New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson book review

Kim Stanley Robinson returns to the future with New York 2140

Good stories about New York always have a certain grandeur about them, and the best elevate the narrative and characters to the mythical heights of its subject.

In New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest vision of the future, the Big Apple has been submerged by waves of catastrophic climate change, heralding a new world order and a transformed way of living.

One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is politics and human nature, so as we jump between the various viewpoints of the many different characters in Robinson’s big, big story, we see that despite history trying its absolute worst to teach us a lesson, it may not be enough to better us or change the way we conduct ourselves.

A highlight of New York 2140 is the way Robinson seamlessly binds together a large number of characters and narrative strands, lending each one a distinct and immediately recognisable voice, vocabulary and rhythm, which makes for an immensely enjoyable reading experience.

The character gallery is vividly varied, fittingly bringing together people, names, mannerisms and cultural references from across the globe. In addition, the prose itself frequently soars, especially when Robinson lets loose in first-person, raving and ranting about the city, its history, vision, future, pros and cons, giving it a true ‘New York’ personality.

However, the future vision projected throughout the story, while certainly serving to illustrate humanity’s notorious lack of willingness to change, largely fails to awe. Apart from the increased levels of seawater, it never feels like we’re looking at a world more than 20 years from now, let alone 120. But it’s a small, insignificant flaw in what is frequently a Grand, Very New York story.