The Ministry for the Future

Book cover image Kim Stanley RobinsonThe Ministry for the Future

Kim Stanley Robinson

Hachette, October 2020.

The Ministry for the Future is a year old but it took me most of the year to discover it and read it, and now, with COP26 imminent, I feel an urgent need to share it with as many people as possible.

Sadly, I can’t find the time to give it the attention it deserves so I am resorting (as I have before) to a meta-review: extracts of reviews by writers who say between them what I would have liked to have said myself.

The conclusion of this short review by Mark Yon for SFFWorld.com will serve as an introduction to the longer pieces:

Whilst it could be said that Ministry for the Future is a political agenda dressed-up as fiction, my abiding feeling at the end is that it shows hope – a sensible and rational way out of the mess we live in – and reflects a heartfelt belief that sensible people, wanting to do the best for as many people as they can, can work in difficult situations to make the world a better place. And at the moment, with all of the political and environmental chaos going on around us, it is therefore the novel we need.

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Climate Change – Picturing the Science

Cover of Climate Change – Picturing the ScienceClimate Change – Picturing the Science
Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe, Norton, 2009

This is the perfect book to give someone who doesn’t know much about climate change but  is interested in knowing more. It is authoritative but non-technical, uncompromising but never shrill or aggressive, and lucid but not simplistic.

Schmidt is a climate scientist at NASA and co-founder of RealClimate, and in the latter role he has patiently explained climate science to all comers from school children to fellow experts, for years. He is very, very good at it and here he has recruited similarly well-qualified people to write on specific topics. Any single chapter can stand alone, making the book simultaneously very browsable and a useful fill-the-gaps reference.

Schmidt’s over-arching metaphor for the book is the health of our planet: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Cure. It’s a good metaphor (the Buddha used it 2500 years ago, so it has a good long track record!) and it lets him organise a complicated mass of material into a coherent story about how we know what’s going on around us, why it’s happening and what’s likely to happen, and how we might avert the worst of the likely consequences.

So far, so much better than most books on the subject, but it gets better still. His co-author is a photographer and the book is copiously illustrated with excellent photos – scientists at work, hurricanes, threatened species, Arctic houses subsiding into thawing permafrost, air pollution in Beijing … all sorts of images, and all relevant and memorable.

Longer reviewsNature and Daily Kos.