With each new book, the prolific sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson presents a deeply researched climate-change scenario, focussing not just on environmental havoc but on solutions that might stop it.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels envision the dire problems of the future—but also their solutions.
Many of Robinson’s twenty-one science-fiction novels are ecological in theme, and this coming summer he will publish “The High Sierra: A Love Story,” a memoir that is also a rich geological and cultural history of the range. After returning from Deadman, he updated the manuscript to include the vanished glaciers. He told me about them a couple of weeks later, while we were driving through California, toward our own backpacking trip in the Sierras. Tan and trim, with silver hair and wire-rim eyeglasses, Robinson rode in the back seat of the car, looking out at wildfire smoke. The night before, he’d outfitted me with some of his own minimalist backpacking gear; while he’d assembled it, I’d wandered around his house, inspecting his library. Walls of shelves contained British literature, American literature, and science fiction. Other areas were organized by subject (Antarctica, Mars, economics, prehistory, Thoreau). Shelves were dedicated to volumes about Galileo, which Robinson had read while writing “Galileo’s Dream,” a highly detailed historical novel, published in 2009. Mario Biagioli, a historian of science and a Galileo expert who’d helped Robinson with the research, was the third member of our backpacking party; an accomplished giant-slalom skier, endurance cyclist, and transatlantic sailor, he drove us expertly, hugging the curves.Read more: The New Yorker »
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somasyntax Can we put a cash-back price on climate pollution? Starring Jeb Bush Great book, just finished Loved it Lol always one death away Glorbal warming not real h8 2 tell u thst y sciencefiction in the name duh 😑😑😑 That opening scene was harrowing. Reading this at the moment, enjoying it Makes me think of this line from the game Horizon: Zero Dawn, which clearly thought it couldn't.
Nothing will wake us up to it. That’s what I learnt from the pandemic. No, only birth control (mainly in the 3rd world).
Kim Kardashian 'confuses' fans with throwback Wrestlemania hosting appearanceKim Kardashian fans were confused to see she guest hosted at Wrestlemania 24 in 2008 and introduced the money in the bank ladder match at the event
Should be a one word article : 'no' If orwell can't wake us up to our current scenario, what do you think? I know we all probably might have heard about Bitcoin but don't know how it works, I tried it in a week ago by a woman who recommended me to Diana_Massangi on Twitter he guides me through and i made a return of $10500 after a week of trading, connect with her
Just a reminder to myself to read this one. I never believe in making money online before but since I started seeing different people testifying about Dennismayson9,i was so interested in to investing with him because all friends who Invested have all received their profits successfully and so do I Dennismayson9
First we need to address the current military buildup and crescendo in the Baltics, before we can actually continue debating science fiction and climate change. even if a global natural disaster induced by human activity had swept the planet, it still wouldn’t have achieved any awakening. people are just too avaricious, stupid and egoistic
The best story I've read this year. Huge congrats to Joshua Rothman for delving into the mind & heart of KSR so brilliantly -- and for sharing his trek with all of us. Maybe there really is climatehope after all. ('pessimism of the intellect optimism of the will') Sci Fi can wake me up until the cows come home, but it’s about what will wake up world leaders. Somebody check out their feed. What gets in there That’s where y’all need to be. I’m already woke.
Terraforming Mars, the Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars trilogy. Empirical research on the question in the article's title might be of interest
Kim Kardashian Has Gone Full BatgirlShe’s dressed like a high-fashion superhero. This tweet has made us all less intelligent Happy Sunday night that’s funny. I noticed that you didn’t say you liked the look. In fact, you sort of made fun of it. This is why I love you all. You cover all types of fashion, tell us what looks fantastic, and only hint that something is ridiculous. Vogue is never mean.
