Cover of The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Ministry for the Future starts with bang, and then plods for the remainder of its considerable length. This is a strange book, even for KSR. It has a non-fiction feel but not to its benefit. It is reminiscent of Neal Stephenson at times with its giddy exploration of technology. In fact, it might be better to describe this as a collection of ideas for re-engineering society and geoengineering rather than a novel. This is a brainstorm-your-way-out-of-climate-catostrophe session brought to life. It’s the meaty fare late-night change-the-world conversations are made of, but while interesting, this particular meal is unsatisfying.

After the initial scene, the story never again rises to the same pitch. This is as perplexing as it is boring. In a world careening towards chaos and instability with an assortment of underdogs independently struggling to pull it back from the brink, why is the first disaster the most significant? It is as though we took a step back and began talking about things rather than experiencing them. The book becomes academic. For every problem, the smart people discuss it for a bit, come up with a solution, then it takes a hundred pages or so to get it running, and it works. There are no major discoveries made, no mistakes, and any interesting details are related in a perfunctory manner. There are only two characters we end up spending most of our time with. While theirs is a memorable story with an unusual dynamic it only occupies a small part of this tome.

Overall, this is a fine dramatization of where the world is going and how it could play out. It is, however, light on the drama, and more than a little drawn out.