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Hopeful Sci-Fi Offers Great Summer Reading for Engineers and Other Humans

July 28, 2022
Has hopeful science fiction become a relic of the past? Editor Lee Goldberg is here to assure you that hope is still on the menu for 2022. Want proof? Check out his favorite sci-fi summer read.

After living under the shadow of The Pandemic for what seemed like a decade, enjoying something close to a "normal" summer is a rare and delicious privilege. I’ve been spending much of this precious time (carefully) reconnecting with friends and exploring the wilds of New Jersey with Catherine on our motor scooter.

Nevertheless, I'm still making room for healthy stretches of Summer Reading. Few things can make the stresses of life dissolve more gently for me than relaxing with an adult beverage and an engrossing novel.

While I enjoy the occasional spy thriller, trashy romance, or murder mystery, there's nothing like some well-written science fiction to satisfy my engineer's sensibilities—especially if things turn out for the better at the end. The problem is that hopeful sci-fi seems to be as scarce as vacuum tubes these days, two much-beloved relics of a bygone era.

But hope is still on the menu in 2022, thanks to shows like one of the new Star Trek series (Discovery, New Worlds, etc..) and authors like Richard Bowers, Octavia Butler, and Ian McDonald, to name a few. They give us stories about futures worth living, and worth working toward.

We’re even blessed with folks like Kim Stanley Robinson, whose stories contain imaginative, believable roadmaps that show how we might get there. It's no wonder then why Robinson's latest work, The Ministry of the Future, occupies the top slot in my Audible listening list this summer.

What’s It About?

Set in the very near future, Robinson paints a disturbingly accurate picture of how climate change will unfold over the next 10-20 years if no further efforts are taken to mitigate it. In this future, however, the world is galvanized into action when climate-related famines, unsurvivable heat waves, and the resulting economic collapse spreads beyond the confines of “developing nations.” It's only then that most world leaders reluctantly agree to develop an ambitious plan to drag humanity back from the edge of oblivion.

With the stage set, Robinson spins a web of intersecting story lines about the people creating the technical, economic, social initiatives needed to restore the planet's health, and the complex politics it takes to gain a rocky, but workable, global consensus on adopting them.

At 500+ pages (or 20+ hours of listening), this book isn't for the faint of heart (or the short-of-attention span), and it may take a bit of effort to follow Robinson's lengthy deep dives into topics most of us wouldn't expect to encounter in a sci-fi thriller. For example, I struggled to follow one of the economist’s arguments as they tried to convince a group of politicians that creating policies which monetize the quality of life of future generations can be used to incentivize investments in today's long-term environmental initiatives.

My Takeaway

Thankfully, Robinson rewards the persistent reader with a rich storyline that's as engrossing as a well-crafted spy novel. As the struggle to repair the Earth's damaged ecosystem unfolds, he also reveals a fresh perspective on our home planet that's as beautiful and fascinating as any fictional world.

You'll be accompanied on your sojourn through this maybe-Earth by a great cast of fully drawn characters, each with their own viewpoint, motivations, and distinct personality. They help bring to life a believable future in which we use the technologies, economic policies, and business strategies we have within our grasp to mitigate climate change and begin to build a world we won't be ashamed to pass on to our grandchildren.

And, unlike the cartoonish characters of say, a Dan Brown novel, the people you meet in The Ministry for the Future will become old friends (or enemies) who will linger in your mind long after the story ends.

You can find Ministry for the Future at your favorite local bookseller or library (remember them!), as well as listen to it on one of several streaming audio services.

P.S. With the summer only halfway through, I'm looking for a few more hopeful sci-fi titles to add to my reading list, especially ones written by some of the newer authors I'm less familiar with who represent a more diverse slice of our world than the books I read as a kid. Please feel free to share one or two of your most beloved stories at lgoldberg(at)@green-electronics(dot)com.

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