One of the greatest gifts of speculative fiction is the ability of its best authors to extrapolate from the present to imagine, and bring to life, what could result from the continuation of present trends. Kim Stanley Robinson, an acclaimed science fiction author who has won just about every award possible in the field, has taken on the issue of global climate change in his latest book, New York 2140, and presents us with an eye-opening view of what could happen to New York City in the aftermath of catastrophic oceanic rise brought about by climate change.
In New York 2140, coastal areas all over the world have been inundated by rising ocean waters, and New York City is no longer just one island, but a multitude of islands separated by canals, with only the highest portions of skyscrapers above the water. It’s still New York City, still a melting pot filled with energy and life, but it’s a very different kind of city now.
The way Robinson shows us the new world is by taking us through one skyscraper and the people who live in it: police officers, lawyers, market traders, coders, building superintendents, internet stars, orphans, readers. He twines their lives together and, through these characters, looks at animal extinctions, immigration, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and other issues all too relevant today. The diversity of the characters and the complexity of their interactions makes it feel very much like a portrait of New York City, or of a New York City that could be in the plausible future.
In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come if the visions shown him are of what will be or what might be. One could ask the same question of Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, and hope the answer will be the same, and that we can change before New York 2140 becomes a portrait of reality.