I hope this does not challenge the copyright laws. It is a long quote from the book 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, but I have included attribution. In this particular chapter, where KSR describes a New York City after the ice caps have melted we see a perfect example of his ability to describe worlds that don’t exist (or don’t exist yet). I guess you have figured out by now that I enjoyed this book.
Swan and Zasha from 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, the hardcover edition, (pp. 90-93)
Earth’s thirty-seven space elevators all had their cars full all the time, both up and down. There were still many spacecraft landings and ascents, of course, and landings of gliders that then reascended on the elevators; but all in all, the elevators handled by far the bulk of the Earth-space traffic. Going down in the cars were food (a crucial percentage of the total needed), metals, manufactured goods, gases, and people. Going up were people, manufactured goods, the substances common on Earth but rare in space – these were many, including things animal, vegetable, and mineral, but chiefly, (by bulk) rare earths, wood, oil, and soil. The totals came to quite a flow of physical mass up and down, all powered by the counterbalanced forces of gravity and the rotation of the Earth, with a bit of solar power to make up the difference.
The anchor rocks at the upper ends of the elevator cables were like giant spaceliners, as very little of their original asteroidal surfaces were left visible; their exteriors were covered with buildings, power units, elevator loading zones and the like. They were in effect giant harbors and hotels and, as such, extremely busy places. Swan passed through the one called Bolivar and settled into one of the hotel cars without even noticing it; to her it had just been a complicated set of doors and locks and corridors, getting her into yet another set of rooms. She was resigned to the long ride down to Quito. It was an irony of their time that the trip down the elevator cable was going to take longer than many interplanetary voyages, but that’s the way it was. Five days stuck in a hotel. She spent the days attending performances of Glass’s Satyagraha and Akhnaten, also dancing hard in a grueling class designed to get people toughened up for one g. which sometimes hit her pretty hard. Looking down through the clear floor, she got familiar again with the great bulge of South America, gaining definition below them: blue oceans to each side; the Andes like a brown spine; the little brown cones of the big volcanoes, bereft of all their snow.
It was almost an ice-free planet now, with only Antarctica and Greenland holding on to much, and Greenland going fast. Sea level was therefore eleven meters higher than it had been before the changes. This inundation of the coastline was one of the main drivers of the human disaster on Earth. They had immensely powerful terraforming techniques off-planet, but here they usually couldn’t be applied. No slamming comets into it, for instance. So they bubbled their ship wakes with surfactants to create higher albedo and had tried various levels of sulfur dioxide injected into the stratosphere, imitating volcanoes; but that had once led to disaster, and now they couldn’t agree on how much sunlight to block. Much that people advocated, and many of the smaller projects that were in action already, cut against other proposed or ongoing projects. And there were still powerful nation-states that were also corporate conglomerates, the two overlapping in Keynesian disarray, with the residual but powerful capitalist system ruling much of the planet and containing within it its own residual feudalism, there to fight forever against the serfs, meaning also against the horizontalized economy emerging with the Mondragon. No, Earth was a mess, a sad place. And yet still the center of the story. It had to be dealt with, as Alex had said, or nothing done in space was real.
In Quito Swan took the train to the airport and got on an airplane flight to New York. The Caribbean’s cobalt and turquoise and jade were brilliantly vivid: even the brown underwater outline of drowned Florida has a jasper sheen. The stunning gloss of Earth itself.
A much steelier ocean crashed whitely into Long Island as they descended over it, bumping and slipping in the air. Then they were landing on a runway somewhere on the mainland north of Manhattan, and at last she was out of various travel containers, the rooms and vehicles and corridors and hallways, and under the open sky.
Simply to be outdoors in the open air, under the sky, in the wind—this was what she loved most about Earth. Today puffy clouds were massed overhead at about the thousand-foot level. Looked like a marine layer rolling in. She ran out into some kind of paved lot filled with trucks and buses and trolley cars, and jumped around screaming at the sky, then kneeled and kissed the ground, made wolf howls, and after she hyperventilated a bit, lay on her back on the pavement. No handstands—she had learned long before that handstands on Earth were really hard. And her rib still hurt.
