Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Ministry for the Future

The Ministry for the Future opens with an emotional and memorable vignette. Frank, an American doctor on a mission to Rajasthan, finds himself in the middle of a monstrous heatwave. Wet bulb temperatures reach a point that is no longer survivable by humans. He and many others try to seek shelter in a lake, but it is warmer than the air. Thousands die, but he miraculously survives. Frank is emotionally scarred for the rest of his life.

After the strong opening, Ministry veers away from its narrative roots. A nominal plot remains, but is secondary to the author’s intent. Instead KSR takes the reader on a tour of various contemporary considerations to do with climate change. He talks about high wet bulb temperatures leading to hyperthermia, discusses the limitations of the GDP as a metric for measuring progress, accuses the unwashed masses of voting against their self interests (a pet peeve of mine, see Voting against narrow self-interests in post-scarcity). KSR reminds us about Jevon’s paradox, and posits that wealthier people are less happy than their poorer peers. He even goes on weird tangents that never get resolved, like the one about Lamed-Vav Tzadikim.

Ministry is a fine introduction to climate adjacent issues in a more digestible form. But I found the bait-and-switch aspect downright annoying. I sought a novel (see Power of Fiction), but instead found a series of didactic asides.