Remember Cyberpunk? Now "Solarpunk" brings optimism...and viable alternatives
Cyberpunk was a genre of science fiction which has largely defined our imaginations of the future - William Gibson's Neuromancer putting a name to "cyberspace", Dick and Scott's Blade Runner setting the dark, dystopian visual tone. In cyberpunk the future was a clogged, entangled, surging-and-crumbling urban maelstrom - not much hope around. "High tech, low life", as academics put it.
A current movement of SF writers want to put a name to a quite different set of impulses - rooted in how we might respond energetically, optimistically, and inventively to climate change. They're calling it solarpunk and they explain it in this blog. An excerpt:
Solarpunk is the first creative movement consciously and positively responding to the Anthropocene. When no place on Earth is free from humanity's hedonism, Solarpunk proposes that humans can learn to live in harmony with the planet once again.
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.
The "solar" in Solarpunk is both a description and metaphor for the movement's commitment to a utopia that is accessible to every human on earth, as well as to all of our planet's lifeforms. No single business can capture and privatize sunlight to hoard it for itself or sell it at a cost. It's one of the only universally accessible goods. Solarpunk futures envision a world of distributed clean energy, available and benefiting everyone.
"The re-distribution of power, whether it's political or electric, is at the heart of my story," Solarpunk author, Alia Gee, tells Hopes&Fears. "Getting the power aspect taken care of is the only way I believe there can be a better future for everyone. (I'm very keen on the everyone part. Not just white males or CIS or human-like life forms.)"
In that way, Solarpunk centers on outsider and marginalized groups because it must. Those with the least access to power in today's paradigm will be those we must closely listen to if the Solarpunk dream is to be made a reality. For if it is to be sustainable, it will be essential to distribute power and infrastructure throughout independent communities.
Solarpunk is overdue. In 2014, legendary SF writer Ursula McGuin heralded the need for an optimistic, and pro-alternatives science fiction - "the realists of a larger reality". From Open Democracy:
Le Guin also explained how authors, especially fantasy writers, have a special opportunity to stand up to the corporate system because they can portray a world very different from the one we currently live in.
“We live in capitalism,” said Le Guin, “Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.” It’s up to authors, she explains in the video below, to spark the imagination of their readers and to help them envision alternatives to how we live.
Here's LeGuin's 2014 speech: