Of all of the Hugo and Nebula award finalists for 2018, New York 2140 is the longest. However, it is a comparatively quick read, so don’t let that stop you. It’s an entertaining read, with only one, although large, problem, and it definitely belongs on this list.
The novel is set in New York City in the year 2140 and the action takes place over the next 3 years. Most of the action, there are a couple of scenes that do take place outside of New York. In this future, several events happened that caused ice melting and the sea to rise fifty feet. That leaves a good portion of New York City, including all of Downton, underwater. Since many of the buildings are skyscrapers, or at least taller than the sea rise, people still live there. New York City is still the place to live.
There is a group of characters who live in one of the buildings in Madison Square, including the building manager, a police detective, a social worker, a couple of people in the finance industry, a cloud star who’s clothes are likely to disappear, and a couple of boys who don’t, technically, live there, in addition to several others.
Before I go into what I liked about the book, my major complaint is that there are multiple chapters which is just the author explaining the economics of the situation and why it’s a bad thing. I found this especially annoying because his characters also explain the economic situation (economics and finance are very important to the story), and I don’t need the author jumping in a giving me a lecture. In fact, they spend enough time giving info-dumps on both the economics (with many examples including the 2008 disaster) that I resented the author jumping in and doing it again. The length of this book could have been cut by quite a bit, without damaging or confusing the story, just by cutting out these chapters.
That said, I did enjoy the novel. I’ve been a fan of science fiction for decades, and enjoy a good “hard” science fiction novel. This one falls into that category, although that does depend on whether or not you believe the scientists on climate change. I would expect there to have been more change than there is but, otherwise, it’s a very believable future.
New York City is as much a character as any of the human characters in the novel. Several of the characters discuss snippets of its history, especially about the Revolutionary War and the HMS Hussar, which I looked up and is a real thing. These discussions are usually brief, or necessary to the plot, or both.
That New York City is set as the location is appropriate since it is currently the center of the financial world (in the future, not so much, but it still has much influence), plus its geographical features (it is described as an archipelago in an estuary debouching into a bight, featuring a lot of very tall buildings) make it an appropriate location.
All of this makes the novel sound grim, but it’s not. Although there are some tense moments, a lot of less than happy ones, and not a lot of humor, there is some light-heartedness through the story. The one financial guy’s response to being asked to look after the two boys and the cloud (internet) star and her frequent ditziness are two examples. Frankly, the novel is a good cross-section of people that way: some dour, some cheerful, some honest but not always, some sleezy but not always. There are no purely good people, there are no purely evil people, there are just people doing the best they can. Which is a pretty good way of expressing one of the themes of the book: people doing the best they can, as a community because we are social animals.
I recommend this book as a good read whether you’re looking for the next Hugo winner or not. It’s good science fiction and a good story.
Robinson, Kim Stanley. New York 2140. New York: Orbit Books, 2017. Kindle edition. Amazon.