Next up in the Speculative Punk series: Solarpunk. Solarpunk is a relatively new genre that provides a more optimistic spin on science fiction.

Solarpunk authors use science fiction to imagine a more hopeful future
Solarpunk authors use science fiction to imagine a more hopeful future
Photo by Mark Merner on Unsplash

If you’ve been following my other articles on cyberpunk, steampunk, and capepunk, you’ll notice one uniting factor – all of these stories tend to be pretty dark. When you consider why these genres were created, it makes sense – a lot of writers in those genres are tackling heavy social issues, or confronting the idea of a bleak future.

Solarpunk, one of the newer “punk” speculative genres, is a rejection of that pessimism. Solarpunk is probably most similar to cyberpunk, in the sense that both genres are futuristic and deal with the implications of rapidly changing technology. However, while cyberpunk tends to focus on how technology can be used to either oppress the masses or fight back against oppression, solarpunk is mostly focused on finding sustainable solutions after the fighting ends.

The History of Solarpunk

It’s unclear when the term “solarpunk” was coined, or who coined it. It’s possible that several people came up with the idea independently of one another during the past two decades. Wherever it came from, solarpunk has grown into a movement of people who wanted to focus less on what could go wrong and instead, focus on how to build a sustainable future.

Though authors wrote books with similar themes as early as the 60s, the first official “solarpunk” work was arguably a Brazilian anthology published in 2012. Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World contained works by nine Brazilian and Portuguese authors. The stories imagined a high-tech, eco-friendly future, and included fantastic inventions ranging from solar-powered spaceships to photosynthetic humans.

Leaving the opera in the year 2000 by Albert Robida
Leaving the opera in the year 2000 by Albert Robida (late 19th century)

Though, long before the Solarpunk anthology, some writers were already incorporating what would later be called solarpunk into their stories. Some writers, like Ursula K. Leguin, used science fiction as a way to explore more humane and eco-friendly societies. Her book, The Dispossessed, follows a scientist from a utopian planet exploring a corrupt and backward world.

We sometimes see an impulse to reject pessimism and insist on a happy ending in steampunk and even in some cyberpunk stories. While solarpunk is becoming distinct from other “punk” genres, the themes of innovation and rebellion still run deep in the genre.

Solarpunk Reading List

Solarpunk is a growing genre, and as of now there aren’t too many clear-cut examples of solarpunk fiction available yet. However, more and more sci-fi authors are turning towards a more optimistic vision of the future.

To get a good sense of the genre and what it means, you might want to read A Solarpunk Manifesto. In addition, the original solarpunk anthology was translated into English in 2018, and is available as an ebook online.

However, more and more sci-fi authors are turning towards a more optimistic vision of the future.

Keira Charles

Solarpunk anthologies include the 2017 anthology Sunvault: Tales of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation, edited by Phoebe Wagner and Bronte Christopher Wieland. Like Solarpunk in 2012, Sunvault imagines an eco-friendly future and explores ways in which technology could create a more sustainable world. In addition, several of the stories in Cory Doctorow’s Overclocked: Tales of the Future Present have solarpunk elements, especially The Man Who Sold the Moon.

For an older version of the genre, most of Ursula K. Leguin’s science fiction stories have solarpunk ideology, but especially The Dispossessed and The Word for World is Forest.

Solarpunk is still a pretty niche genre. But it’s growing, and there’s plenty of room for new authors. If you’re sick of doom and gloom in science fiction, try looking at this new genre.