The Future Will Be…WET: New York 2140 and American War

Two new releases came out this month along a similar motif: Climate Change!

That’s right! The liberal bogeyman in the closet! The biggest lie since Al Gore said he invented the internet!

I’m just kidding. Anyone who thinks climate change is a hoax, I have a Hummer I’d like to sell you.

NEW YORK 2140 By Kim Stanley Robinson

There’s a capital “M” Message in Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 that is worthy and frightening. If we continue to abuse our planet, we will pay the consequences. Those consequences are wide-ranging, from the destruction of habitats and species, shrinking coastlines, an ever widening gap between the classes, housing crises, to devastating ecological events that turn the streets of New York City into canals.

Robinson creates an astonishing vision of the future, excessively detailed, smart, complicated and imaginative. Though the POV doesn’t veer often from NYC, the glimpses outside of the city provide tantalizing possibilities of the way the world has changed just one disastrous century hence.

But all too often, the action is focused on NYC, and the canals and stranded skyscrapers and sky bridges grow a little stale after the hundredth visitation. The “Plot” (and I use that term loosely) focuses on a cast of characters living in the former MetLife building. Characters that are by-the-book carbon copy archetypes: the ambitious woman, the douchey finance bro, the impish street kids, the wise yet doddering old man, the grouchy Slavic building super…et al.

The very real possibility of Robinson’s ecological future is undermined by goofy, pie-in-the-sky plot machinations like a people’s revolution that brings down the existing financial system, a treasure hunt, a polar bear transport gone awry, a hurricane, a mysterious kidnapping, and nefarious private security firms. It’s a veritable kitchen sink of plot ideas with no editor in sight. Further bloating the text are an endless stream of quotations and list that, in the audiobook, has its own narrator!

The book reads almost like a pitch for a TV series, and would probably make a good own, as TV creators are often adept at enlargin a novel’s given universe and elaborating on character development (though not always *cough* Walking Dead.)

AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad

In a slightly less distant future, author Omar El Akkad imagines one that is equally devastated by climate change, such that the southeast borders of the U.S. have moved drastically inland, while the shrinking East and West coastlines have sent scores of displaced citizens fleeing towards the Midwest. This leads the government to ban fossil fuels, resulting in a rift that starts the second American Civil War.

In contrast to New York 2140, the novel charts the life of one little girl living far south in the Louisiana swamp and her genesis towards adulthood and the fate of a nation. The narrative is occasionally interrupted by context-setting excerpts from memoirs, reports, and history books. This provides a nice balance that heightens the plot tension as it barrels towards its tragic, inevitable conclusion.

There is a fascinating parallel between this “American War” and the wars America has fought overseas. The North is the dominating status quo, viewing the dissident Southerners as backwards hicks. The Southerners wage their war with guerilla tactics, strapping on “farmer’s suits,” fertilizer-fueled bombs and martyring themselves for the Southern cause. They set mines and ambush transports.

But they are no more unequivocal enemies than the North is righteous. The North engages in brutal interrogation techniques, suspending human rights as a wartime necessity. The detainees suffer cruelties that include sensory assault and waterboarding.

American War doesn’t waste subtleties on drawing these distinctions. Taking the war to our own backyard is a sobering shift in perspective.

***

Both books are set against the backdrop of climate change and the way it will drastically change how humans live. It will drown cities, start wars, spread disease, widen the economic divide, and extinguish species.

It’s hard to believe that in 2017 we’re still equivocating over whether or not climate change even exists, all the while ensuring a shittier future for every living thing on this planet.

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