One of the very last events I attended before the lockdown was a thing in Silicon Valley attended by many old friends, but the best moment of all was the chance to hang out with Kim Stanley Robinson, a friend and inspiration.

That's when Stan told me he had just finished a book that might be his last-ever novel, The Ministry For the Future, and that his future work would be nonfiction, starting with his long-planned book about the Sierras.

I was stricken. Robinson's novels are a lifeline for me.

The first Robinson novel I read may just be my favorite: Pacific Edge, a green utopian novel about a successful transition to a post-climate-emergency, just and stable world. Re-reading it is a vacation from all my anxieties, still.

My first novel, DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM, wouldn't exist without Pacific Edge. That was the book that taught me that small disputes over beloved local treasures could be as dramatic as (and microcosms for) global conflicts.

I have been both dreading and anticipating MINISTRY FOR THE FUTURE, not wanting to read my last KSR novel but also wanting so badly to read this one, because it's the book in which he imagines the end of capitalism.

You've heard the phrase, "It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism," variously attributed to Frederic Jameson and Slavoj Žižek. As the author of a couple of postcapitalist novels, I have a real appreciation for the details of that truism.

It's actually not all that hard to imagine a postcapitalist society - but imagining the actual END of capitalism, the euthanasia of the rentier, the reversal of the doctrine of virtuous selfishness, the abandonment of the idea that some are born to rule, that is damned hard.

And while PACIFIC EDGE is my favorite KSR novel, my favorite KSR series is the string of books that starts with 2012's 2312 - a string of books that really leans hard into imagining the actual end of capitalism.

2312 is set 300 years into postcapitalism. It's a novel of solar-system-scale civilization, riven by its own problems and contradictions, filled with tech marvels, a tale of natural wonders that showcase Robinson's incredible, John-Muir-grade genius for pastoral writing.

2312 was followed up by Aurora, one of the best space-exploration novels ever written, about the arrival of the first-ever generation ship at its destination world, and the hasty retreat it is required to stage.

From there, we move on to New York 2140, a novel of a pivotal moment in the transformation of capitalism and its relationship to the climate emergency.

These are like an artilleryman rangfinding a mortar, first overshooting his target and then walking his fire back, drawing closer to his bullseye. For Robinson, bullseye is the moment at which our society is transformed into one that can survive the coming emergencies.

It's telling that the 2312 books never got there. It is so fucking hard to imagine the end of capitalism.

But that is what The Ministry For the Future Does.

Sort of.

It's a novel about a specialized UN agency, chartered through the Paris Climate Agreement to represent unborn generations and the natural world in legal proceedings related to climate devastation.

Talking about this book, Robinson has described it as a kind of futuristic documentary, told in many voices, as a way of describing a phenomenon as vast as this global transformation.

Like many docs, it follows a couple of main characters, but weaves in dozens of other voices, some of whom we hear from only once or twice, recounting pivotal moments in which a moment calves away from our reality as we know it - moments of shear, giddy and terrifying.

Robinson is so good at this stuff. This is the book that he has been practicing for all his life. The vignettes are superb little jewels, mostly illuminating flashbulb moments in the lives of strangers met fleetingly.

But some of the most powerful moments don't even have characters: there's a transcript of the openng a fictional congress of global climate remediation groups after the crisis that is just an alphabetical list of countries and their associated projects.

This literally made me burst into tears of joy, bursting with hope at the thought that we could, as a species, spawn so many evocative and hopeful projects to save our world, our species, and our nonhuman cohabitants.

Robinson's versatility is on glorious display here: from long lists of hypothetical ecological projects, he veers into closely told moments of human endeavor in the natural world, showcasing his pastoralism with scenes so vivid you could reach out and touch them.

But all that said, the most interesting thing about this book is the stuff that Robinson couldn't or wouldn't put on the page. Robinson's hypothetical scenario for the end of capitalism is a baroque scheme of global cryptocurrency money-creation tied to carbon drawdown.

His technocrats trick capitalism into spending itself out of existence in a plan that is by turns brainy and daffy (as all blockchainism tends to be), with some pretty epic handwaving (especially when it comes to the breakup of tech monopolies).

But all of that would fail were it not for acts of absolutely brutal, ruthless terrorism. Robinson's transformation isn't merely about the carrots of double-bluff get-rich-quick schemes, it's heavily dependent on the stick of terror.

The aviation industry isn't (just) replaced by airships and rail because it's better and cleaner - but also because parties unknown use drones to bring down every private jet in the sky, and then commercial liners, until the aviation industry seizes up and dies.

And the world doesn't abandon beef because vegans win the moral argument or because greenies win the practical one - the decisive factor is drones that dart an unknowable plurality of the world's cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

There's more - pitiless, remorseless, anonymous. And while Robinson gets up close and personal with one traumatized individual who engages in an ecologically motivated, short-lived (and nonlethal) kidnapping, we never meet any of the terrorists or their victims.

The terror that begets the transition is recounted in the dry language of an encyclopedia entry, not dramatized like the pivotal moments of so many other characters.

It's a very telling omission.

Writing that story was an intensely uncomfortable experience (and, judging from reader comments, it can be uncomfortable to read, too).

It's one thing to recognize that a systemic problem might not be solved without grotesque, mass violence, and another to put yourself in the shoes of either the perpetrators or the victims.

Robinson's end of capitalism is, superficially, a story of a transition, not a spasm, not a capital-T Terror. The lives we inhabit in this novel are people who are engaged in struggle, but not mass-murder.

But right there on the page is Robinson's uncomfortable and only partially elided conviction that we're not in for a transition, but rather a bloodletting, a reckoning commensurate with the ecocidal crimes that led up to this moment.

MINISTRY is a book that, on first consideration, feels like a utopia - not merely for the beautiful descriptions of people, animals and environments finding a way through the emergencies, but for the emergencies resolution.

But on closer examination, MINISTRY represents the dark fears of one of our brightest, most hopeful writers, that the world can only be saved by means that are literally too terrible to contemplate up close.

It's an uncomfortable read. It's a brilliant book. If it indeed turns out to be Stan's last novel (oh please don't let it be Stan's last novel), it will be a fitting capstone. But the subtext of this book is that we are past the point of no return.

Not only will rescuing our planet entail sacrifices of species, habitats, and coastlines - it will also entail sacrifices of the moral convictions that make vast spectacles of bloodletting unthinkable.

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