Frankie’s down for a nice nap after a morning at the pool. Sarah saw to matters related to the air unit — so I remove my feet from my socks and think. The narrative we write is important, yes? For narrative is the stuff of which cosmologies are made. World-pictures. Cognitive maps. The shape of the world is determined at the quantum level, much like Schrödinger’s Cat, by the struggle to determine the shape of the world-picture. Unless, of course, struggle and determination are not part of that picture. By “shape of the world” I mean the mutable present’s arrangement toward the imaginal realms we call “past” and “future.” Origin and telos. The present’s mode of appearance alters according to the previous night’s dreams, and the previous night’s dreams are shaped by memory and desire. Those who wish to steer the world toward Utopia take these latter as the prima materia of the great work. Kim Stanley Robinson, meanwhile, steers us back to work of a more literal sort. The climate crisis demands reorganization of labor. Certain chapters of Robinson’s 2020 novel The Ministry for the Future are written in the style of “notes,” “minutes” kept by an international working group: the Ministry, the book’s actant or protagonist. Work thus finds its way back even in our hours of leisure, as this is what we read when we read by the pool. The book itself is work; its utopia begins with a disaster, a heat wave that kills several million people in India. From this disaster come a pair of nova: the Ministry itself, of course, but also a direct-action group called the Children of Kali. This latter group intrigues me, given its alignment with the famous Hindu goddess of time, creation, destruction, and power. After the disaster, it is she who speaks to us: “I am a god and I am not a god. Either way, you are my creatures. I keep you alive” (13). Kali is the persona Robinson dons to give voice to Nature. Kali, with her long terrible tongue. Kali, with her necklace of severed heads. Several of the book’s experts prognosticate “civilization kaput” before century’s end (55). It’s all rather bleak: countless species facing extinction in the years ahead. Against the backdrop of that abyss, the book conjures its hyperstitial alternative future of geoengineering and rewilding.
Kim Stanley Robinson has written far too many books of a similar nature to be of much interest to me here in 2021, I think to myself as I survey the many books of his that I’ve purchased and read these last twenty years. I read Red Mars in a graduate seminar in the first years of the new millennium. His Mars trilogy was the focus of the final chapter of my dissertation. Is there a way to salvage that older project? Could I write a preface introducing it as a document retrieved from a time capsule? The author-self writing in 2021 is “a person of the future” compared to the version of me who wrote the dissertation. I live amid the time about which he wrote, in a world other than the ones he and others imagined. And Robinson, meanwhile, has only grown in the time since more boosterish and grotesque in his optimism about science and technology. His commitment to “science fiction” leaves his imagination bereft of magic.
In the pop milieu wherein the culture does its work, gets its shit together, or doesn’t, writers like Kim Stanley Robinson rise up to insist that the doom that we’ve been asked to accept is false. Robinson offers in its stead The Ministry for the Future. Friends reading it ask me to join them, their enthusiasm for this new discovery of theirs visible on their faces. Defenses down for a time, I climb the book’s first hundred pages. Yet I find it to be ground I’ve trod before. Where once I had enthusiasm enough to write a chapter of my dissertation on Robinson’s Mars trilogy, now I find his outpourings bothersome — each work ever more salesmanlike in its pitch to budding technocrats. Read several such books, and alas: you’ve read them all.