The Ministry for the Future of Slightly Confusing Narrators

I recently finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s near-future climate science fiction novel “Ministry for the Future” (affiliate link), and immediately bought a hardback copy of it to give to a loved one since I couldn’t share the ebook. It had been on my reading list since publication last fall, but the recent unsurvivable heatwave in Jacobabad, Pakistan and severe heatwave on the west coast of North America increased my sense of urgency to read it. Ezra Klein called it the most important book he read in 2020, in an interesting short thread (which links to an interview with KSR, as well):

It felt like an incredibly important read once I got into it, but I initially found it quite confusing. The book shifts narrators almost every chapter, and it’s not always obvious who is who until quite a bit of context emerges in a given chapter, which I found a bit frustrating. When I switched to listening to the audiobook (affiliate link), I found that they’d chosen to have different voice actors – 11 in total – read the various chapters.

Since I couldn’t find a “key” to the chapters online, I figured I’d make one. I wrote down who I think each chapter is, to the best of my reading and listening ability. I had a hard time identifying a couple of the named voice actors, but I think the chapter list will help a lot with reading comprehension on the book itself. I tried to keep the list as spoiler-free as I could, but I still don’t recommend reading the rest of this post before you get to the relevant chapter in the book.

The chapter names are the character’s name when known, with their accent, or just a description of the accent. I tried to hit the right balance of “enough to place the character” but “not so much that I spoil the chapter.” Some of the accents are very broad – if anyone can place “African woman”‘s accent more precisely, for example, please do leave a comment.

“Exposition Guy” I originally called “Climate Exposition Guy” because many of the chapters he voices are full of Climate Facts, but then he ends up being the narrator for a number of other expository chapters as well. He also voices most of the riddle chapters; I only included spoilers (behind a click) for the couple where the answer wasn’t stated explicitly in the chapter. I’ve also included a few spoiler-ful thoughts on the novel at the bottom of the post; I’ll also leave a comment that folks can nest any spoiler-y discussions under.

Chapter List

  1. Frank (American accent)
  2. Exposition Guy – Riddle
    Click for riddle answer the sun
  3. Exposition Guy (American accented man)
  4. Mary (Irish accented woman)
  5. Indian man
  6. Exposition Guy
  7. Frank’s friend, American accented man
  8. Exposition Guy
  9. Mary
  10. Older-sounding Indian man (geo-engineering pilot)
  11. Exposition Guy
  12. Exposition Guy
  13. Frank
  14. Libyan Doctor
  15. Badim’s Assistant
  16. Exposition Guy
  17. Smarmy and Gruff English-accented dialogue
  18. Frank
  19. Spanish-accented man? Fishing boat captive
  20. Exposition Guy
  21. Posh English man
  22. Exposition Guy, glaciology edition
  23. Frank
  24. Exposition Guy
  25. Mary
  26. Frank
  27. Mary
  28. Exposition Guy
  29. Glacier Pete
  30. Exposition Guy
  31. Exposition Guy
  32. Mary + Dick (Australian-accented man)
  33. Child of Kali
  34. Badim’s Assistant
  35. Refugee – Arabic accented man
  36. Exposition Guy
  37. Libyan Doctor’s Daughter (Emna or Hiba)
  38. Smarmy and Gruff English-accented dialogue
  39. Sarcastic American man
  40. Exposition Guy
  41. African woman
  42. Janus Athena
  43. Exposition Guy – Riddle
  44. Glacier Pete
  45. Mary
  46. Exposition Guy – Riddle
  47. Frank
  48. Libyan Doctor’s Wife
  49. Exposition Guy
  50. Mary
  51. Exposition Guy
  52. Indian man (different from 5 and 10)
  53. Exposition Guy – Riddle
  54. Mary
  55. French woman
  56. Mary
  57. Glacier Pete + American woman narrator (maybe voiced by the same person as Janus Athena?)
  58. Spanish woman
  59. American woman
  60. Mary
  61. Exposition Guy
  62. Swiss German woman
  63. Mary
  64. Exposition Guy
  65. African woman (different character than 41)
  66. Riddle (woman narrator)
    Click for riddle answer carbon atom
  67. Exposition Guy
  68. Mary
  69. Exposition Guy
  70. Exposition Guy
  71. Badim’s Assistant
  72. American man
  73. Exposition Guy
  74. Frank
  75. Exposition Guy
  76. American Navy servicewoman
  77. Exposition Guy – Riddle
  78. Badim, I think? not 100% sure on this one
  79. Frank
  80. Spanish farmer woman
  81. Mary
  82. American man
  83. Russian woman / Tatiana’s friend
  84. Mary
  85. Narrator Medley
  86. Mary
  87. American man
  88. Exposition Guy – Riddle
  89. Mary
  90. Smarmy and Gruff English-accented dialogue
  91. Mary
  92. Syrian refugee woman
  93. Glacier woman (same as 57, American accent)
  94. Mary
  95. Exposition Guy – Riddle
    Click for riddle answer the Earth
  96. Mary
  97. Exposition Guy
  98. Badim’s Assistant
  99. Smarmy and Gruff English-accented dialogue
  100. Mary
  101. Hong Konger narrator
  102. Mary
  103. Hawaiian narrator
  104. Mary, and Badim’s assistant (Trudi)
  105. Syrian refugee woman
  106. Mary

