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


The Ministry for the Future
Kim Stanley Robinson

Title: The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
Rating: 3 stars (🌟🌟🌟)
Publisher: Orbit

For half of this, I thought I'd rate this around 2.5 stars but around the 56% mark, I felt like the story hit its stride (or I acquiesced to it). I began enjoying it more and couldn't put it down. By the book's end it had me feeling so hopeful that I felt that for me, this was more a 4-star event. So strong 3-star for the whole thing.

I expect infodumps but found an excess of them, even for KSR. There are two main characters, Frank a survivor of the opening heat wave that kills 20 million people and Mary who is the head of the Ministry for the Future. Characterization is scant for others and it's serviceable at best for Frank and Mary. This is not a surprise but it just goes further to remind that I don't come to KSR's books for the characters. Because of the varying POVs in the chapters, this book often didn't feel much like a novel for a good bit. There was more economics than this reader was looking for, to the point of eye-crossing at times. On the upside, there's also some simply brilliant wit & voice displayed. My favourite, when a carbon atom narrates a chapter. And I definitely smiled when two characters discussed Maigret briefly.

I don't know that I'd recommend this to anyone unfamiliar with KSR's writing (admittedly this can be a slog for the initiated). I'm just glad I enjoyed this more than Red Moon. It starts off well, is a bit of a slog for a third but finishes very well.

Favourite quotes:

"Easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism."

Favourite provocative passage:

"In the United States, the National Students’ Union website showed that thirty percent of the union members had now responded YES to the union website’s standing poll asking them if they were in so much financial distress caused by their student debt that they would like to see the union initiate a fiscal non-compliance strike, by not paying their next debt payment. On joining the union, members had agreed to join any strike requested by thirty percent of the membership, so now the union coordinators called for a strike vote to be sure, and got an eighty percent yes vote, with ninety percent participation. None of this was surprising; student food insecurity, meaning student hunger, was widespread, also student homelessness. So the strike began.

Student debt was a trillion-dollar annual income stream for the banks, so this coordinated default meant that the banks were suddenly in cash-flow hell. And they were so over-leveraged, and thus dependent on all incoming payments being made to them on time to be able to keep paying their own debts, that this fiscal strike threw them immediately into a liquidity crisis reminiscent of the 2008 and 2020 and 2034 crashes, except this time people had defaulted on purpose, and precisely to bring the banks down. The banks all rushed to the Federal Reserve, which went to Congress to explain the situation and ask for another giant bail-out to keep liquidity and thus confidence in the financial system itself. There were calls from many in Congress to bail out the banks, as being essential to the economy, and too connected for any of the big ones to be allowed to fail. But this time the Fed asked Congress to authorize their bailing out the banks in exchange for ownership shares in every bank that took the offer. This was either nationalizing finance or financializing the nation, in that now it was clearer than ever that the country was in effect run by the Fed. And since Congress ran the Fed, and people voted in members of Congress, maybe it was all beginning to work, somehow, because of this strike. Definancialization of a sort. End of neoliberalism.

Favourite hopeful passage:

"That there is no other home for us than here. That we will cope no matter how stupid things get. That all couples are odd couples. That the only catastrophe that can’t be undone is extinction. That we can make a good place. That people can take their fate in their hands. That there is no such thing as fate.'

Summary: Established in 2025, the purpose of the new organization 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.

It is a novel both immediate and impactful, desperate and hopeful in equal measure, and it is one of the most powerful and original books on climate change ever written.

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