Will We Ever See the Promises of Solarpunk?

What is Solarpunk?

image: ABC.es

What if I tell you there is a literary genre so green and sunny you want to embrace it? Hug it and don’t let go? Welcome to solarpunk!

Solarpunk is a recent movement in speculative fiction. Also a vision of the future. It started around the 2010s on a series of Tumblr posts.

In the tradition of cyberpunk and steampunk, it is more than just a genre. It is a fashion style, an art movement, a musical style, an architectural school, and also a literary genre. But what exactly is solarpunk?

The solar in solarpunk refers to solar energy. Using solar energy and other renewable energy sources as alternatives to electricity, nuclear, and oil. It is a response to dystopian visions of the future by writers in the age of climate change.

Speaking of literary traditions, solarpunk fits between steampunk and cyberpunk.

Whereas steampunk is an alternative vision of the past and cyberpunk is a dystopian vision of the future, solarpunk is an imagining of a sustainable future.

The kind of future we all would want to live in.

What is not solarpunk?

image: El Diario

First, if a story takes place in outer space, even if the tone and themes are similar, it is not solarpunk. Solarpunk needs to be Earth-based by definition.

Second, solarpunk is not hopepunk (an extremely optimistic vision of the future). Solarpunk rejects dystopian narratives without denying them. What this means is while it recognizes the world’s problems, it also shows us they can be overcome.

It is optimistic without being unrealistic.

In a world where pollution and global warming are imminent dangers, solarpunk is here to provide, if not hope, at least alternatives.

So, what are the promises of solarpunk?

Say Goodbye to Dystopia: the Promises of Solarpunk

image: Tumblr

As a genre and as a movement (notice how both steampunk and cyberpunk also started as literary genres and also became movements) solarpunk makes a political statement.

solarpunk fashion, Pinterest

All the punks are rebellious as in a rejection of the dominant narrative. It tells us there is more to life than the capitalist consumer society.

If you read the Solarpunk Manifesto, you will find a philosophy for a green and fair society.

It almost sounds like communism. It is definitely communal. It rejects individualism and embraces the community. And its definition of community includes all genders, races, spiritualities, sexual identities, and cultures.

It envisions a new society, post-War, post-scarcity, post-colonial, post-capitalist. A future of what could be (the very definition of speculative fiction). A brighter future.

In retrospect, solarpunk is nothing but a repacking of old the science fiction belief about how science will solve all our problems.

Among solar punk promises:
  • inclusiveness and tolerance
  • smart citizenship making smart decisions
  • social justice
  • no cultural or socioeconomic hierarchy
  • green energy and ecological responsibility

image: Pinterest

New technologies will bring the end of hunger, poverty, inequality, war, and climate change. Whether it is green energy, capturing carbon emissions, and improvements in agriculture and water purification, these technologies have a can-do attitude.

Attitude with a smile. As the solarpunkers would tell you, the alternatives are denial or despair. Neither one is a good option.

A worse action would be inaction. Inaction does not bring change.

A Rebellion Against Pessimism

image: El Diario

As a movement, solarpunk is admirable. It cheerfully defies centuries of oppression and exploitation. Its values are twenty-first-century values.

It imagines cities full of greenery, with clean air and water. Fashion made of natural materials, not plastic or synthetic fabrics. Art Nouveau art and music which rejects mass production.

Furthermore, artfulness, gardening, self-expression, and a ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality are central to the solarpunk movement.

men’s solarpunk fashion, Pinterest

Moreover, solarpunk argues we can beat the odds and save the Earth.

As a literary genre, it is too early to tell its success. Solarpunk started around 2008-2010 but it wasn’t until 2014 where it started gaining strength and popularity.

Still, I have reservations.

As much as I love optimistic science fiction, solarpunk can be too utopian (although not as much as hopepunk).

Yes, I want utopian visions of the future. And yes, I love happy endings. Still, too many ‘puppies and rainbows’ equals not enough conflict. And conflict drives the plot and makes for exciting reading.

Also, solarpunk can be too preachy.

Solarpunk urban concept, Tumblr

I have a problem with people retroactively giving the solarpunk label to works created way before solarpunk was a thing.

So no, Ursula Le Guin‘s The Dispossessed, Octavia Butler‘s The Parable of the Sower, and any Kim Stanley Robinson from the 1990s and early 2000s are not solarpunk even if the themes and sensibilities fit it.

As nice as solarpunk sounds, I have two questions:
  1. Is it feasible?
  2. Does it make for good literature?

Let the debate begin.

A Sunnier Future, One Story at a Time

image: Fiuss

Before you can predict the future you need to envision it. You need to visualize and imagine there can be a different, better way than what we already have.

Solarpunk fans do not ask when things will get better. Instead, they ask the following:

“what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?”

Feasibility is not a question. They now it can happen. They rather ask when and how. They seek solutions to every objection.

In terms of literature, solarpunk is a young genre and so far its record is lacking. Outside of a few solarpunk anthologies and a few novels like Cory Doctorow‘s Walkaway (2017) and Alia Gee‘s Suncatcher: Seven Days in the Sky (2014), there is not much to recommend.

image: Tumblr

Whereas steampunk has Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and K. W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices while cyberpunk has William Gibson‘s Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson‘s Snow Crash, solarpunk has yet to produce its breakout, genre-defining novel.

Therefore it is too early to tell. Still, it has been a decade. I believe too much utopia does not make for good reading. Nevertheless, I will be happy to be proved wrong.

I am sure there is an author out there who could write the great solarpunk novel. Becky Chambers, perhaps?

image: El Diario

To summarize, solarpunk is a social movement proposing a sunnier future (pun intended) and its promises and worth pursuing. Solarpunk can be our future. It is just one great novel away from becoming popular.

Reader, agree, or disagree? Would you like to see a solarpunk future? Is it doable? Is there a solarpunk novel worth reading? Please comment.

2 Responses

  1. Sunkeeper says:

    Fantastic breakdown of solarpunk and its lingering sense of impending bloom. I’m a solarpunk author working on hard on my full length novel meant to both satisfy and criticize the movement. It’s always nice to see new reactions from bloggers who also make sure they understand the topic before weighing in. That’s where people like me can learn and grow from your take on it. Cheers

    • Albizu73 says:

      Sunkeeper (love the alias),

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I am looking forward to reading your novel when it comes out.
      Who knows? Perhaps it is the breakthrough solarpunk novel who will put the subgenre into the mainstream.
      I wish you lots of success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

March 2023