Wow! Thank you for sharing this. It really scares me to think about this climate emergency. I know we all probably might have heard about Crypto trading but don't know how it works, I tried it in a week ago by a man who recommended me to Dpurplewomanfx she guides me through and i made a return of $10500 after a week of trading, Connect with her : Dpurplewomanfx
Kim Kardashian baffles fans as she dons 'ridiculous' Matrix-inspired lookKim Kardashian stepped out for a show on Saturday wearing an all-black ensemble and fans were divided in their thoughts regarding her latest look DailyMirror 👇🏼🔞👇🏼 DailyMirror Check out my Gig on Fiverr: advertising your product, logo in this billboard promo video
Thomas Canestraro Won't Rule Out Kim Cattrall Return to 'And Just Like That ...'Thomas Canestraro Doesn't Rule Out Kim Cattrall Returning On Sex and the City Reboot. Are we getting season 2? This is the worst series on TV the writing is awful Ok
Kim Kardashian Wears Canada's Kathryn Bowen + Other Fashion NewsKim Kardashian wears three custom looks by Canadian designer Kathryn Bowen, plus Wuxly earns B Corp status and more fashion news.
Kim Kardashian Hits up Art Gallery and Craig's Restaurant Rocking ShadesKim Kardashian has moved on from Kanye in many ways, but wardrobe ain't one. Tmz will always say something about Kanye,they can’t even let a day go by without saying kanye She need to upgrade her clothing & stop wearing those Goodwill looking donated tacky shit!
originates from.Fans of the Kardashians were left scratching their heads when a throwback clip of Kim hosting Wrestlemania reappeared..Kim Kardashian's wardrobe is once again the talk of the town as she hit the streets on Saturday night in an all-in-black "Matrix" style outfit.
Last summer, the science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson went on a backpacking trip with some friends. They headed into the High Sierra, hiking toward Deadman Canyon—a fifty-mile walk through challenging terrain. The SKIMS founder was the guest host of one of wrestling's biggest events almost 15 years ago and fans are now wondering whether the beauty would ever consider hosting again. Now sixty-nine, Robinson has been hiking and camping in the Sierras for half a century. She and Demna are a match made in heaven, really, thanks to their mutual love of combining glamour with a more sporty aesthetic (take the she wore for her SNL after-party, for example). At home, in Davis, California, he tracks his explorations on a wall-mounted map, its topography thick with ink. Kim can be heard saying: "Coming up next is the money in the bank ladder match where seven superstars will compete for a contract in a championship match they can cash in for any time for up to one year. He is a devotee of the “ultralight” approach to backpacking and prefers to travel without water, instead gathering it along the way, from lakes and streams. Fans had a mixed response to her look online with some calling her an "icon".
Arriving at the canyon, with its broad, verdant floor cradled in smooth slopes of granite, he planned to fill his bottles with meltwater from the seven glaciers buried in its headwall. As the video made its reappearance, Reddit users took to the platform to share their views., while grabbing dinner at Craig’s— the celebrity-hotspot restaurant—Kardashian once again emerged in a Balenciaga look. But as the group hiked they found no water. Streams that had once carved elegant oxbows in the canyon floor were now dusty lacerations. She had such a goddess-like beauty back then. Perhaps because of the altitude, one of Robinson’s friends was feeling ill, and the others worried about how he would fare if they had to make a dry camp that night. (Celebs are really not letting go of the Matrix trend. Eventually, they found a rivulet of water." It wasn't all positive though, with a third user saying: "The things these people used to do for money." A third likened her to another film and said: "I swear she looks like Batman where is Robin.
After his companions replenished their supply, Robinson hiked ahead, tracing the water uphill. He discovered that six of the seven glaciers had melted away completely. They wrote: "Does she even remember that she did this? I've never heard her talk about it. This was a new development, not recorded on any map. Only one corner of one glacier remained—a canted block of ice the size of two Olympic swimming pools. Back in the present day and Kim has been baffling her fans with her latest fashion choice. “It was the smallest living glacier that you could possibly imagine,” Robinson told me. He took his trousers into his knee-high black motorbike boots - a fashion item that is new a regular with the star.
He broke off a tiny chunk and carried it back to camp for the hikers to use in their Scotch. Kim rocked up wearing a floor-length black trench coat and huge bug-like black sunglasses. “It was like a goodbye,” he said. “Like going to a hospice visit. She topped the look off with black heels and her hair tightly tied back in a bun while she walked alongside Shelli Azoff, who is the wife of music mogul Irving Azoff.” Recalling the moment, he shivered. Many of Robinson’s twenty-one science-fiction novels are ecological in theme, and this coming summer he will publish “The High Sierra: A Love Story,” a memoir that is also a rich geological and cultural history of the range. The rapper, 44, and new girlfriend Julia Fox, 31, showed off a double denim look as they arrived on the red carpet on Sunday in a seemingly less than subtle homage to noughties power couple Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. Do you have a story to sell? Get in touch with us at webcelebs@trinitymirror.
