Inventing Plausible Utopias: An Interview With Kim Stanley Robinson

A Q&A with the acclaimed science fiction author and inventor of better futures

Eliot Peper
OneZero
Published in
14 min readJan 14, 2021

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Image: Maciej Toporowicz, NYC/Getty Images

Insurrection. Global pandemic. Cascading climate crises. Never-ending Zooms. We seem to be living through the dystopia Hollywood has always dreamed of, sans a satisfying narrative arc.

In times like these, nihilism beckons. Just give up, history seems to be saying. There’s nothing you can do. The best you can hope for is to protect your own as you watch the world burn.

Fuck that.

Some novelists begin a new story by identifying a central theme, and then let the characters, plot, setting, tone, pace, and all the rest unspool from there. That’s never worked for me. Instead, theme is usually something I can identify only after the story is on the page. It’s the shadow cast by the narrative. And if there’s a single theme underlying every novel I’ve written, it’s that even in the face of tremendous complexity and overwhelming odds, agency matters.

Adversity isn’t an ending. There aren’t any endings. Adversity is a challenge. It’s a question to which our actions are the answer. It’s an invitation to find out who we really are.

That’s why I was so thrilled to read Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel. The Ministry for the Future follows the scientists, diplomats, and activists working across decades and continents to forge a future you might actually want to live in from the shattered remains of a civilization on the brink. Like Veil, the story kicks off with a deadly global heat wave that begets a controversial geoengineering scheme — a parallel that inspired a wonderful correspondence between Stan and myself — yet the books ultimately yield wildly different, though complementary, visions of tomorrow. I love so many things about The Ministry for the Future — its sprawling future history, its rigorous picture of institutional change, its structure of feeling, its cascading collisions of big ideas — but what resonates most deeply is that this is a book about and for practical, determined people working to make a messy, complicated world better.

In the following conversation, Stan and I discuss the creative process behind the novel, and in the…

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Eliot Peper
OneZero

Novelist: Foundry, Reap3r, Veil, Breach, Borderless, Bandwidth, Neon Fever Dream, Cumulus, Exit Strategy, Power Play, and Version 1.0.