I have been a big fan of science fiction my entire life. Back when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to watch the latest episodes of The Jetsons, Lost in Space, Outer Limits and of course Star Trek. Recently, Thom and I agreed that one of our favorite rides at Disneyland used to be Carousel of Progress. In 1977, the year Thom and I met and married, theaters gifted us with the first Star Wars movie—and we saw it at least seven times that summer along with every sequel and prequel ever since. And let’s not forget books like Dune or everything written by Ursula K. Le Guin or Robert A Heinlein. I think the attraction is the mostly positive vision of life, people and worlds so creatively different—and yes, all wrapped around an adventure. To me, science fiction requires unlimited imagination and open-mindedness. If we can’t imagine something different and yes, impossible—how can we ever hope to create or achieve it? And now, a new sub-genre of science fiction called solarpunk raises that bar in optimistic and innovative ways.
Solarpunk? Until fairly recently I wasn’t familiar with the word either. I’d heard of Steampunk, a genre of sci-fi (science fiction) in a historical setting (think the Wild Wild West on TV or the movies of Jules Verne like 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.) But since then solarpunk supposedly came out as a literary genre, as well as an aesthetic and a mode of thinking around 2005—and yes, solar and other environmentally innovate ideas are included. Wikipedia defines solarpunk as: “… a literary and artistic movement that envisions and works toward actualizing a sustainable future interconnected with nature and community.” What mainly distinguishes it from the umbrella of all science fiction, along with its accompanying artistic and social movement, is a creativity which visualizes collective and ecological utopias where sustainability, technology and humans grow and evolve in harmony.
So what does that really mean? Well, if you like science fiction you’ve probably noticed that a large majority of sci-fi these days focuses on everything going to hell in the future. With AI and robots taking over, the planet destroyed by environmental disasters and aliens arriving to conquer and enslave the human race, it seems the majority of sci-fi “vision” is dystopian. And yes, a major focus of that doom and gloom earned its own sub-genre name: cyberpunk. It’s no wonder that many of us are not fans. But sci-fi is more than that—and solarpunk is a way to imagine and see how life can exist in ways that are positive, uplifting and creative at the same time.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that solarpunk stories are all Pollyannaish. Conflict and challenges always exist. But at the core, the genre attempts to envision a future where technology and humans co-exist and evolve in creative and unusual ways for the betterment of all—along with ecology, sustainability and nature as fundamental. Community is extremely important with equality and acceptance for all. Emphasis is placed on a society of anti-authoritarianism, decentralization, open-source technologies, with shared knowledge and resources. Clearly it is a vision where people and the planet are given priority over business and profit.
Let me give you an example. In the novella A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers we meet a gender-neutral character who goes by the name of Dex who meets and travels with a robot name Mosscap. As Dex searches for meaning and purpose in their world, they explore a creatively imagined world where this is not only possible, but they do it in a way that both confirms classic human needs and desires, and at the same time in a new ingenious and environmentally rich ecosystem. As the friendship between Dex and Mosscap deepens, the two of them explore not only this fascinating world, but ask and answer questions many of us ask ourselves as life goes on. Best of all, it is hopeful and touching story.
So, what does this mean for any of us in our regular lives? Like my last blog post where I shared that protopia is a way of looking at the world that leans toward optimism and away from pessimism, solarpunk envisions new possibilities. It doesn’t deny that difficult and challenging times exist and that we aren’t on the edge of many of those now. But what it does do is provide the hope and encouragement that we have the ability to navigate the future in concert with environment in ways that will resolve issues for the betterment of all. No, it won’t always be easy or look pretty—but slowly over time it can change. And remember a fundamental belief in protopia is that we must be able to envision something before it can be created or happen. Solarpunk is one good way for that envisioning to provide roadmaps into the possible.
Since learning about solarpunk and what it means I’ve been doing some searching for books under this genre. There are plenty to pick from—especially if you appreciate a story that will take you out of the world you think you know and tickle your imagination. You can be sure, if it is found under the genre of solarpunk, that it will value the natural environment, gender inclusivity, egalitarianism, and of course, tech-optimism.
Have you sunk into a state where you can’t imagine how our future will improve? Then one SMART approach would be to explore reading solarpunk fiction. While probably not for everyone—if you enjoy reading, trying new things, and you see yourself as someone who enjoys exploring the impossible in a positive way—then give it a try. I continue to believe that no matter what our age, as long as we are alive it is SMART to stay engaged and work toward creating a better world for ourselves, future generations and yes, the planet herself. Is solarpunk the answer? You tell me.
Disclosure: The title of this post was generated by ChatGPT (AI), but the article itself was created solely by personal human creativity.