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


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.

The Geek Guide to Watching “The Good Wife”

The Good Wife is my favorite TV show of all time. It passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test before the title credits virtually every episode; the women on the show have complex relationships and friendships, the legal drama is thrillingly ripped from often recent headlines, the political intrigue is complex and nefarious…

And the tech. The tech is just perfect.

But I tell people about the show and they watch the first few episodes and are all meh. Things got off to a bit of a slow start – the first few seasons focus on the politics, both within the law firm and Chicago’s legendarily complex (and corrupt) city apparatus. While I like those parts of the show, having been raised in a political town by lawyer parents, the thing that I really love about The Good Wife is how it handles the nuanced ways that technology interacts with the court system. It also shines in later seasons in showing the fundamental unfairness of the American legal system, but I’ll leave that stuff to you to see once you’re hooked.

So as the show’s seventh and final season comes to an end, I present to you: the Geek Guide to Watching “The Good Wife”. Below, I have summarized the cast and plot of each season, and listed the episodes of particular geek interest in seasons 2 and 3. Beware, there are spoilers for the first 3 seasons! Season 4 is where the show hits it’s stride – I recommend just watching the whole thing from season 4 episode 1 and on.

Thanks to my pal and The Good Wife watching buddy Valerie Aurora of Frame Shift Consulting for helping with the season descriptions and general encouragement. This had been sitting in my drafts for months, and there was no episode this week so we finished this instead!

Season 1

No really, there are spoilers ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you 🙂

The starting point for The Good Wife was this question: What does it feel like to be the good, loving, forgiving wife, standing on stage next to her politician husband as he confesses to having sex with other women? Alicia Florrick (the titular Good Wife) is married to Peter Florrick (played by Chris “Mr. Big” Noth), who kicks off the series by confessing to sleeping with prostitutes while he was the Cook County State’s Attorney of Illinois.

Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife Season 5.jpg
Alicia Florrick, in one of her more ice-queen moments

Fast-forward 6 months, and Peter is in prison for corruption and Alicia is getting her first job as a lawyer after being a stay-at-home mom for over a decade. She joins the law firm of Stern, Lockhart, and Gardner. Will Gardner is an old law school buddy who seems to have fond feelings for Alicia. Diane Lockhart is a Hillary Clinton fan and old school feminist who wants to give Alicia a chance. Stern is getting weirder and more unpredictable as he ages. But the real star of the firm is Kalinda Sharma, the badass investigator. Cary Agos is another first-year associate, competing with Alicia for a permanent position at the firm (a little eyeroll-y but tolerable). Outside the firm, Eli Gold is Peter’s hilariously intense and ruthless campaign manager, and Zach and Grace are Peter and Alicia’s teenage kids.

This season follows Alicia’s education as a lawyer in the hard-knocks school of the Chicago court system, the progress of Peter’s attempts to get out of prison and redeem himself politically, Alicia’s ambivalence towards her husband, the beginning of a never-ending series of political machinations at Alicia’s law firm, the growth of Alicia and Kalinda’s working relationship and friendship, and Will and Alicia’s on-again, off-again flirtation with each other. An amusing running theme throughout the whole series is the enormous technical facility of Alicia’s teen kids Zach and Grace with computers, the Internet, and phones, compared to all of the adults. Episode 10 is particularly noteworthy for a ripped-from-the-headlines plot involving a judicial scandal with enormous consequences for young Black boys – exactly the kind of real-world courtroom drama you’ll never see in most lawyer shows.

Season 2

Peter Florrick is out of prison and running for Cook County State’s Attorney again. Eli sets back Will and Alicia’s budding romantic relationship to protect Peter’s political campaign. In this season, Alicia’s law firm starts to pick up clients who are obvious pastiches of Google, Facebook, and Apple. Alicia discovers Kalinda had an affair with her husband Peter. The season ends with Will and Alicia getting a hotel room together, which is when you realize that the on-going unresolved romantic tension running through the entire show (a la the Scully-Mulder X-Files dynamic) is actually between Alicia and Peter (will they stay married or get divorced?), not between Alicia and Will.

Chumhum: is it Google? Apple? Facebook? HP? Yes. All of them.

The geeky episodes this season are:

Episode 14: “Net Worth” – A meta-version of “The Social Network.”
Episode 16: “Great Firewall” – The tech company Chumhum hands over a Chinese dissident’s information, resulting in his imprisonment and torture. He sues.
Episode 22: “Getting Off” – An Ashley Madison-like site results in a murder.

Season 3

Peter ponders running for Governor of Illinois. Will and Alicia are having an affair. Alicia is on the partner track at the firm. Alicia and Kalinda slowly start to rebuild their friendship. Will is under investigation for briefly stealing a client’s money to pay a gambling debt. Alicia decides to end her affair with Will. Will ends up with a 6-month suspension from practicing law. Peter decides to run for governor.

The geeky episodes this season are:

Episode 13: “Bitcoin For Dummies” – I feel like this episode needs no introduction, except perhaps to say that this is only the first of several episodes about the more intricate details of Bitcoin and the Bitcoin community.
Episode 15: “Live from Damascus” – Chumhum is sued for selling software to Syria.

Season 4 and Onwards

Season 4 is where the show really hits its stride, tech-wise. We see repeat business from Chumhum (the Google/Facebook analog), and the government starts digging around in the firm’s and Alicia’s business, with dramatic results (including a demonstration of the real-world implications of the NSA’s three-hop wiretapping rule). Just watch all the episodes from here on out, you won’t regret it!

I hope you enjoy this show as much as I have. With four episodes to go in the seventh and final season, you’ve got some catching up to do!