The latest genre to focus on New York City’s destruction at the hands of Mother Nature is the newly emerging field of “cli-fi,” or climate fiction. Several recent cli-fi novels have explored the ways climate change could drastically damage the city’s landscape.
The newest of these books is New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson, one of the deans of modern science fiction, who presents a future where the glaciers have melted and the city has been flooded by 50 feet of water. As it turns out, this vision of the post-apocalyptic city is not much different than today.
Sweeping in scope, New York 2140 presents a tangled array of characters and subplots from around the world, including a rollicking adventure story about the assisted migration of polar bears via high tech blimps, a treasure hunt for gold under the East River, and a short-lived romance consummated by a steamy session in a boat floating over the submerged ruins of Governors Island.
The author’s main interest, though, is not climate change but economics, and the novel focuses on real estate deals, marketplace machinations, and the redistribution of wealth via the nationalization of banks and asset taxes.
A more immediate cli-fi precursor to New York 2140 is author Lev AC Rosen’s 2015 novel Depth, another lightly dystopian vision of a flooded New York City, where the waters have now reached the 21st floor. Like Robinson’s novel, Depth is also an enjoyable romp through a comfortably pleasant post-apocalypse, and also plays with popular genre tropes, in this case digging into the pulpy cliches of the hard-boiled detective novel.
Rosen’s version of the future is more akin to the 1930s and ’40s world of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler: There are tough private eyes, a mysterious client in a fur coat, a cold blonde, booze and cigarettes, rainy nights, and the darkness of classic film noir. And like New York 2140, it imagines a city quite similar to our current one, but with more water, including hot dog vending boats, virtual-reality bowling alleys, and a floating Chinatown.
When it comes to exploring how the specific geography of New York City could be affected by climate change in the future, both New York 2140 and Depth lack any real consideration of neighborhoods outside Manhattan. This is an unfortunate omission, because many of these communities are currently on the front lines of sea-level rise and contain some of the most interesting climate projects now being realized in the city.
To fully investigate the future of sea-level rise in New York City, you have to leave Manhattan. Yet in New York 2140, the outer boroughs are mostly just handled with a glance towards the coastline of Queens, a quick glimpse into the ruins of the South Bronx, a dinner in Brooklyn Heights, a boat trip out to Coney Island to view a beach reclamation project, and no interest whatsoever in exploring Staten Island.