Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth


with 7 comments

I wrote a bit about Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel and ecoterrorism over at LARB:

If you truly claim to represent the people of the future, Frank asks — people who have the exact same right to a livable planet that we do — doesn’t that mean you should be willing to kill in their defense? Not as a first choice, not as the only choice — but can you really take it off the table? “If your organization represents the people who will be born after us, well, that’s a heavy burden! It’s a real responsibility! You have to think like them! You have to do what they would do if they were here,” Frank argues. “I don’t think they would countenance murder,” retorts Mary, to which Frank replies, “Of course they would!”

The Ministry for the Future is thus a novel about bureaucracy, but it’s also about the possibility of a wide diversity of tactics in the name of a livable future that include fighting both inside and outside the system. Characters in the novel contemplate targeted assassination of politicians and CEOs, industrial sabotage of coal plants, intentionally bringing down airliners in the name of destroying commercial air travel, bioterrorism against industrial slaughterhouses — and they do more than contemplate them. How does it change what’s possible when we stop worrying so much about losing in the right way, and start thinking about winning in the wrong ways?

7 Responses

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  1. About 2/3s in, and loving it. I was so afraid since NY2140 and Red Moon were so formulaic, but he seems to have found the right tone/method for his swansong novel.


    October 27, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    • RED MOON was the one I didn’t really find a way to write about, and the first real “miss” he’s had in a decade or more I think. I can see what you mean about NY2140 I guess but I still liked that one and really saw it as him trying to write one the normies could get into. But this one is a whole new thing. I hope it’s not actually a swansong!


      October 27, 2020 at 1:03 pm

      • I should say I do think I see what RED MOON wanted to do with neurodiversity but it was just a bit too backgrounded for me to quite work.


        October 27, 2020 at 1:04 pm

      • I’ve read an interview where he says he won’t be writing any novels anytime soon, and maybe never again. He plans to write non-fiction, a play, etc. first.

        NY2140 was okay, sure, but too transparant, and indeed too much mainstream entertainment – the spoonful of sugar kinda dilutes the medicine. This one is transparant too, but it is so unapologetically KSR being KSR that it both feels like a synthesis & a fresh start, and as it is much more on point/realistic viz. the violence & the multiple pathways you described, that it feels like a whole new thing indeed.


        October 27, 2020 at 1:13 pm

      • That would be unfortunate, though I’m surprised in some ways he hasn’t leaned harder into nonfiction. A play would be cool too, reminds me of Vonnegut trying to abandon fiction after SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE. My personal mental model of his creative process is that he works himself up with an initial burst of creative potential (in the Mars books, then again in 2312) and then dialetically works out all the variations on the the theme until the energy sort of exhausts itself. So it wouldn’t be surprising to see MftF to be the end of one “movement” before a pause.


        October 27, 2020 at 2:10 pm

      • Yes indeed. I think he simply has nothing left to write about anymore in the SF novel genre, except for a first contact novel, and there’s no need for that given the current state of the world and his clear conviction not to write entertainment only.


        October 29, 2020 at 1:02 am

  2. Great write up btw!


    October 27, 2020 at 12:54 pm

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