The Ministry for the Future and the Children of the Comet

The Ministry for the Future and the Children of the Comet May 30, 2022

It was incredibly disconcerting to have the experience of finishing listening to the audiobook of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel The Ministry for the Future and then hear the news of an extreme heatwave in India. A heatwave in India, albeit one set a few years from now and with a much larger number of deaths than we have had this summer at least thus far, is how the novel begins. I won’t give away spoilers (mentioning how the book begins doesn’t count, I’m sure), but hopefully can say that the fictional event becomes the catalyst to efforts to do more about climate change than humanity had been. The book is powerful precisely because it highlights the difference between the steps we have taken and the ones we actually need to take if we are to avoid catastrophe. That alone makes it well worth reading. It is a rare example of sci-fi that is neither simply utopian nor dystopian but seeks to tell the story of humanity heading for dystopia and finally acting in very concrete ways to seek to avoid it. For those interested in religion, the noosphere gets a mention, which is a concept that was developed and promoted by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, although apparently simultaneously by Vladimir Vernadsky. I am not sure which if either may have influenced Robinson directly. One character who is not religious nevertheless at one point ponders the possibility of a God along the lines of panentheism, which may or may not suggest some awareness of Teilhard. There is also another character who argues that a new religion, a revival of the oldest religion, is needed to motivate people to do something about the climate.

Have you read The Ministry for the Future? If so, what did you think of it?

Of related interest:

Sojourners reported on people of faith demanding that banks stop financing the climate crisis

Global warming will make record-breaking temperatures in India and Pakistan much more frequent

Ramez Naam on how to beat Putin, solve climate change, and build the future

An optimist’s guide to the future: the economist who believes that human ingenuity will save the world

An article in New Humanist discusses another example of apocalyptic fiction, Station Eleven, which I have yet to read

I mentioned Robinson’s novel in the talk I gave as part of the UKZN Religion and Society Seminar Series, “The Relevance of Religious Studies to Science Fiction (and Vice Versa).” If you missed it, it was recorded and I’ve shared it on my YouTube channel.

Also related to science fiction, I am grateful to Dawn Schram for pointing out the specific folk song from Kenya featured in the episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, “Children of the Comet.” It is called Vamuvamba and because of the lyrics it falls at the intersection of three of my interests. The song is a Tiriki Christian song about the crucifixion of Jesus, the full title of which is sometimes given as “Yesu Vamuvamba.”

There is a poster and a t-shirt featuring the episode and the melody, created by J. J. Lendl. I may just have to order one. First I’m going to see whether this poster image is available on a t-shirt since that would be my first choice. Check out the artist’s website for many more of their creations!


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