What is solarpunk?
Please see this thread in SFF World for a roundtable of thoughts about what solarpunk is and how to think about creating stories in the genre. I also asked this question to Adam Flynn recently, and he described it as:
Solarpunk is a somewhat promiscuous adjective, used to describe a vision of the future that we actually want. That means a future where high technology is put in service of humans and the environment. Which is to say, a solarpunk future is one that is “sustainable” at a not-just-for-rich-people level, a human-friendly future that can scale.
In short, solarpunk is a reaction to climate change, inequality, and our cultural obsession with dystopian futures. Its followers, mostly on Tumblr and numbering in the thousands, Flynn estimates, want a world where people thrive through energy independence, local resilience, and sound infrastructure…The vision is not about back-to-the-earth survivalism, Flynn says, because solarpunks embrace the responsible use of new technologies like synthetic biology and sensor networks. And it’s not utopian, he says, because the solarpunk future is one that is both high-tech and gritty, and — more importantly — one that we can actually achieve. “It’s post-apocalyptic, but it’s actually kind of nice — like, maybe (the future’s) not that bad. Maybe they just give it a bad rap by calling it an apocalypse.”
Here’s another explanation:
Solarpunk is a literary movement, a hashtag, a flag, and a statement of intent about the future we hope to create. It is an imagining wherein all humans live in balance with our finite environment, where local communities thrive, diversity is embraced, and the world is a beautiful green utopia.
-Ben Valentine of Hopes and Fears
From my perspective, then, it seems that solarpunk is a solution for modern day economic and environmental injustice. While Adam calls this genre tech-based, the Tumblr crowd also includes a lot of concept ideas for fashion, architecture, and engineering, which fuse art and science with the natural world.
Solarpunk is a fledgling label, but the concept has been around for a good while in science fiction. The Solarpunk Tumblr group has a lot of articles and concept art. There is a Goodreads list of books that probably fall into the category. While the art and ideas have been flowing generously at Tumblr and other sites, the literary works are still forming, for the most part.
Why the punk suffix?
There’s a -punk there, and not just because it’s become a trendy suffix. There’s an oppositional quality to solarpunk, but it’s an opposition that begins with infrastructure as a form of resistance.
How to write a compelling solarpunk story if it’s all based upon something beautiful and perfect?
I often cite the movie Tomorrowland as an example of solarpunk in fiction. A ragtag team struggles against the status quo to feed the good wolf, in essence to bring hope and a more positive outlook to our world than the current fossil fuel led environmental and economic corruption. The futuristic cities shown in Tomorrowland combine renewable energy, artistic imagination, and plenty of natural world nearby. Thus, it’s very possible to imagine a solarpunk’ed future while building a traditional story with conflict and resolution.
Solarpunk fiction is also about the fight to get there. It’s guerrilla gardening, it’s building community seed banks kept secret, it’s providing enough solar energy in the neighborhood that people can be taken off the grid without losing power. It can be a far-away green future in which conflict emerges between people, but it can be near future stories about small groups fighting oppressive structures, too, especially when it involves renewable energy and grassroot movements. With solarpunk, people shouldn’t be afraid to get political in their narratives. Note that solarpunk stories can be widely diverse in nature.
Our last contest?
In the summer of 2014 we threw a contest for short stories about climate change. The result is the anthology Winds of Change: Short Stories about Our Climate. You can visit the old biographies and a couple entries here. Moon Willow Press published the book in October 2015 and shortly afterward launched the book at a reading at the Burnaby Public Library in British Columbia.