Monday, May 15, 2017

New Scientist Column: Kim Stanley Robinson and Gwyneth Jones

My latest column at The New Scientist looks at two novels that try to imagine how society will order itself in the wake of environmental and economic collapse.  Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140 imagines the titular city as a high-tech Venice, where a quasi-socialist community has arisen in the vacuum left behind when finance retreated, and must now defend itself as the forces of gentrification once again sniff out a profit to be made in the newly hip and livable canalized city.  It's been interesting to watch the reviews for this book pour in: Gerry Canavan at LARB, for example, wonders if it represents the shattering of Robinson's famed optimism, while Joshua Rothman at the New Yorker, and John Clute in Strange Horizons, see the book's vision of a city that survives and even flourishes in the wake of climate change as an inherently hopeful one.  I think that tension is entirely intentional--New York 2140 is a book that isn't entirely certain whether the future it imagines is a good one, and whether the survival it posits is something to celebrate or mourn.

Proof of Concept is a great deal less ambivalent about its future, in which most of humanity lives in cramped, heavily-policed enclaves while the rest of the planet is a polluted wasteland.  A group of scientists enter enforced isolation, supposedly to study a potential form of faster-than-light travel, but also as a form of reality TV that is a primary form of entertainment in a world that loves dreaming about an "escape ticket".  As you'd expect with Jones, everything is a lot weirder than even that premise might suggest, with the novella juggling so many balls that one could easily imagine it being fleshed out into a full-length novel.  It's amazing to think that we haven't had a new work from Jones in nearly a decade, and I hope that Proof of Concept is a sign of things to come, though as a work in its own right it feels incomplete (Paul Kincaid comes to similar conclusions at Strange Horizons).