Kim Stanley Robinson

Dec 24, 2020

The Ministry for the Future

Orbit 2020

The Ministry for the Future (Orbit, 2020) is a sweeping novel about climate change and how people of the near future start to slow, stop and reverse it.

The story opens with a devastating heat wave that kills thousands in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. From there, Kim Stanley Robinson pulls back to show us the world’s reaction, taking readers from the eponymous Ministry for the Future (which advocates for new laws and policies, like carbon quantitative easing) to scientists in Antarctica, where glaciologists pump out water from under glaciers to slow their slide into the ocean.

The book’s kaleidoscope of viewpoints goes beyond humans to include animals, inanimate objects and abstract concepts, like caribou, a carbon atom and history. Robinson also uses multiple forms, from traditional first- and third-person narratives and eyewitness accounts, to meeting notes and history lessons, to riddles and dialogues. The effect is epic, conveying both the complexity of the problem and a wake-up call.

“I want to make the very strong point that it's never game over,” Robinson says. “It’s never too late to start doing the right things.”

And the right things add up. The novel spans 30 year, and over that time, the cumulative efforts of individuals, governments, scientists and even terrorists start to reverse the damage.

“Especially for young people, I'm always trying to emphasize that it's not like we were having fun … in the carbon-burn years and now you've got to suffer and live like saints forever. It's actually that we were obese and hurting and stupid. And now you could be smart and stylish and clever and have more fun.”

Rob Wolf is the host of New Books in Science Fiction and the author of The Alternate Universe and The Escape.

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