Through gaps in the cloud layer she could see the light-but-dark blue of the Terran sky, subtle and full. It looked like a blue dome flattened at the center, perhaps a few kilometers above the clouds—and she reached up for it—although knowing too that it was just a kind of rainbow made glorious. A rainbow that was blue everywhere and covered everything. The blue itself was complex, narrow in range but infinite within that range. It was an intoxicating sight and you could breathe it—one was always breathing it, you had to. The wind shoved it into you! Breathe and get drunk, oh my, to be free of all restraint, minimally clothed, lying on the bare surface of a planet, sucking in its atmosphere as if it were an aqua vitae, feeling in your chest how it kept you alive! No Terran she had ever met properly appreciated their air, or saw their sky for what it was. In fact they very seldom looked at it.
She collected herself and walked over to the dock. A big grumbling water ferry took on her and many others, and after negotiating a crowded canal, they were out in the Hudson River and going down the Hudson side to midtown. A few parts of Manhattan’s ground still stood above the water, but most of it was drowned, the old streets now canals, the city an elongated Venice, a skyscraper Venice, a super Venice—which was a very beautiful thing to be. Indeed it was an oft-expressed cliché that the city had been improved by the flood. The long stretch of skyscrapers looked like the spine of a dragon. The foreshortening effect as they got closer made the buildings look shorter than they really were, but their verticality was unmistakable and striking. A forest of dolmens!
Swan got off the ferry at the Thirtieth Street Pier and walked on the broad catwalk between buildings to the High Line extension, where people filled the long plazas stretching north and south. Manhattan on foot: workers pushing narrow handcarts on crowded skyways, connecting island neighborhoods suspended between skyscrapers at differing heights. The rooftops were garnished with greenery, but the city was mostly a thing of steel and glass—and water. Boats burbled about on the water below the catwalks, in the streets that were now crowded canals. All the aerial plazas and catwalks were jammed with people. As crowded as ever, people said. Swan dodged between the bodies of the crowd, working the border between the two directions of traffic, glorying in all the faces. They were just as heterogeneous as any spacer crowd, but the people were very much closer to an average size—rather short at that—with many fewer smalls and talls. Asian faces, African, European—everyone but Native Americans, as she always thought in Manhattan. Talk about invasive biology!
A building she passed had pumped out its old floor and now operated down there in a kind of big bathtub of air. She had heard that submarine and intertidal real estate was booming. Some spoke of pumping out the subway system which still worked wherever it had run aboveground. Below her the slop of water threw up a big ambient sound. Human voices, and water splashing, and the cries of gulls back on the docks, and the rush of wind through the canyons of buildings; these were the sounds of the city. The water below was completely chopped up with intersecting wakes. Behind her, down the avenue to the west, mirrorflakes of broken sunlight bounced on the big river. This was the thing she loved—she was outdoors, truly in the open. Standing on the side of a planet. In the greatest city of all.
She hopped down some stairs and got on a vaparetto going down Eighth Avenue. The ferry was a long low-slung thing, with seats for about fifty people and room for another hundred to stand. It stopped every few blocks. She hung over the rail and gazed up and down the canal: a river canyon, with buildings for canyon walls. Very Futurismo in appearance. She got off at Twenty-Sixth Street where it was bridged by a long esplanade, extending east all the way to the East River. Lots of the east-west streets had overhead platforms like this, and the crowded canals under them were shaded almost all day long. When the sunlight slanted through slots, it laid a bronze glaze on things, and the blue water turned pewter. The New Yorkers did not seem to notice this effect, but on the other hand, there were twenty million people living here despite the flood, and Swan thought that beauty was not completely irrelevant to the phenomenon, even if people chose to keep mum about it. Tough guys, it made her laugh. Swan was not a tough guy, and not a New Yorker, and this place was astonishing and she knew the locals knew it. Talk about landscape art! “’The geography of the world is unified only by human logic and optics,’” she chanted, “’by light and color of artifice, by decorative arrangement, by ideas of the good, the true, and the beautiful!’” You could sing Lowenthal’s entire oratio on the catwalks of Manhattan and no one would care.
She moved into the sun whenever she could. That was the direct radiation of Sol, slamming into her naked skin. It was amazing to stand in the light of the sun without dying of it. This was the only place in the solar system where that could happen; the bioshell surrounding a star was as thin as a soap bubble. Thickening the life bubble—maybe that was the human project. That they had pulled the bubble around Mars was a remarkable thing. If they pulled it inward to Venus, even more so. This, however, would always be the sweet spot. No wonder the mystics of this old world, stunned by all life’s changes. Metamorphosis suited Earth, and never stopped. The great flood had become a fortunate fall, had brought on an exfoliation into a higher state. The world had been watered. Flowers popping out of the leafy branch. She was back.