After returning from Deadman, he updated the manuscript to include the vanished glaciers. He told me about them a couple of weeks later, while we were driving through California, toward our own backpacking trip in the Sierras.com or call us direct 0207 29 33033. Tan and trim, with silver hair and wire-rim eyeglasses, Robinson rode in the back seat of the car, looking out at wildfire smoke. The night before, he’d outfitted me with some of his own minimalist backpacking gear; while he’d assembled it, I’d wandered around his house, inspecting his library. Walls of shelves contained British literature, American literature, and science fiction.
Other areas were organized by subject (Antarctica, Mars, economics, prehistory, Thoreau). Shelves were dedicated to volumes about Galileo, which Robinson had read while writing “Galileo’s Dream,” a highly detailed historical novel, published in 2009. Mario Biagioli, a historian of science and a Galileo expert who’d helped Robinson with the research, was the third member of our backpacking party; an accomplished giant-slalom skier, endurance cyclist, and transatlantic sailor, he drove us expertly, hugging the curves. Robinson is often called one of the best living science-fiction writers. He is unique in the degree to which his books envision moral, not merely technological, progress.
Their protagonists are often diplomats, scholars, and scientists who fight to keep their future societies from repeating our mistakes. Robinson’s plots turn on international treaties or postcapitalist financial systems. His now classic “Mars” trilogy, published in the nineteen-nineties, describes the terraforming of the Red Planet by scientists seeking to create a “permaculture,” or truly sustainable way of life. A typical Robinson novel ends with an academic conference at which researchers propose ideas for improving civilization. He believes that scholarly and diplomatic meetings are among our species’s highest achievements.
Climate change has long figured in Robinson’s plots. “Antarctica,” a novel from 1997, revolves around glaciologists at a fictional version of McMurdo Station, the principal U.S. outpost in Antarctica. (Robinson researched the book there, exploring ice cathedrals and helping to take the first G.
P.S. reading of the South Pole.) In the two-thousands, climate started to become his central subject; his wonky brand of sci-fi turned out to be well suited to a reality in which the future depends on fast, unlikely, and coördinated global reform. “Science in the Capital,” a trilogy of novels published between 2004 and 2007, follows administrators at the National Science Foundation as they fight climate change through grants; “New York 2140,” from 2017, is set in a Venice-like Big Apple and explores efforts to reform the financial system on ecological grounds.
With each book, Robinson has revised his deeply researched climate-change scenario, focussing not just on environmental havoc but on solutions that might stop it. His most recent novel, “The Ministry for the Future,” published in October, 2020, during the second wave of the pandemic, centers on the work of a fictional U.N. agency charged with solving climate change. The book combines science, politics, and economics to present a credible best-case scenario for the next few decades.
It’s simultaneously heartening and harrowing. By the end of the story, it’s 2053, and carbon levels in the atmosphere have begun to decline. Yet hundreds of millions of people have died or been displaced. Coastlines have been drowned and landscapes have burned. Economies have been disrupted, refugees have flooded the temperate latitudes, and ecoterrorists from stricken countries have launched campaigns of climate revenge.
The controversial practice of geoengineering—including the spraying of chemicals into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight—has bought us time to decarbonize our way of life, and “carbon quantitative easing,” undertaken on a vast scale, has paid for the redesign of our infrastructure. But it’s all haphazard. We just barely escape the worst climate catastrophes, through grudging adjustments that we are forced to make. The rushed, necessary work of responding to the climate crisis defines and, for some, elevates, the twenty-first century. I’m a longtime reader of Robinson’s, but “The Ministry for the Future” struck me with special force.
For decades, I’d worried about climate change in the usual abstract way. Then I had a son, and read David Wallace-Wells’s “The Uninhabitable Earth”—a terrifying survey of worst-case climate scenarios—and grew so alarmed that thinking about the problem became almost unbearable. I live on the North Shore of Long Island, close to the beach, in a village that already seems to be flooding. What did the future hold for my town, and my family? What would my son live through? We have put a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, and so a great deal of what is coming to us is now inevitable; as a species, we are moving into a prefab house. And yet its parts lie scattered, unassembled—we can’t quite picture the home in which we’ll live.
