"The future is here, it just hasn't finished melting yet."
March 19, 2017 12:12 AM   Subscribe

Utopia in the Time of Trump - "Written before Trump's election and released just after his inauguration, [Kim Stanley Robinson's] New York 2140 stands as the first major science fictional artifact of the Trump era, anticipating even in its articulation of the conditions of victory the fragility of progress and the likelihood of reversal." (via) [previously]
I felt for a bit reading New York 2140 that perhaps it was no longer right to call Robinson our last great utopian visionary, as he is so often described; maybe even Stan has finally wised up and realized we’re all doomed. When the misanthropic voice of H. G. Wells pops up in one of the epigram pages that periodically punctuate the novel, to announce, upon first seeing the Manhattan skyline, “What a beautiful ruin it will make!” it really felt to me, when reading the novel in the bleak, miserable December of 2016, like the piercing stab of the truth, the real truth. We are going to take this beautiful place and make it a ruin, make everything a ruin until everything is dead. In fact, speaking realistically rather than utopically, we probably already have. Climate change is an intensifying feedback loop we can’t interrupt and can’t reverse; even if we stopped burning carbon tomorrow, it’d probably already be too late to stop most of it, and we won’t stop burning carbon, especially not post-11/8. Some version of New York 2140 — maybe better, likely much worse — seems to be the actual future of our civilization, the one our political leaders and titans of industry and artificially intelligent high-speed-trading algorithms driving the invisible hand of the market have, in their infinite wisdom, chosen for us.


“Once upon a time,” the Vladimir says to the Estragon, “there was a country across the sea, where everyone tried their best to make a community that worked for everyone.”


New York.” We then see the Vladimir describe the founding of this New York as a place where everyone could be whoever they wanted to be, where who you were before you got there didn’t matter — a free place, a beautiful place, a gift. Of course it’s a place that never fully existed in our bad history, but from time to time we saw its glimmers, and in any event it’s a place we might have had.
New York 2140: Kim Stanley Robinson dreams vivid about weathering climate crisis - "I am increasingly certain that these stories are an urgent political project. We are all prone to the availability heuristic, in which things that are easily imagined are considered more likely than things that are hard to imagine... Vivid, engrossing tales about the best natures of humans overcoming the worst are a weapon against despair and cynicism -- and may be the necessary precondition for the survival of our species."

also btw...
Why does Donald Trump demonize cities? - "Because they show that the liberal experiment works... Taken together, the Great Divergence and the Big Sort imply that Republican regions are producing less and less of our nation's wealth. According to Mark Muro and Sifan Liu of the Brookings Institution, Clinton beat Trump in almost every county responsible for more than a paper-thin slice of America's economic pie. Trump took 2,584 counties that together account for 36 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. Clinton won just 472 counties — less than 20 percent of Trump's take — but those counties account for 64 percent of GDP." (via)
posted by kliuless (13 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
I avoided Kim Stanley Robinson for many years. The covers of his novels seemed to shout, "BOYS' SPACE ADVENTURE BOOK," but of course what he actually does is a bit closer to LeGuin and Watts and the sort of thing I enjoy quite a lot.

What I'm especially enjoying about him, now that I'm reading him, is the way he marries the optimism and utopianism of thinking about better futures to the bleak realities of the world we actually live in; without really sliding too far toward either stupid Singularitan faith or pessimistic Doomer nihilism. It's refreshing to read about people acknowledging the beauty of dreams, then rolling up their sleeves and getting on with reality.
posted by byanyothername at 12:52 AM on March 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

I really liked his Three Californias triptych. It's a lot more like Le Guin than a boyzone adventure book, but it's not like Le Guin. Still good, though.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:12 AM on March 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

You forgot the MetaFilter's Own! I've waited sixteen years for this.
posted by gerryblog at 5:08 AM on March 19, 2017 [19 favorites]

Thanks for this Gerry, you've made me rethink my dislike of the science in the capital books.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:31 AM on March 19, 2017

I also have not really been interested in Robinson - I started Red Mars, but the style and characters didnt grab me, and I didn't have a strong push to keep going. Nothing wrong with it, just didn't tickle my fancy.

