By my count, I've read eight books so far in 2022. It's been an excellent year for reading to date. Even the book I enjoyed the least is a hard-to-put-down page-turner. Two books stood out head and shoulders above the rest. One is a science-fiction novel that wears the moniker of climate fiction. The other is a popular science book about the most abundant insect on the planet, and while climate change is not the subject of the book, the issue comes up nonetheless.
Last November, I reluctantly picked up Robinson's New York: 2140. Why reluctantly? Because I had struggled with and eventually DNF'd Red Mars. To say I was pleasantly surprised with New York: 2140 is a severe understatement. It is easily one of the most memorable books I read in 2021, both frightening and hopeful at the same time. While reading the book, I thought world-building and political commentary were the author's strengths. His characters, while perfectly fine, were just so-so. I have since discovered that, like the story, the characters in New York: 2140 linger unsettlingly in the mind.
All this is to say I had lofty expectations for The Ministry for the Future. The blurb on the book's back jacket eroded my hope for an excellent read a wee bit. "Told entirely through eyewitness accounts..." brought to mind World War Z, which I had found a fun zombie romp until the novelty wore off about halfway through. It took me a while to get into The Ministry for the Future, but once I did...wow! The book is terrifying but is ultimately hopeful without the ending being a happy day scenario. I don't know that I've ever read another author who can pull this off the way Robinson does.
At first blush, the book seems all about the impacts of climate change and solutions without much emphasis on the characters. We see horrible things happening to people worldwide and scienctists work tirelessly to reverse the damage, but much of it is told from eyewitness accounts by characters we only meet once or a few times throughout this lengthy novel. There are, however, several characters we follow throughout the story. Like in New York: 2140, the characters are as memorable as the horrifying yet mildly hopeful story. Anyone interested in climate fiction and possessing the intestinal fortitude to ponder the potential scary consequences of anthropomorphic climate change will find this thoroughly unnerving and thought-provoking tale rewarding.
I've never been a massive fan of insects, except for honeybees (I love honey), and I'm a bit of an arachnophobe, thanks to my mother. Super Fly made me reevaluate all that. Instead of liquidating with prejudice the creepy-crawlies who invade the house, I have embarked on a catch-and-release program. I've tried to convince my sons to do the same, but they remain skeptical and enjoy making unwanted invaders go zap and splat.
Why my change of heart? Firstly, Balcombe's descriptions of fly anatomy are absolutely fascinating. After realizing what a marvel of evolution flies are, it's hard to see them simply as pests. Plus, flies are super pollinators, second only to bees in their benefit to much of the incredible flora found around the world, not to mention essential to the human food supply. Simply put, no flies, and more generally, no insects equate to no humans or much of anything else. Flies have other wonderous benefits: fly maggots are incredible at cleaning wounds, and flies are essential for breaking down organic waste.
Of course, flies are also vectors for disease, especially mosquitoes. I hadn't even realized mosquitoes are considered flies, but they are part of the order Diptera. What becomes clear in reading Balcombe's narrative is that the benefits of flies far outweigh the negatives.
Super Fly is one of the best popular science books I've ever read because it inspired me to alter my behavior. The only popular science book I'd put on the same pedestal as this one is Leon Lederman's The God Particle, which inspired me to a lifelong interest in physics, especially particle physics. Without a doubt, I'll read more of Balcombe's books.
I adore birds. During the pandemic, my sons and I put out birdfeeders. It's been a wonderful experience. My sons appreciate the birds, and as a photographer, I love snapping pictures of them, as does my older son.
I can't help fearing that if the insects keep disappearing, the birds will be next.