Survival in Half-Sunken Cities: Adaptations of coastal cities to climate catastrophe in speculative fiction

Tonguc Ibrahim Sezen

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


In his 2017 novel New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson envisions a post sea level rise aqua city consisting of man-made islands build around skyscrapers predating the climate catastrophe. Called “a super Venice” by Robinson, the New York city of the 2140s relies on technological interventions and constant human effort to exist. Detailed and scientifically plausible, this imagery of the flourishing half-sunken city of the future is not unique to Robinson’s novel. Such optimistic pessimist visions of urban futures adapting and thriving following the climate catastrophe are not uncommon in recent speculative fiction from various media. Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film A.I. Artificial Intelligence envisions half-sunken cities as privatized corporate heavens. Blue Byte Studios’ real-time strategy video games Anno 2070 and Anno 2205 place players as administrators of post sea level rise urban development. The Gathering Storm expansion of Civilization VI provides players multiple ways to adapt to rising sea levels, including building flood barriers and seasteads. Other, more pessimistic approaches to life in half sunken cities can be found in George Turner’s 2013 novel The Sea and Summer, and Daniel Pecqueur’s 2016 comic book series Golden City, both depicting social conflicts between poorer half-sunken cities and their wealthier counterparts, surviving land-based habitats and newly constructed corporate floating cities respectively. The Sea and Summer also explores class conflicts within the towers. These works not only ask what can be done to save our coastal cities, but also question which aspect of contemporary urban live and culture should be preserved, and what benefits and challenges these new ways of living could bring. In this regard this paper proposes a comparative reading of media depicting visions of half-sunken cities of the future. How do they envision coastal urban survival in the post climate catastrophe age? What are common themes and strategies? How are these strategies related to real world proposals and designs to save coastal cities? And finally, what do these works of fiction say about our perception, hopes, and fears of the post climate catastrophe world?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2022
EventBetween Fiction and Society: Imagination and World Building in the Aftermath of a Global Pandemic - Iulm University, Milan, Italy
Duration: 12 Oct 202214 Oct 2022


ConferenceBetween Fiction and Society
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