“The Ministry for the Future” gave me a sense of the space. It shows our prospects to be both imaginable and variable: we can still redraw the plans. Perhaps because the novel fills a vital narrative gap, it achieved an unusually wide readership. Barack Obama included it on his list of the best books of the year; the Times columnist Ezra Klein said that all policymakers should read it. Christiana Figueres, the U.
N. diplomat who led the effort to create the Paris agreement, listened to the novel in her garden and wept. Robinson was invited to meet with government officials from around the world, including planners at the Pentagon. He became a featured speaker at COP 26—the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, held this past fall in Glasgow. After reading the novel, I contacted Robinson to propose writing about him.
He immediately suggested that we go backpacking in the Sierras—his “heart’s home.” I’m in good shape but not outdoorsy; I was a little intimidated by what he had in mind, an ultralight off-trail jaunt near twelve thousand feet. But I also liked the idea of entrusting myself to the experience and judgment of the only writer who had offered me some hope about our collective future. He outlined a simple plan: over Bishop Pass into Dusy Basin; over Knapsack Pass into Palisade Basin; then over Thunderbolt Pass—the highest and most difficult of the trip—and back to Dusy, then out. “Youth and fitness will see you through,” he wrote, in an e-mail.
I started training by carrying my toddler in a backpack for miles along the shore. As the car headed east, the sky seemed to be getting darker. Everything was bathed in an orange Kodachrome light. “We’ve definitely dropped into the smoke,” Robinson said, looking out the window. The fields were blanketed in dun-colored fog.
“Not good,” Biagioli said, removing his sunglasses and turning on the recirculation. Robinson at home in Davis, California. Much of his sci-fi could seem like nature writing, with the Sierra Nevadas—his “heart’s home”—recast as Mercury or Mars. Photograph by Jim McAuley for The New Yorker Robinson looked at his phone. “This is terrible,” he said.
“Now the air quality is three-ninety-four.” Once, he’d been in Beijing when it had hit four hundred and ninety. “But Davis has reached that a couple of times in these big fires,” he noted. “Hopefully it will be clear in the mountains.” I looked ahead, as though I could see them, toward hills that were suggestions in the haze.
Robinson was born in 1952, and grew up in Orange County, among groves being paved over for suburbs. An athlete by inclination, he recalls his childhood in terms of the sports he played with friends—dodgeball, high jump, volleyball, bodysurfing—and the books he borrowed from his local libraries. His life is characterized by wholesome continuities. He and his gang of “hippie jocks” first ventured into the mountains in college, woefully unprepared, and he still hikes with many of them today. He has lived in Davis for forty years, and, on a walking tour, he showed me the bookstore where he’d worked in his late twenties and the pool where he’d met his wife, Lisa, an environmental chemist who outpaced him at their gruelling evening swim class.
Boyish with an edge, he nurtures routines in part to optimize them—he has played Frisbee golf with friends at the same Davis park for so many years that he can now make par blindfolded. One of Robinson’s first Sierra excursions was over Bishop Pass. We retraced the route on our first day. At ten thousand feet, the air was clear. The seven-mile hike to the pass was easy.
A groomed path ascended gently along a series of lakes; the terrain was desktop-background beautiful, with sky shining in the water and morning sun in the pines. Our packs were surreally light. We had no tents, no water, no stoves—I’d carried more with me to work. Our trekking poles tapped rhythmically as we climbed. Biagioli and I were quiet, adjusting to the altitude.
Robinson, who completed a Ph.D. in English, writing a dissertation on Philip K. Dick under the eminent Marxist scholar Fredric Jameson, cheerfully filled the silence by explaining science fiction from a theoretical point of view. He sometimes likens the genre to a pair of old-fashioned 3-D glasses, in which one lens is red, the other blue.
