Book Review: The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson


Book cover - a human stands in a massive tube and looks at the sky.

Established in 2025, the purpose of the new organisation was simple: To advocate for the world’s future generations and to protect all living creatures, present and future. It soon became known as the Ministry for the Future, and this is its story.

From legendary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson comes a vision of climate change unlike any ever imagined.

Told entirely through fictional eye-witness accounts, The Ministry For The Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, the story of how climate change will affect us all over the decades to come.

Its setting is not a desolate, post-apocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us – and in which we might just overcome the extraordinary challenges we face.

I struggled with this book. It is a huge tome, full of righteous indignation and fourth-wall-breaking exposition. Like a middling episode of The West Wing. But even though I'm a solar-punk-eco-hippie-vegan I felt like I was being lectured to.

In a sense, the book is like World War Z (the novel, not the movie) in that it is told from the first person perspective of lots of participants. As the world slowly dissolves into chaos, we see how a wide range of voices react. Sadly, it rapidly becomes confusing. Chapter headings don't tell you which character you're reading about, or what location you're in, or what the date is. That can be a quirky literary device, but in a book this long and complicated it is just annoying.

It's barely even speculative fiction, it feels like it was written tomorrow about the future that yesterday wished it had.

At times it feels like an economics lecture - by a hip professor who is trying a little too hard to engage in Socratic dialogue. Some chapters are just a page or two explaining an economic concept, or property of philosophy. Again, fun in small doses - but it gets a bit wearing.

Parts of the book feel like the author has literally copy-and-pasted a list from Wikipedia. How many animals have gone extinct? Here's a list! Why? At once point, the author simply lists 74 glaciers. No other information, just their names. It is needless filler.

The technobabble is... disconcerting. Take this example:

“The AI group is making open source instruments that mimic the functions of all the big social media sites.”
“So people can shift over to this new set?”
“Yes. And it will protect their data for them using quantum encryption.”

Yeah… Much like Gell-Mann Amnesia, I skipped over the quantum-blockchain-woo and pretended that the geoengineering science wasn't also word salad.

Is it a good book? I'm not sure. It's more like a political manifesto with the addition of some light speculation, rather than a fictional novel. Halfway through, I bailed on it. The characters have no real narrative arc, the (computer) science is dodgy, and the frantic cutting between locations slows the story without really providing any perspective. If I wanted to watch the world collapse, I'd turn on the nightly-news.

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. The paperback book is available to pre-order now.


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