At Public Books, Phillip Polefrone reviews Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel, New York 2140, which portrays a New York City that is partially submerged by rising sea levels caused by climate change. A central trope of the novel is liquidity, of both the watery and financial kind. As Polefrone notes, through the theme of liquidity, Robinson portrays both the capitalist processes that have devastated the planet, and the improvised social relations that point the way towards a new world. Here's an excerpt from the review:
Robinson’s latest novel is remarkable in its ability to at once combine a narrative of disaster with a bold vision of possibilities. He not only reconciles the inevitabilities of climate change with the pressing need to build systems that can withstand it but also experiments with form to underscore his theoretical arguments. While the book is for the most part gripping, it can be overwhelming at times, and this is hardly mitigated by references to arcana like the Case-Shiller index (a measure of house prices). Nonetheless, the argument implicit in Robinson’s narrative and portrayal of this world is an essential one. New York 2140 exposes the violence inflicted by finance capitalism on the planet and the life that inhabits it while also showing that any meaningful response to climate change will have to combat the financialization of the economy on finance’s own terms.
Finding a way to fight such an ephemeral enemy is the daunting task of Robinson’s characters, who become wonk-revolutionaries almost accidentally. The plot centers on 10 figures, all of whom live in the Met Life building on 23rd Street (now a cooperative affectionately called “the Met”), as they half-heartedly join forces to locate two former residents known as “quants” (quantitative financial analysts), who have gone missing after an errant foray into hacktivism. This search becomes entangled with a mysterious bid to purchase the Met from its residents as well as suspicious efforts to sabotage its waterproofing that begin when they refuse to sell.
In order to resist the takeover, the residents realize, they have to go on the offensive. Nothing short of plugging the holes in capitalism itself will do. A visitor asks Charlotte Armstrong, de facto leader of the resistance, “So to save your co-op from a takeover you would destroy the entire global economic system?” Charlotte responds, succinctly, “Yes.”
Image of Kim Stanley Robinson via electricliterature.com.