Narrators

Here are the voice actors, plus who I think they voice, to the best of my guessing ability – several of them use fairly thick accents in their readings which make it hard to compare to the samples I found of other recordings where they speak in what is presumably their own accents.

  1. Jennifer Fitzgerald Mary
  2. Fajer Al-Kaisi ?
  3. Ramon de Ocampo Sarcastic American
  4. Gary Bennett Exposition Guy + Riddles
  5. Raphael Corkhill Smarmy English man
  6. Barrie Kreinik Unsure – her other samples also have an Irish accent but her voice is quite different from Jennifer Fitzgerald’s.
  7. Natasha Soudek Janus Athena, and Glacier woman
  8. Nikki Massoud Arabic-accented woman, probably plays both the Libyan doctor’s wife and daughter
  9. Joniece Abbott Pratt African woman
  10. Inés del Castillo Spanish woman?
  11. Vikas Adam Several of the Indian narrators, I think

If you have corrections or better descriptions for any of the chapters, please feel free to comment or email me (leigh at this domain name). I’m particularly curious if anyone is able to ID the voice actors in various chapters, though it’s more of a desire for comprehensiveness than necessary to decode the chapters 🙂

My thoughts on the book (contains some spoilers)

  • There aren’t enough frumpy middle-aged women science fiction protagonists and I really liked Mary as a character.
  • Shout out to Frank working hard on his PTSD with EMDR, and honestly being kind of a mess throughout the whole book.
  • I groaned as soon as I saw the word “blockchain” as an inveterate blockchain/cryptocurrency skeptic, but I think the “carbon coin” idea is one of the more plausible and interesting cryptocurrency ideas I’ve heard of.
  • I appreciated that Janus Athena’s non-binary identity was acknowledged but in a casual, normalized way.
  • The Hong Kong chapter broke my heart – the book went to press last October just after the pro-democracy protests there ended.
  • Poor Glacier Pete 😢.
  • I was stoked to learn that the core premise of the book – an agency specifically tasked with acting on behalf of the rights of future generations – is rooted in present-day climate litigation premised on the core idea of intergenerational equity. Fascinating stuff.

2 thoughts on “The Ministry for the Future of Slightly Confusing Narrators

  1. Thank you!

    I have been out of the cyber game for a minute but still see your posts and vaguely remember you (Blackhat, DEFCON, Derby, I don’t know).

    I Hope you are well…

    Mark

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