A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
A response to The Ministry for the Future, a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. Orbit. 563 pp.
I hope this is an important book. It’s speculative fiction, the term an expansion of s-f, and I haven’t read much s-f since it was called science fiction. So it’s not in my wheelhouse. I read it because the author was to speak at my college class’s (virtual) reunion. He is a star in the genre—he has won the Hugo and the Nebula Prizes.
I hope this is an important book because I hope a lot of people will read it and be green-pilled—that is, will wake up to the urgency of climate change and treat it as the crisis it is. For myself, before I read the book I felt I was aware of climate change and the urgent need to address it; I signed petitions, I contributed to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Sierra Club; I drive a hybrid car and live in a walkable neighborhood; we keep the thermostat lower in the winter than many; I stopped eating meat for reasons of health and the planet. Nevertheless, since reading the book I hear the agonized cry of one of its characters, Frank, to another: You’re not doing enough!
The character so addressed, Mary, is an Irishwoman heading the Ministry for the Future, an international agency founded to represent the interests of future generations. But the ministry is underfunded and underpowered. So Frank, who barely survived a horrific catastrophe caused by a heat wave, isn’t wrong.
The book is full of ideas and information: about wet-bulb temperatures, glaciology, ways of mitigating ice-melt, greenhouse-gas gain, photons, economics, or at least economists. But don’t be afraid—it’s entertaining. There are lovely scenes in Zurich and knowing scenes at international conferences such as Davos. There are terrorists you will sympathize with. There are knee plays–brief chapters consisting of teasing lyrical riddles.
I don’t expect that fossil-fuel backers, pipeline advocates, and meatpackers are likely to be converted by the book, but if some of the right people read it —Jill Biden, major hedge-fund heads, pension-fund investors—maybe they will take to heart You’re not doing enough! And do enough.
Copyright 2021 Arlene Weiner
Arlene Weiner’s books include City Bird (Ragged Sky Press 2018)