In this post 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. There has been a lot of discussion.
Welcome to Jen! On Twitter she offered a fine visual as she prepared to dive in:
— jen (@injenuity) July 28, 2018
(And you are very welcome here.)
Conversation buzzed all over last week’s post, with twenty-six (26) comments (not from me) as of this morning. I can’t summarize the whole discussion because it’s too rich. Just click through and dive in, like Stefan and Roberto. However, I can pull out a few thoughts that struck me:
- Technological development seems to have slowed since our era. Most tech in 2140 is either what we have now or just a little advanced.
- Lots of fine close reading from Bill Benzon, Joe Murphy, and Steven Kaye.
- Babette Kraft observed in a very rich comment that the book’s first section’s title, “The Tyranny of Sunk Costs,” is quite important. It “could be almost everything in this novel.”
- Tom Haymes thinks I identified the wrong Met tower, and offers this one instead:
On Facebook Scott Butki and Patricia F. Anderson found three quotes they especially liked. One was:
She kept her eyes on the famous investor, speaking beauty to power, which is perhaps more common than speaking truth to power, and definitely more effective. (page 12; Kindle location 404).
Another was passionate and self-referential:
[Climate scientists] published their papers, and shouted and waved their arms, and a few canny and deeply thoughtful sci-fi writers wrote up lurid accounts of such an eventuality, and the rest of civilization went on torching the planet like a Burning Man pyromasterpiece. Really. That’s how much those knuckleheads cared about their grandchildren, and that’s how much they believed their scientists, even though every time they felt a slight cold coming on they ran to the nearest scientist (i.e. doctor) to seek aid. (page 140; Kindle location 2203)
A third referred to an “accompanying refugee crisis, which, using the unit popular at the time, was rated as fifty katrinas.” (page 140; Kindle location 2187) This is another example of the transformed language we discussed last week.
On Twitter Patricia added another fine quote, this time from an excerpt:
.@BryanAlexander : New York 2140: part one https://t.co/qckG3RAnd3 | https://t.co/ILuvrc6rWC | https://t.co/lkNDPGt76H #books #bookclub #futuring #scifi My favorite line: "Windows split the city's great hell Into tiny hellets" (Mayakovsky) Dug. Evidently KSR's translation!
— P. F. Anderson (@pfanderson) July 24, 2018
(Can someone find me the Mayakovsky in Russian, so I can see how this translation holds?)
Meanwhile, author Bill Benzon has a series of amazing posts on the novel here. I’m going to refer to them from here on. Please read ’em.
Raptnrent blogged about the novel, including approving notes about the audiobook version. There are some bits online, like this:
Rap. also responds to last week’s criticisms of the characters as thin, like so:
The characters seem rather stock, but I don’t think that’s a problem. They’re more important for what they represent rather than who they are. It contributes to the lightness and humor of the novel as well.
Whew. That was a busy week. Now on to this week!
The novel continues its practice of following a swarm of characters, tracing events through their perspectives.
Mutt and Jeff have been kidnapped by forces unknown. Vlade and Franklin rescue Stefan and Roberto again, then help them dive some more for buried treasure. Amelia has bear issues in her blimp, then in Antarctica. The mysterious offer to buy the Met unfolds a little, while water leaks threaten. Charlotte meets with her ex, who now runs the United States Federal Reserve. Franklin becomes disappointed in his love affair, but has a vision of a new way to build houses on water, plus an investor.
We learn more about the world, including the history of the Pulses, along with a scene of water sumo.
References continue being hurled in all directions. Stefan and Roberto get to read Huck Finn, appropriately (2969). Franklin uses Karl Marx’s “M-C-M'” formulation without attribution (4256).
More examples of the classic science fiction practice of inventing new words or repuporsing old ones to show (in Eric Rabkin‘s phrase) a transformed world through transformed language: “pikettied” (for Thomas Piketty; 2375), “lethemlucidity” (4170; presumably after this writer). I also enjoyed learning the word mulm (3803).
Technology notes: air travel has declined, or at least moved away from jets (3428). Medicine allows replacement of stomach linings (3544). There’s some criticism of cloud computing:
Lots of people were simply without papers or any cloud documentation; it was hard to believe until you met them by the hundreds and eventually the thousands, day after day for years. The cloud’s Very Bad Day in the aftermath of the Second Pulse had wiped out millions of people’s records, and no country had completely recovered from that, except for Iceland, which had not believed in the cloud and kept paper records of everything.(Kindle location 3417)
The city’s transportation system is impressive and relies on some new ideas, but Bill Benzon thinks it probably wouldn’t work.
Immigration remains a major theme, as does the duality of capitalism and anticapitalism. As an example of the latter, the citizen offers this glimpse of downtown as something radical:
Hegemony had drowned, so in the years after the flooding there was a proliferation of cooperatives, neighborhood associations, communes, squats, barter, alternative currencies, gift economies, solar usufruct, fishing village cultures, mondragons, unions, Davy’s locker freemasonries, anarchist blather, and submarine technoculture, including aeration and aquafarming. Also sky living in skyvillages that used the drowned cities as mooring towers and festival exchange points; containerclippers and townships as floating islands; art-not-work, the city regarded as a giant collaborative artwork; blue greens, amphibiguity, heterogeneticity, horizontalization, deoligarchification; also free open universities, free trade schools, and free art schools. Not uncommonly all of these experiments were being pursued in the very same building. (Kindle location 3240)
- What kind of novel is this, without a clear protagonist? Babette Kraft suggests that NYC is the protagonist.
- Bill Benzon thinks the book is ultimately a heist story. Do you agree?
- What does the opening frame of sunk costs tell us by this point of the book?
- The citizen describes a vast social experiment going on downtown (“a proliferation of cooperatives, neighborhood associations, communes, squats, barter…”). Does this seem like the novel’s politics?
- Do the characters and plots work for you, or is the novel at this point what one critic and sf writer thought: “2140 is a textbook rather than a science-fictional possibility”? Related: is there a villain in the story? (sf writer Adam Roberts doesn’t think so.)
- What do you make of this observation from the citizen? “History is humankind trying to get a grip. Obviously not easy. But it could go better if you would pay a little more attention to certain details, like for instance your planet.” (2297)
- Is the novel more about the 2008 financial crisis than about the year 2140, as one reader argues?
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.
If you feel a bit under water at this point (sorry, couldn’t resist), take a breath. Remember, all blog posts for this reading are organized under a single tag, NewYork2140, so all of that content is available in one spot. That includes the full story of this reading, along with our guide and process.
August 6 – Part Five. Escalation of Commitment; Part Six. Assisted Migration
August 13 – Part Seven. The More the Merrier; Part Eight. The Comedy of the Commons
August 20 – leftover and concluding thoughts. This may include reactions to the 2018 Hugo award, scheduled to be given August 19th.
*Please use that link if you want to order a copy of the book. We get a small benefit from each purchase.
(thanks to Beyond My Ken for the Met photo and to our splendid discussants)