Solarpunk Fiction

Staff Picks

Solarpunk Fiction

Maintaining justified optimism for the future

Solarpunk is a new literary and aesthetic movement that encourages its proponents to face increasingly dire forecasts of environmental degradation and its political ramifications with optimism, envisioning futures that use emerging knowledge and technologies of today in ways to build a more sustainable and equitable world. Unlike the more popular cyberpunk, while prescient, offered little hope to change bleak social and environmental trajectories, and steampunk, which focused on reimagining the pasts, solarpunk hopes to inspire and chart ways to shift our path into a better direction, drawing much from social ecology while not eschewing high technology.  

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
What would you do if you could design and print the necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing, solar panels, etc.) from abandoned recyclable materials and a computer? This is not a far-fetched notion and much of it can already be done with today’s technology. Walkaway is a novel that follows a group of disaffected young people over the course of decades who decide to follow a growing trend of people who decide to “walk away” from more familiar society and its trappings (work, property, families), and live freely using recycled and refabricated abandoned materials and infrastructure. However, as the movement grows stronger, and makes progress not only in liberating people from the need to wage labor but perhaps from death itself, global powers that be amass to neutralize threats to their hegemony, by attempting to destroy all “walkaway” communities and privatize their technological developments. It is squarely a solarpunk story as it centers the way people can use existing or soon to exist technologies to live radically different and more sustainably than we currently do, and the kinds of problems they will face from those who benefit from the world as it currently is.  

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
Climate refugees have moved to a floating city built from abandoned oil rigs called Qaanaaq in the North Atlantic, bringing cultures and languages from around the world to the Arctic. It’s semi-automated computerized governance has proven not responsive enough to crises of housing and a strange epidemic, “the breaks,” where people experience the memories of others who have contracted the virus. Tensions are already high when a strange woman arrives with a polar bear and an orca on a mission to find lost loved ones threatens to put the whole city in conflict. Individuals she has a mysterious connection with must work together to dismantle the political structures that keep the city simmering but controlled, allowing for Qaanaaq a city for its citizens and not in spite of them. Despite a complicated premise and rotating narration, its solarpunk bonafides include uses sustainable technology to weather a damaged world and am an example of ordinary people using resources at hand to stop the promulgation of unjust systems that led to such damage to continue into the future.  

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson 
In future Brazil, the city of Palmeras Tres is in the process of electing their next Summer King, the young man who will pay with his life at the end of the summer to select the next queen of the city. While the lives of many in Palmeres Tres is filled with automated work pleasure, and extended life, the political power accrued by the long-lived elderly have stifled creativity and opportunities for the young. June Costas is a young activist artist trying to make a name creating public spectacles that brings the city out of complacence. During the election season for a Summer King, she finds an unlikely ally in candidate Enki, who has is own political agenda. Together, they may bring Palmeras Tres into a new age, but at what cost? The Summer Prince explores new challenges faced by societies despite adopting many principles of social ecology.  

Autonomous by Analee Newitz 
Autonomous is about adopting a solarpunk ethic in a corporate dystopia of the International Property Coalition (IPC). Protagonist Jack is a submarine-traveling ocean-traversing pirate, and also a pirate of cheap medications that can easily be manufactured and distributed, which she illegally manufactures and distributes to those in need. However, a new drug that seems to make people addicted to work sometimes to the point of death sends her on a journey to find and distribute an antidote. In trying to stop, agents Eliasz and indentured robot Paladin come into conflict with their employers and mission as they develop feelings for each other.   

Record of a Space Born Few (Wayfarers #3by Becky Chambers
Becky Chamber’s acclaimed Wayfarers series is a collection interrelated novels about a future where humans, after abandoning a devasted Earth and traveling the stars in their Exodus Fleet for centuries, are finally included as full members the Galactic Community by other sentient species. This installment centers on the remnants of the Fleet, now a stationary technological relic and increasingly also a sociopolitical relic. The Fleet was designed for long-haul survivability, emphasizing mutuality and equity to keep civilization from collapsing. However, the Galactic Community is much like a liberal democracy, allowing for amazing opportunities, but often alienating and with little social welfare.   

The book follows the perspective of youth who still live in the remnants of the Fleet longing to experience the wider universe, humans who grew up elsewhere longing for a sense of purpose and community by trying to move to the Fleet (with mixed results), and humans and aliens studying life in the Fleet now that its mission is over. While not more typically solarpunk due to its farther future setting, the Exodus Fleet itself was a project of surviving ecological catastrophe and building communities, both the physical spaces they occupy and social norms that maintain them, to be sustainable, resourceful, just, and equitable. It also explores the challenges such communities face when integrated into a wider world (or galaxy) that have different values.