This book sounds like it does tickle several fancies of mine: future ruins, flooding, class conflict, flooding. (okay, I really like flooding). I will have to give it a try.
posted by jb at 7:06 AM on March 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well, I thought that was a really good review even before I knew it was by a mefite. I liked all the Jameson stuff and the Benjamin reference particularly.

I got into KSR a little bit because of reading Jameson's Archaeologies of the Future so I was also excited to learn that he's got a new book out. Everyone I know feels like he's totally wrong about science fiction - even me, I guess - but I felt like I got a couple of really key SFnal ideas about of AotF.

I wonder if the citizen narrator is a reference at all to the commenter in Ursula Le Guin's Always Coming Home? What you quote sounds very like her. That too is a post-apocalypse book, but one much further in the future and thus freed to be a little more optimistic. It's an "end of history" book very explicitly, in that the key plot point of the book is the attempt by some of the people in that world to bring back the old history of conquest and industrialization. Because Le Guin is actually kind of a pessimistic writer, they are only defeated, really, because the world is too materially exhausted to sustain what they try.

Mostly I worry about surviving into these climate change futures. I'm old enough that I'm worried about just being too sick and stiff by the time they arrive. It's not that I doubt that politically meaningful lives can be made, but I worry that it won't be by me.
posted by Frowner at 7:27 AM on March 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't know if I'm strong enough right now to deal with any near future fiction. Just not collapsing in despair takes a fair amount of my energy. Far future I can do, and other planets, but anything too close to the present feels like rubbing a sunburn. I worry about having any specific hopes while we are ruled by spiteful madmen who would like nothing better than to break all possibility of hope. But I did like the Mars books. Maybe I can stand to read this someday.
posted by emjaybee at 7:42 AM on March 19, 2017 [8 favorites]

I really liked his California trilogy, but none of his other books worked for me -- I have started a bunch of them, but never finished any but the California books. I'll try this one as well, though with more optimism.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:10 AM on March 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Once an avid sci-fi/fantasy fan, I have read vanishingly little over the last few decades. But I did read one book of his, Years of Rice and Salt, which I absolutely loved. I will definitely be adding this new one to my pile. Thanks!
posted by skye.dancer at 8:24 AM on March 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's fair to cast KSR as a utopian writer; he seems to have clear eyes as to the risk that it will all go backward or fall apart after the happy ending. As in that short in The Martians where the ecology has collapsed and everyone is kind of moping around underground wondering what to do about it.

Something KSR seems to have noticed and written into many of his stories is that humans seem to be at our best with our backs against a wall. We figure out how to work together, find unsuspected reserves of strength, and manage to do what has to be done. But once we've solved the problem and fixed the situation, that willingness to work together and those reserves of strength evaporate. You can see that very clearly in the early history of the United States after our successful revolution.

I do think that when the climate change juggernaut really gets rolling we will not just lie down and die. I have seen firsthand the re-emergence of New Orleans after Katrina, a thing I did not believe could ever happen and which has astonished me on a daily basis. Of course, new Orleans will eventually have to be abandoned; we can keep raising the levees to a certain extent, but there comes a point when it's a waste of resources better spent in other ways. But there does seem to be some variance in the amount of cruelty projected by those reacting to such situations, and we can only hope the current era has burnt itself out when the waves of refugees really start moving about.
posted by Bringer Tom at 2:53 PM on March 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I really wanted to like his Three Californias. I liked the concept. I liked one alright. But the review is still intriguing enough that I might try to check this out. Thanks.
posted by salvia at 3:08 PM on March 19, 2017

Good review, gerryblog!
posted by salvia at 3:14 PM on March 19, 2017

Great review, and I particularly liked your point about how 2140's charting of a middle path, gerryblog.

I finished this book on Sunday. The actual plot took a while to kick in, and it came across as a little too interested in NY trivia - but at least it had a plot (I'm looking at you, 2312), and not just that, a fantastic view on how people might 'adapt' to climate change in a city like NY. Before reading it, I thought, yeah yeah, drowned skyscrapers, I've read that before, but as usual KSR goes above and beyond with his imagination and research.

I really think KSR is on a roll with Aurora and 2140. These are books that have genuinely changed my mind and made me feel more hopeful about the future.
posted by adrianhon at 3:04 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

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