Through one lens, sci-fi offers predictions about the future, which we judge on their plausibility; through the other, we see metaphors for our own time, which we judge on how well they capture the feeling of living now. “The two perspectives combine to create a sense of time stretching out between now and then,” Robinson called, over his shoulder. “It’s a feeling of participating in history.” He set a quick pace: we wanted to get over the pass by noon. As we climbed, the sun grew stronger, and I tucked a bandanna under my hat and collar, covering my neck.
“The Ministry for the Future” begins with a “wet-bulb” heat wave—a deadly coincidence of heat and humidity in which, despite high temperatures, sweat ceases to evaporate. In such conditions, even a healthy person in the shade will cook and die. In recent years, such heat waves have occurred in Australia, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other places; climate models suggest that, by the end of this century, they could become regular events in the tropical parts of the world. Robinson imagines a big wave, in the year 2025, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Frank, an American aid worker at a clinic, wakes up to find that the temperature is a hundred and three, with humidity of thirty-five per cent—close to the wet-bulb threshold.
The sun “blazed like an atomic bomb, which of course it was,” Robinson writes. As the day wears on, inhaling the hot air becomes difficult. The only safe places are air-conditioned, but eventually the power grid buckles under the strain. Frank invites people from the neighborhood to take shelter inside his clinic, where his generator powers a window A.C.
unit. The rooms are soon packed with families. But then armed men steal his generator and air-conditioner. Someone suggests taking refuge in a nearby lake, where crowds have gathered; stepping into the sun-blasted water, Frank can feel that it is hotter than body temperature. He notices that some of the people are “redder than the rest”; they soon die.
He sees that “all the children were dead, all the old people were dead.” He closes his eyes and sinks as deep as he can, struggling not to drink the fetid water. In the end, twenty million people perish in the heat wave: it is “the worst week in human history.” The world is appalled; the U.N.
holds a moment of silence. Still, little changes. “Everyone knows everything,” a character complains, but few seem to act on what they know. “They were only really doing things to try to ameliorate the situation they were falling into after it was too late,” Mary Murphy, the chief of the Ministry for the Future, thinks, sometime in the early twenty-forties. “They kept closing the barn door after the horses were out, or after the barn had burned down.
” The question for Mary is whether the world has crossed the point of no return. If our collective belatedness entails “something physical, like the Arctic’s permafrost melt, or the ocean’s acidification past the point of life at the bottom of the food chain surviving it, or the Antarctic’s ice sheet collapsing fast—then they were fucked and no denying it.” On the other hand, “there were still people fighting tooth and claw.” A bureau full of experts, balked and opposed but not giving up—this is the metaphor that the novel offers for our own time. We are the Ministry for the Future.
Our job, too, is to act on preëxisting knowledge: many of the solutions to the crisis are also prefab. Robinson researches his novels partly by attending scientific conferences. In 2010, at a meeting of glaciologists, a researcher sidled up to him with an idea for arresting Antarctic glaciers that are sliding into the sea by pumping meltwater out from beneath them at a few crucial locations, settling them back onto the bedrock. In Robinson’s book, the idea is put into practice. It’s speculative, but a paper outlining the procedure was published in Nature , in 2018; the proposal was further analyzed in a climate journal in 2020.
“The Ministry for the Future” may be sci-fi, but its science isn’t fictional. Global finance is an unsexy but important part of the book. Corporations and governments, Robinson writes, have already located vast amounts of fossil fuel that has yet to be extracted; these untapped deposits are “listed as assets by the corporations that have located them,” and are worth hundreds of trillions of dollars. If even a sixth of this carbon hoard is burned, we’ll burn, too. Robinson provides a real-life list of the nineteen largest owners of the deposits (“Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Gazprom, ExxonMobil, National Iranian Oil Company, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Pemex, Petroleos de Venezuela, PetroChina, Peabody Energy, ConocoPhillips, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, Iraq National Oil Company, Total SA, Sonatrach, BHP Billiton, and Petrobras”) and narrates a series of meetings at which the world’s central banks find a way to pay them off.
The scheme revolves around a new kind of digital currency designed to reward companies and governments for reducing emissions. A version of this idea, known as the Global Carbon Reward, is advocated by a real nonprofit. The map on the inside of your hotel-room door becomes suddenly riveting once the alarm goes off. This is one reason “The Ministry for the Future” can wring suspense out of financial negotiations. But the novel’s concreteness is also compelling because it puts into relief the strangeness of our outlook.
