Lem, Solarpunk and Megabit Bomb

11 July 2022

Looking to the Future

The world around us and issues such as the looming climate disaster and the food shortages, mass migration and energy supply problems resulting from it set brand-new challenges for artists. Dystopias and cyberpunk serve as a warning by sketching grim visions of the future on our devastated planet. In contrast, solarpunk brings hope.

Text: Aleksandra Klęczar

The genre – just as cyberpunk – explores revolt against the old rules and the current state of the world, and strives to bring social, economic and systemic change. The genre also focuses – as the name suggests – on clean energy, caring for the environment and a desire to bring a sustainable alternative to contemporary technology. Authors and artists working in the solarpunk aesthetic are dedicated to nature and its protection, and to finding new technologies which will help humankind coexist with nature without damaging it any further. The convention is also optimistic about social issues and paints a vision of a world which may not be perfect but which is at least more just and equal. But solarpunk does not offer a utopia: while its authors reject the bleak visions of dystopia and the cynicism of cyberpunk, their response is a cautious hope rather than blind optimism. Where cyberpunk presents reality as being ruled by dehumanised megacorporations and people condemned to individual revolt, solarpunk celebrates community, activism and the work – often difficult, imperfect and filled with mistakes – which will help us shape a better future.

The name originally appeared in 2008, first in online discussions and manifestos and then in several anthologies. The most important include Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation (2017), Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Dragon Anthology (2015) and the Brazilian anthology Solarpunk: Histórias ecológicas e fantásticas em um mundo sustentável (2014), rejecting the hegemony of English-language culture in a true spirit of the genre. They were followed by further publications including short stories, poems and illustrations – the solarpunk genre is open to more forms of expression than narrative prose. And the literature and art are combined with action: solarpunk also includes environmentally-friendly designs of buildings and gardens and all activities supporting sustainable development.

As well as those dedicated to the genre, solarpunk authors include writers who work with a variety of styles. One of the latter is the popular Israeli author Lavi Tidhar, penning solarpunk stories among his more usual fantasy novels. Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okorafor and N.K. Jemisin, author of the acclaimed Broken Earth series, combine solarpunk with Afrofuturism – another concept sketching a positive vision of the future. Polish fantasy also features elements of solarpunk, for example in works by Karolina Fedyk and Anna Łagan, the boardgame “Solar City” by Marcin Senior Ropka and Viola Kijowska, and in theoretical discussions exploring fantasy (Paweł Ngei, Joanna Kaniewska).

Solarpunk is certainly an element of fantasy, but the aim of its authors is to force us to work hard to turn their version of fantasy into reality.

The Solarpunk Climate Fiction Competition concludes during Megabit Bomb festival, held in September on the 101st anniversary of the birth of Stanisław Lem. More details on www.miastoliteratury.pl.

  • Aleksandra Klęczar
    She teaches ancient languages and Greek mythology and literature at the Institute of Classical Philology at the Jagiellonian University. She spends her free time devouring fantasy literature, films and games. She reads and writes reviews and column (e.g. for “Nowa Fantastyka” monthly), and she has dabbled in writing short stories; together with Angieszka Fulińska, she has also written a YA fantasy cycle (Wydawnictwo Galeria Książki).

The text published in the 2/2022 issue of the "Kraków Culture" quarterly.


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