Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson builds intricate future societies in many of his books, exploring how we might emerge from the depravities of our current era to create a better future for our species. But in his upcoming novel, The Ministry for the Future, Robinson isn't visiting a half-sunk New York City a hundred years from now (New York 2140), tracking Martian terraforming over a century (the Mars trilogy) or following artists as they build sculptures on 24th century Mercury (2312). Instead, The Ministry for the Future follows more immediate possible futures, as humanity is confronted with a global warming mass extinction event.
"In The Ministry for the Future I tried to describe the next thirty years going as well as I could believe it might happen, given where we are now," Robinson told Newsweek. "That made it one of the blackest utopias ever written, I suppose, because it seems inevitable that we are in for an era of comprehensive and chaotic change."
The Ministry for the Future will be published by Orbit in October 2020. Newsweek is excited to reveal the cover for Robinson's latest:
"This is my sixth book with Orbit, and I can scarcely express how happy and fulfilling it's been to work with such a great team," Robinson said. "To me the cover seems to be suggesting something like the feel of glimpsing the light at the end of the tunnel—the possibility of getting into a new open field of possibilities. I'll be hoping for that."
While little has been so far revealed about the plot of The Ministry for the Future, Robinson's upcoming novel will follow the difficult process of creating a civilization in balance with our planet's biosphere, which Robinson described as "our only home, and in effect our extended body."
"Since that balance doesn't exist now, and getting to that balance isn't what we've been prioritizing, and we don't have a system for designing or enacting the changes necessary to get to that state, it's bound to be a time of troubles," Robinson said. "Science fiction isn't exactly about prediction, but that one is an easy call."
Global warming and our response to it has been a frequent theme in Robinson's novels—in 2008 Time magazine named him a "Hero of the Environment." As science fiction, Robinson's books often track advanced science, but never lose sight of how even world-changing technological advancements are created and shaped by our social structures. Many of his novels are explicit or implicit critiques of the capitalism and the market system economies that have caused climate change and the resulting elite classes, which perpetuate their power at the expense of the environment.
"The market system itself is the crux of the issue, and its mispricing of the true cost of things is one reason it too is in crisis," Robinson told Newsweek in 2017 interview. "Maybe its ongoing failures will force us to properly value our biosphere, and then properly price what we do."
The Ministry for the Future will explore similar themes, but in our immediate, rather than distant, future.
"To the extent that we do have systems to deal with the global crisis we've entered in this century, they're to be found in science, government, and what one might call the general intellect, which is to say, everyone alive and what we think and feel, which includes becoming more and more aware that we're one species on one planet, and have no choice but to deal with the situation we've created," Robinson told Newsweek.
But while Robinson anticipates that even the best-case scenarios for humanity's future will have to emerge from chaos and dark days ahead, his books never wallow in post-apocalyptic dystopias. Instead, his books are often about the process of transformation, as humans collectively overcome our greatest obstacles in pursuit of a more humane and gratifying future for us all. He even sees some hope in the ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"In the midst of the Covid-19 protocols, as we together do the needful things to flatten the curve and avoid the worse alternatives in hopes of the better, we can see how it might work, when the whole world works together. It's very suggestive for how we might go forward after this strange moment," Robinson said. "In that context my novel might still feel relevant: we'll see."
Robinson's previous novels have won Hugo, Nebula, Locus and World Fantasy awards and have been translated into 25 languages. His next, The Ministry for Information will be released by Orbit in October.