Whenever we stare directly at the mess we’re in, the solutions we think of seem implausible. (A carbon coin? Backed by the world’s central banks?) And yet, because the stakes are so high, our skepticism threatens to become nihilism—an acceptance of the inevitability of civilizational disaster. Ultimately, this nihilism is a kind of sin against the future—a “betrayal,” as Greta Thunberg puts it—and so reading “The Ministry for the Future” is a charged experience. It’s normal, when taking in a science-fiction story, to wonder whether the future it depicts is plausible. It’s unusual for the future we wonder about to be our own.
After a few hours, we neared the bottom of the pass. We filled our water bottles in a large, clear lake set in smooth granite, crossed a stream using stepping stones, and started up a winding path that rose to a series of switchbacks. As we climbed, the landscape changed. Below us, the lake nestled in grasses and pine trees. Above us was a gray, craggy world of rocks and dust—a piece of the moon jutting out of Eden.
We passed a section of the slope where, years before, dozens of deer had slipped on ice and fallen to their death. Clavicles and spines were hidden among the stones. Eventually, we arrived at the switchbacks—steep, narrow, tightly zigzagging cuts in the rock. Biagioli, who’d completed a hundred-kilometre bike race in the Dolomites a few years before, looked up eagerly at the first real challenge of the day. “Mario, you should go ahead,” Robinson said.
“I bet you’ll want to go fast.” “See you at the top!” Biagioli said, launching himself upward. Robinson watched, appreciatively. “He’s got that deep cardio conditioning,” he said. Many of Robinson’s novels are essentially love stories in which friends grow enamored of one another and of the landscapes they explore; I could see that the dynamic was taken from life.
(“My friends are my heroes, and my heroes are my friends,” he told me later.) We followed a little more slowly. Robinson, dressed all in khaki, grinned from behind his sunglasses as he climbed. It was fun, fluid work, made easier by our ultralight packing and the leverage of our poles. Soon, the pass came into view—a broad, inclined, rocky field stretching between two peaks.
We seemed to hike toward the cloudless sky. Biagioli waited for us, Dusy Basin opening up behind him. Robinson believes that the novel has expanded with time. The first novels typically focussed on domestic life and its dramas; in the nineteenth century, they took cities and nations as their subjects. Science fiction could go further: being planetary in scale, it could show how a civilization lived within its biosphere—its most fundamental home.
Dusy Basin looked like a still-evolving world. Gray-brown mountains in the distance could have been captured by the Curiosity rover; below them, a granite landscape was spotted with grass and flowers. Huge angular boulders, deposited by glaciers, rested on hillsides, guarding the landscape. “This is it,” Robinson said. “Say goodbye to the trail.
” In the late nineteen-seventies, when Robinson began publishing his stories, the sci-fi subgenre of “cyberpunk” was ascendant. Its hacker protagonists plugged in to an online virtual “matrix” and prowled smoggy cityscapes ruled by giant corporations. By contrast, Robinson’s first novel, “The Wild Shore,” from 1984, imagined a future California in which neutron bombs have made all electronics inoperative. Its early pages contain elaborate depictions of gardening and fishing. His sci-fi could seem like nature writing, with the Sierras recast as Mercury or Mars—a reflection of his early ambition to become a poet in the vein of Kenneth Rexroth or Gary Snyder.
William Gibson, the author of “Neuromancer,” told me that “the cyberpunk crew” didn’t know what to make of Robinson—“this tan, fit, khaki-chinos dude who could’ve made a good living as a shirt model.” They assumed that he was “too straight to get where they were coming from.” But Robinson’s politics were perhaps more radical, since he imagined the possibility of an improved world. His uncool, utopian interests—ecology, equality, democracy, postcapitalism—were prescient. It isn’t easy to be a utopian science-fiction writer.
“Star Trek” is famously optimistic but isn’t in any sense realistic; in general, when sci-fi engages in serious social analysis, it curdles. We may feel that dystopian stories are more plausible, yet Robinson thinks that there’s something a little craven about them. Isn’t it odd, he has written, to enjoy “late-capitalist, advanced-nation schadenfreude about unfortunate fictional citizens whose lives have been trashed by our own political inaction”? It’s better, he believes, to be utopian, or at least “anti-anti-utopian.” Robinson has a sweet and sunny disposition—he writes long, lambent e-mails signed “Your Stan”—that’s pulled taut by a thread of anger. He is especially impatient with those who urge giving up when giving up is against their best interests.
