NYC would look like after 50 feet of sea rise… I believe it would more realistically look exactly the same as it does now. I predict that tall buildings will simply move their entrances up 5 stories, and smaller buildings will be jacked up, and everything will be filled in to match the existing outlines of things. Fill is cheap, and it’s been done before, in Galveston Texas, for example. Even Chicago sits on about 11 feet of fill, just to make it less swampy.


I’ll just take this semi-legitimate opportunity to pay Robinson a backhanded compliment: I deeply disliked both main characters in 2312, which is a compliment since I enjoyed the book overall.

And of course there’s no rule that says protagonists or major characters have to be likable. And I don’t think he was trying, or in any event trying hard, to make characters that I or other readers would like. But it was kind of interesting to root for the “good guys” in their adventures to save humanity while also being very conscious of how little I’d mind if the shadowy conspiracy they were up against managed to kill off THOSE SPECIFIC humans.


Thanks for the review, Cory! Having already enjoyed KSR’s Mars Trilogy, I’ve noticed prior references to his follow-up works, but did not see enough “buzz” about them to prioritize them in my queue. However, your review helpfully offers some very interesting-sounding praise for 2140, as well as ties it together with 2312 and Aurora. Just got all three of them via Audible, and plan to start in on them in their publication order, as soon as I finish Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”.


I wonder how many of the skyscrapers would actually survive being flooded. Wouldn’t salt water corrosion of the steel and concrete structural framework of the buildings prove fatal and eventually cause most of them to collapse?? I assume some kind of retrofitting of the submerged “foundations” would be required to keep them standing…


As a person who knows anything at all about sailing, that cover really makes me cringe. Those two big ships have their sails up and filled, which means they’re going to very quickly sail right into that skyscraper. Unless, of course, they’ve already run aground in what looks like fairly shallow water surrounding the city.


Merriam and Webster are dead to me if they countenanced that abomination. OED for lyfe yo!


You are forgetting the difference between tides and swamp. Tidal erosion is a big thing. Once the steel frames are exposed by the erosion of the concrete, the only way for those buildings is down.


Does it have a part where the waters are irretrievably polluted by all the fluids and chemicals that are freed by submersion? Great garbage/chemical/oil slicks forming from underground storage tanks and consumer detritus? No power, natural gas or telco because all the substations are flooded and controls are shorted out? Or is this a happier tale, like Waterworld, where the cigarettes stay dry forever, and I keep a lime tree on my boat?


The thing is, the basements are already below sea level, and everything is stable. Filling in the shoreline would keep active seawater away, and existing cathodic protection would continue to do its job. The erosion that effects the coasts would just be dealt with by the same means currenly employed… sure it might take a billion worth of fill over 30 years, but that’s a drop in the bucked compared to the losses avoided. I think it’ll be seen as just be a cost of doing business in the future.


better consult the OED before proclaiming your loyalty.


It does.


Noooo! Oh well, I already know all the words.



About the fill: Stanford’s engineering department did a quick study some years ago to estimate how much sand, gravel and cement will be needed to build sea walls for predicted sea level rise. Just for world ports–not for cities–the amounts were staggering. There is not enough construction capacity in the mideast or south asia to armor the ports of the gulf and southeast asia. This article doesn’t go into it, but the engineers told me that there may not be enough gravel and sand in that region to protect the ports–let along urban areas.