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Chapter 2 - Dark Waters: Eco-Noir in New York 2140

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2024

Meghan P. Nolan
Affiliation:
Rockland Community College, New York
Rebecca Martin
Affiliation:
Pace University, New York
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Summary

Introduction

When Hexter from Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140 talks about a novel he has written, he describes it as “mostly a detective novel, I guess you’d say, or an adventure novel where it's just one damn thing after another” (Robinson 2017, 392). One of the pitfalls in emulating traditional action-packed noir and hardboiled narratives, both subgenres of crime fiction, is that one can run into the problem of reducing the work to a pure thriller. Consequently, a pure thriller narrative, which can include psychological, action, and crime thrillers, might make it difficult to effectively address societal, political, and other issues. Rather than writing another pure dystopic, science fiction thriller, Robinson is more interested in coupling noir/hardboiled1 and cli-fi genres to comment on environmental degradation because, as he argues in the afterword of Green Planets, “it's only when you shrink the novel to the thriller that you run into problems in representing ordinary realities” (Canavan and Robinson 2014, 245).

In this chapter, I examine the relationship of New York 2140 with traditional hardboiled noir texts of the 1920s–1940s by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Specifically, I examine the relationship between the hardboiled and Anglo-hypermasculine noir narratives of early twentieth-century America and the rhizomatic dystopian and utopian ecology of New York 2140. Although noir has an uncanny capacity to draw the reader's attention to the scenic and the setting of our environment, it does so in limited ways. While the landscape in classic noir texts remains secondary to the plot and action, New York 2140 places the landscape at the heart of the narrative in order to raise awareness of climate change. In short, New York 2140 reenvisions conventions of violence, crime/criminals, and victims found in noir narratives to elicit action from readers against environmental degradation.

In New York 2140, Robinson depicts a near future of the planet suffering from sea level rise due to a warming climate. Unique to this novel is the fusion of dystopian and optimist outlooks on our future. In this novel, New York City is the new Venice, canals replace streets and we read about how people adapt to these changes.

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Chapter
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The Crossroads of Crime Writing
Unseen Structures and Uncertain Spaces
, pp. 41 - 62
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2024

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