Robinson is well known as a writer of hard science fiction, so reviewers have tended to praise Ministry as an “outstanding work of sci fi,” not realizing that it is so much more. It is in fact required reading for every thinking person,within a classroom or without. Ignore the reviews, and read the book.
I find only two flaws in this monumental work. First, Robinson is enamored with Zurich and San Francisco, but sees cities as seats of power, rather than potential fonts of climate innovation. And second, there is no study guide. (Has anyone else created a study guide for Ministry? A Google search turns up none.)
For a pairing menu, read it together with The Gaiapolis Strategy, by TANDO Fellow Sheridan Tatsuno. Robinson and Tatsuno are for the most part barking up the same tree. Both propose limited public ownership of some essential services. (Sadly, this unavoidable part of the solution will be denounced as socialism by those who think “socialism” is a cuss word.) Both are technological optimists, but advocate drawing on the traditional wisdom of indigenous people in each region of the world. Both want global electronic networks to share what does and doesn’t work, among regions.
Some differences: Tatsuno argues convincingly that it is cities, not Robinson’s international agencies, that will lead the way out of this mess. Tatsuno has more confidence than Robinson in the conventional monetary system. Both, however, advocate parallel monetarization systems that reward decarbonization, Tatsuno arguing for localized new currencies, and Robinson for a globalized new currency. Robinson’s risk analysis suggests it’s time to stop arguing about geo-engineering, and just do it. Though both writers’ arguments overlap, generally Robinson goes for more global measures, and Tatsuno for an agglomeration of local measures. Robinson tells us what could be done; Tatsuno lays out what to do.
Both see the possibility of a future in which cities are pleasant, biophilic, and carbon-negative, and the countryside supports sustainable agriculture and ample wildlife. Huge, huge problems, and probably a lot of suffering, stand between us and that future. So, yes, get off your ass or STFU.