What he seeks to practice is, in a phrase popularized by the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” As we made our descent, a bowl of mountains encircled us. Gentle hills of white granite rolled into the distance. Bridges of rock connected them; reflected light illuminated the hollows. Dwarf trees and tufts of flowers nestled in shelters from the wind.
The landscape was fractal: basins within basins, spiralling patterns of white and rust rock. It was fun to wander, finding routes. Jameson, who reads Robinson’s novels in draft—“The Ministry for the Future” is dedicated to him—told me that they stand out not just for their scientific and political rigor, but for their depictions of “athletic, physical joy,” which lighten the mood. “In standard novels, there isn’t any place for play, for physical exertion,” he said; in Robinson’s books, characters hike, climb, and swim through the worlds they hope to save. We walked easily over the rises in search of a lake at which to camp.
We’d grown happily silent, lost in the flow of rock. Robinson learned to write credible utopian fiction in part through a fractal sort of thinking, connecting the personal to the planetary. In graduate school, at the University of California, San Diego, he read Proust, the English Romantics, and Shakespeare while hiking in the Sierras as often as he could. (He calculates that he has camped in the mountains for two years in total.) For a time, he spent his nights in a sleeping bag on the cliffs near campus, overlooking the Pacific, then showering in the gym.
(“I felt like I lived on a fifty-million-dollar estate,” he told me.) When he and Lisa had the first of their two sons, in 1989, he became a stay-at-home dad, writing during nap times. The couple bought a house in a progressive Davis development centered on a sprawling village green and a community garden. Robinson cooked for potluck dinners and tended his garden plot; he adopted the habit, which persists, of doing all his writing outdoors, on his front patio, shaded by a tarp, year-round. He eavesdropped on Lisa’s scientific phone calls, listening as she and her colleagues scrutinized and revised their findings about pesticides in the water.
They were passionate, sometimes exasperated, but also collaborative, careful, truthful—a model society of their own. He read the philosopher Bruno Latour, who studied how scientists worked together. Latour’s “actor-network theory” held that it wasn’t just individual researchers who mattered but the web in which they were embedded; the web could contain other scientists but also nonhuman entities, such as machines, treaties, institutions, historical events, even elements of the natural world. (In “The High Sierra,” Robinson argues that the mountains themselves are “actors” in a network: they created “Sierra people,” who formed the Sierra Club, which catalyzed the American environmental movement.) In the work of the literary theorist Gérard Genette, Robinson discovered the idea of “pseudo-iterative” writing, in which novelists describe what we do each day with a level of specificity that is not quite sensible.
A narrator might say that, every morning, she eats a yogurt smoothie while doomscrolling newsfeeds on her phone. Such a statement may not be literally true—surely not every morning—but routines, loosely grasped, can reveal something about how the world is constructed; our small daily actions, in aggregate, suggest systemic facts. In the Victorian era, social novels, by Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and others, awakened us to poverty and injustice. Modern “naturalists,” like Émile Zola, took a scientific approach, following the causal chains of everyday life, which might link a kitchen stove to coal miners working underground. Robinson brings these traditions to bear on our future problems, combining them with an unusual narrative style designed to dramatize civilizational transformation.
“The Ministry for the Future” contains chapters that describe the daily habits of geologists and encamped climate refugees; one chapter is narrated by a carbon atom, and another by the market—both actors in the networks that shape our world. Other chapters are oral histories of the sort one might find in the work of the Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich, showing how ordinary people could have their attitudes reshaped by climate disasters. The goal is to capture what the literary critic Raymond Williams calls a “structure of feeling”—an invisible scaffold, unique to its period, on which our emotions hang. In our current structure of feeling, a narrator suggests, the order of things is experienced as “unjust and unsustainable and yet massively entrenched, but also falling apart before your eyes.” Like glaciers, structures of feeling shift with time—that’s how we so readily distinguish between the nineteen-sixties and now.
“Hi, yeah, I actually have more of a comment than an inquisition.” .