Today we continue our online book club‘s reading of Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140.* We’re discussing the last two parts: “The More the Merrier” and “The Comedy of the Commons.” Please join us in reading!
Today I’ll offer a summary of the plot so far, followed by observations and questions for reading.
But first, let me pull together online commentary and links from readers so far.
Mike Richichi blogged his thoughts about the novel so far, including the observation that perhaps the entire world received as “assisted migration” by the end, and offered examples of escalated commitment.
Mike also shared this fine glimpse of the Met from his morning commute:
— Mike Richichi (@chairthrower) August 6, 2018
Also on Twitter, Jen shares her thoughts:
Almost to part 6. I've always said I can't stand sci-fi, but this has kept my attention. I don't care about any of the characters. Amelia is super annoying and I almost gave up on the whole thing when she was saving the sky village with popped balloons.
— jen (@injenuity) August 6, 2018
From last week’s post, more comments: Babette Kraft reflects on assisted migration, building up to how the novel is about changing minds and hence about education. Tom Haymes shares a grim bit of research arguing that the Earth is heading towards a tipping point into rapid climate change. Bill Benzon wonders “How many science fiction narratives, stories, novels or films, are built around financial manipulation?” We debate who’s to blame for climate change.
On his blog Bill Benzon identifies a beautiful and politically fascinating scene from the novel’s end, when Amelia takes Mutt and Jeff dancing in a small club.
But where’d it come from? That whole scene struck me as being uncharacteristic of the novel…
It’s as though KSR didn’t intend for it to happen, wasn’t part of his world building, but somehow at the very end a different world collided with KSR’s in that underground club and insisted on ending the story. There’s a counter narrative there, one about how such clubs came to be/continued to be…
He added on Facebook: “why stick it underground?”
Meanwhile, the latest United States Census data shows coastal populations steadily increasing.
One more point: some major internet connections now lie on or under certain coastal areas. They may be inundated with water in twenty years or less.
A giant hurricane (Fyodor) clobbers New York for three days, causing terrible damage and destruction and which we see from every character’s perspective. In the aftermath tensions boil up between homeless crowds and the semi-tenanted towers of the wealthy, and the plans for a financial strike go ahead. Private security outfits working for the oligarchy struggle with the New York Police Department.
Charlotte runs for Congress and blackmails her ex, the head of the Federal Reserve. Vlade and Idelba reconnect; Charlotte and Franklin connect. New laws might turn elite housing into homes for the homeless. A global movement nationalizes big banks and increases taxes on the wealthiest. Inspector Gen and Mutt and Jeff quietly blackmail each other. History keeps going.
Animals become major drivers in the story. They’ve been present since Amelia’s bears and Franklin’s tidal brainstorm, but now are more powerful. A vision of many, many dead animals spurs Amelia to take a local revolution to the cloud and the world. The boys spend time learning about animals after their muskrat adventure in the storm.
The theme of immigration morphs into one of homelessness after the storm. (Kindle \location 8340) “[P]eople didn’t usually make great efforts to smuggle themselves into a disaster area.” (8349)
Education has been silent so far – as Mike Richichi puts it, “we see no mention of anyone participating in any sort of K-20 education” – finally makes an appearance in terms of student loans. Amelia summons people everywhere to go on a debt strike, to declare a jubilee:
“What I mean by a householders’ strike is you just stop paying your rents and mortgages … maybe also your student loans and insurance payments. Any private debt you’ve taken on just to make you and your family safe. The daily necessities of existence.” (Kindle Locations 7977-7979; emphases added)
Our annoying citizen follows suit:
…even in Denver significant percentages of the population joined the various householders’ unions and refused to pay rents of all kinds, mortgages and student loans especially. (8047-8048).
The final political settlement includes free college education. (9107)
Technology: again we see uneven development. Vlade follows a storm by checking NOAA’s web page (6810) (NOAA’s still around? only founded in 1970) and by using spreadsheets plus GANTT visualizations (7025). Inspector Gen hopes for lifestraws, already in use now (7289). The Met’s farm uses “photovoltaic sheathing and paint” for power instead of solar cells, but also relies on generators, nondescript batteries, candles, and lanterns (6869ff). People still watch telenovelas (7483). Gunpowder weapons (assault rifles, laser scopes) are used alongside tasers. Drones are still used (8276).
We get glimpses of new technology, but the innovations are often set aside, like this:
Some of the new stretchtech came from biomimicry, tricks learned from kelp beds or limpets or human fascia, and it was wonderfully effective, but relatively new and rare, and therefore expensive. (8382-8383)
It’s interesting to see digital technology downplayed as finance breaks down. In turn, construction and agriculture become more important. It’s as if politically progress is somehow technologically retrograde.
Some more fine language: “The great city was now a mass of rectilinear shadows, enduring under the flail of rain and wind.” (7060)
I think hurricane Fyodor lasts for three days, after which, Christ-like, a new society arises.
Charlotte runs for Congress in a way that sounds a lot like Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign:
My platform is similar to the left wing of the party’s current platform, you can check out the particulars if you like, the Rad Dems, but know that mainly I’m going down there to speak for intertidal people everywhere, and to speak against the global oligarchy every single day. I’m not taking campaign money from anyone and I don’t have any of my own, so I’m mostly doing this in the cloud… (8306-8309)
- Can the novel’s focus on immigration shed light on how to help the homeless?
- Thinking of the final section’s title, how did our protagonists and their allies avert a tragedy of the commons?
- Why does the novel end with that scene in the underground club?
- What aspects of life after climate change does the novel portray most effectively for you?
- Does New York 2140 leave you with a sense of urgency, a desire to act?
- How much of the novel is a reaction to our immediate history? I’m thinking of how the 2008 financial crisis plays an important role in the story and echoes of the Democratic party’s subsequent left-center split.
What do you think? Let us know in comments below. Or share your thoughts on your own blogs, Twitter, or wherever you like. I’ll harvest everything I can find with each week’s starting post – and ping me if you want to make sure I catch you.
…and that’s the end of our reading. If you haven’t finished the book yet, don’t worry. All blog posts for this reading are organized under a single tag, NewYork2140, so all of that content is available in one spot from now on. That includes the full story of this reading, along with our guide and process. These notes are there for you, and their attached comment boxes stand ready for your thoughts.
Coming up: we have one more post on August 20. There I’ll offer some leftover and concluding thoughts and host more of yours. This may include reactions to the 2018 Hugo best novel award, scheduled to be given August 19th, and for which New York 2140 is a nominee.
*Please use that link if you want to order a copy of the book. We get a small benefit from each purchase.
(thanks to Bill Benzon for more fine photos)