The Ministry for the Future

Kim Stanley Robinson
The Ministry for the Future Cover

The Ministry for the Future


This is an ambitious, important novel in which Robinson seeks to set out one possible scenario in which humanity manages to turn the corner on climate changes, avoiding ecological catastrophe.

The titular ministry is a UN body established under the Paris Agreements, whose mission is to argue for the interests of future generations.

The core narrative of the novel focuses on Mary Murphy, the head of the ministry and Frank May an aid worker who survives a devastating heatwave in India but is traumatised by the experience. Chapters following the pair, who develop an idiosyncratic relationship, are interspersed by eyewitness accounts, essays, rants and first-person contributions from the likes of a carbon atom, a photon, the sun and even history itself.

The book is overflowing with ideas, exploring possible geoengineering schemes, the Half Earth proposals, global finance, the efficacy of political violence, digital currency, international relations and climate science. Perhaps the biggest criticism is that the main plot can be overwhelmed by the excitement of the formal experimentalism. On several occasions, during chapters following Mary and/or Frank I found myself hurrying forward to find out what Robinson was going to reveal in the next aside.

This is very much a Kim Stanley Robinson novel. There are a number of ideas which will be familiar to readers of other works in his oeuvre: e.g. the airborne cities of New York 2140 and the fascination with Antarctica from his novel about that continent. And, of course, there are extended sections in which the characters explore a natural landscape.

It is strange to think of a novel which begins with a heatwave killing 20 million people as being optimistic, but the central idea of this novel is that we are not doomed to destroy the planet. It will not be easy, but we can chose a different route. In an age of near-ubiquitous dystopias this is an important message.