And in contrast to my last book, this one was shit. I went into the Hugos slightly worried that I’d already read all the good ones (a lot of Nebula crossover plus authors I’d sought out anyway) and this… not only confirmed it but doubled down on it.
To put it as briefly as possible: I do not want my SFF novels to be economics textbooks. And I never thought I’d have to spell that out. It seems so obvious… and yet, I present to you: New York 2140.
Not that that was the only issue, mind you.
- It was an economics textbook.
- I didn’t care about any of the characters.
- I don’t want to read whole chapters going on about how amazing this one bit of New York geography is and how it basically changed the world.
- Still don’t care about economics.
- Or finance in any way at all.
- Still no.
- Aaaand the tone is really smug.
- WOO MISOGYNY.
- Yes I know global warming is shit, you didn’t have to tell me that. FIFTEEN HUNDRED TIMES. I ALREADY AGREE.
- Oh look, it’s another chapter about how amazing and unique New York is.
- When will this torment end.
The answer to 11 was “in way too long” because it is not a short book. Really not. And it felt so much longer than it was. I nixed my lead on my Goodreads reading goal because of this book. I coudn’t stick more than a couple of chapters at a time. The writing style is really smug and self-congratulatory, and the characters are all unlikeable wankers, and then oh god the economics.
Okay, to explain that (because a lot of this blog post is just gonna be “ugh economics”) – one of the characters works in finance. Like… trading… something? Shut up, I know sod all about this stuff. Anyway, his chapters follow two topics; either he explains economics at length and in depth, or he’s sad about a lady he fancies not liking him enough and he doesn’t understand women. And the problems with the second one are pretty self explanatory. But re: the first… some of this is just me. I have absolutely zero interest in finance, economics and the associated whatever. I just don’t and can’t muster it. Sorry. But some of it would be there whatever bit of science it was (ok unless it was linguistics or a bit of biology I find cool). It’s just way too much. When a character only exists to lecture you on this one bit of science (or angst about a sexy lady)… it’s just not enough. They become EXPOSITION MAN. And it’s not even really exposition a lot of the time. It is honest to god just explaining to you how trading or whatever works. Like, real things that exist in the real world. Occasionally it dips into how they affect the flood-filled future, but the point isn’t super about how they’ve changed. It’s just… explaining them. Again and again and again. And so I started skimming them. I didn’t really take much in. And it in no way affected how I understood the book – the rest of the plot was entirely comprehensible without them. So… what are they? Just guff. Unnecessary, self-indulgent wittering guff. It’s obnoxious, because it came across really patronising too, like the author felt I ought to know about this so he was going to take some time out of writing his SF to teach me economics. Dude, fuck right off.
This is, to be honest, my major issue with the book. It bored me to fucking tears with this shit. There wasn’t enough of anything else to balance it out. But hey, there were other issues too so guess I’m going to rant some more.
The misogyny… was definitely an issue. There are a lot of fleshed out female characters in the book, so it’s not like KSR is a serial idiot on this front. I suppose maybe the intention was to use it as a character flaw in Franklin (economics man). But the problem is, he doesn’t really have a character, so you don’t really take it as indicative of him as a person, because there’s no person there. He’s exposition-man! Who needs personality when you have ECONOMICS FACTS? So it felt more like a reflex of the author’s views… and then it jarred horribly with those fleshed out female characters. So it just didn’t make any sense. So that was fun…
And there was a lot of American exceptionalism. Like, a LOT. I know urban fantasy has a thing for going “hey, London? LONDONLONDONLONDON!!” but this was worse. Even if I leave aside the “I’ve been to London ever so can picture this”. There was so much of the author telling you how this one specific building/person/thing in New York proves that New York and its people are just that special and magnificent and world changing that it just swamps you. He once takes the piss out of it… then keeps doing it, so you don’t believe he actually thinks it’s stupid. And it is so fucking repetitive. It’s only outdone by the economics, frankly. But it’s mostly not done in a character voice, it’s just a chapter of author-voice stuff, so it’s not even like it’s got a thin veil of being in service to the plot. He just interrupts this scheduled programme to tell you have trully amazing New York is. Didn’t you hear? Even if I ever cared (nope), I don’t anymore.
At the heart of all this belaboured fuckery, there’s a vague mystery plot or some shit. Who even cares? It’s buried under so much bullshit it’s not worth finding, and even when you do it’s half-assed and stupid. There’s no real resolution to it, and the way it plays out is just kinda… eh? The resolution is a bit serendipitous and hand-wavey. But it really is quite sparsely strung out among all the other plates the book is spinning, so even in the quite hefty tome, there’s not enough space to do it justice. I guess someone could claim this was actually a book about some people who live in future New York, and yes there’s a bit of mystery solving but mainly it’s about people and their relationships… but the book really doesn’t want you to measure it against that yardstick, let me tell you. I give no fucks about any of the people in it. They’re all a bit… who gives a shit. Or wankers. Or annoying preteens. Or all of the above. The women are, thankfully, at least as fleshed out as the men, so it’s not a misogyny fest but that’s not a high bar. They’re all a bit pointless and under-shown. So… yeah no, not that.
I guess that’s my real problem. I don’t know what this book is supposed to be, and it feels like it doesn’t either. It meanders along trying to be deep and clever, but it achieves boring or irritating. Mainly “long”. And “economics”. It never achieves any sort of actual resolution, and just… it’s a big sort of “bleeeeerggghgh” on a lot of pages, on a load of semi-related things the author cares about, vaguely tied together with some characters or something. It doesn’t feel finished at all. Not that I think I’d like what this would be even if it were. God it was such a fucking effort to get through this, I honestly nearly gave up.
If this wins the Hugo I’ll be seriously pissed off.
Current Hugo rankings, therefore, run thus:
1) Raven Stratagem – Yoon Ha Lee
2) Provenance – Ann Leckie
3) The Stone Sky – N. K. Jemisin
4) Six Wakes – Mur Lafferty
5) New York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson (and it’s saying something that I think this is even shitter than Six Wakes).