Imagining the end of capitalism
My latest column for Locus Magazine is “The Unimaginable,” about the relationship of science fiction plays to the future. Sf is a literature of inspiration and warning, not prediction.
I mean, thank goodness. If the future was predictable, there’d be no point in getting out of bed, because the future would arrive irrespective of our actions. Sfnal tales that posit a predictable future (like Asimov’s “Foundation” or Heinlein’s “Jonathan Hoag”) are pure fatalism.
Instead of predicting a future, sf imagines lots of futures. This is an intrinsically political act, because it rejects the political claim that the world is the way it is because it could not possibly be different. This claim is often implicit in ideology, but Margaret Thatcher made it explicit, claiming “there is no alternative” to free-for-all capitalism. This idea — shortened to “TINA” — is the cornerstone of capitalist realism, whose goal is to foster a mindset where “It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism.”
Now, this is obviously untrue. It’s super-easy to imagine a world without capitalism. My own books — Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Walkaway and more — have done so. The very exercise of imagining a postcapitalist world is heady and refreshing.
But while postcapitalist futures are a dime a dozen in sf, the actual moment in which capitalism ends is rarely depicted. For example, Kim Stanley Robinson has published a string of astoundingly great novels depicting postcapitalism (Pacific Edge, 2312, etc), without giving us the transition itself.
Or rather, he hadn’t given it to us, not until 2020, when he published his blockbuster climate novel “The Ministry for the Future.”
“Ministry” breaks new ground for Robinson and does something rarely seen in the field: depicts a plausible, step-by-step sequence in which capitalism falls. To make this work, Robinson employs a documentary storytelling style, where short vignettes depict key moments through the eyes of dozens of characters…