Bubbling up in the simmering pot of our incomprehensible global pandemic, it is wonderful to realize that an event like Futurecon, has formed in the broth! The brainchild of many organizers, including a Fabio Fernandes, Ana Rüsche, Francesco Verso, Jan Bianchi this is the first free con that I have participated in this year which explicitly seeks to foster radical inclusivity.
It’s true that the impetus for the con is in response to the English-language dominance of the science fiction and speculative fiction fields. There is definitely an under-current of animosity towards the systems of colonialism, imperialism, and the hegemony of American media that has united the terrific cast of characters to participate from across the Seven Seas in Futurecon. Even so, the good-hearted people running this con are not trying to blame individuals for the excesses of the corrupt governments that happen to rule over them.
There would be plenty of blame to go around on that score, apparently. But nonetheless, everyone on the panels is aware that there has been terrible neglect in the English language markets for science fiction being produced in so many other languages. Much of the discussion is centered around how to build up new networks of authors, editors, translators, and even publishing ventures to help correct this problem.
The emphasis throughout has been to celebrate, uplift, and advance the great speculative fictions and their respective communities of interest around the world!
In summing up the panel on global awards, Francesco Verso presented an excellent manifesto on the purpose of Futurecon:
How many wonderful books have we lost to translation because they are not being translated? If you cannot pay for a translation, you’re doomed. You can’t reach any other market in other languages. This calls for some action. If we look at the last 100 years, with the development of the publishing industry and geographic expansion of English language usage, the Anglo-Saxon influence has dominated the genre of science ficton.
We (authors and editors from around the world) don’t know each other. The tower of Babel has divided us and we can’t understand each other any more. But that was last century.
This is a new century. We can see all the things happening in China, in Africa, in South America, and Mexico, and we have hope that these are the signs of a new beginning. This will be a new phase in which we can discover new ways to read these stories, to find the stories, and to scout new authors and voices from all over the world.
Taking the Solarpunk panel as representative of Futurecon, you will get a feeling for the fascinating and urgent voices entering these discussions in the following brief summary.
In this session the partipicants discussed the literature of Solarpunk, and what defines it. They also interrogated the boundary between a literary movement and an actual movement of people who are trying to save the planet from ecological catastrophe.
Solarpunk is a fundamentally optimistic look at our future that doesn’t deny climate change and the social upheavals we are seeing today. In addition, Solarpunk offers a way for engaging with this reality, and reaching some sort of accomodation with our planet, with other planets…
Solarpunk, like cyberpunk, does take a technological line and then spins it out into an aesthetic. And yet Solarpunk has a much different attitude. Where cyberpunk pushed human life into ever greater abstraction, like cyberspace, Solarpunk is the opposite; it leads us back into better relationships with material things like our climate, our food, the water, the land, and non-human life in our shared ecosystems.
Solarpunk is the antidote to cyberpunk. It is a movement that attempts to reboot and refurnish our collective imaginations so that we can construct fresh ideas about the future, and pathways to get to there from here.
So I think Solarpunk is a practical eco-futurist utopianism, based on renewables, that imagines the kind of future we might actually want to live in. So it’s anti-apocalypse as well. And it’s grounded in tech we already have, we only need to find a way to use it.
Solarpunk is anti-dystopia. It’s the literature of the anthropocene. Fredric Jameson said cyberpunk is the literature of late capitalism, and the same applies to Solarpunk.
For example Logistic utopias in Kim Stanley Robinson’s books are not far-fetched utopias with impossible technologies. We have the technology and tools we need right now; it’s all about how we can apply them to achieve sustainability. We have go to do vernacular design to take advantage of our local wisdoms, and we have to fight with the tools we have right now.
People are trying to draw a line where hopepunk finished and solarpunk begins, but I would like to offer a few other words of definition.
For example, Jay Springett describes Solarpunk as a mimetic engine, a culturual construct and a media entity that is a tool to power the refuturing, and rebranding of the future that we need at the moment.
I think it is a toolbox to construct stories that take us away from nihilistic and dystopic futures. We need an exit strategy from the anthropocene and capitalocene, and we should know that not all societies can face the situation in the same way.
Ana: Can Solarpunk ideas play a role in decision making and politics?
You’ve seen writers brought on to discuss with private companies to help them envision the sort of technology, to fashion narrative presentations of the tech, how to imagine future tech and how to materialize it. I’m wary of our role to educate. We can act as educators or storytellers. We also have to be aware of crossing the line to a form of propaganda. Though writers can produce meaningful content that helps people.
I don’t know how it will play out. And in terms of our own current writing, there is a time lag in publication, on the order of two years between the time of composition and time of publication. We can still be trailblazers and recorders, but maybe we can’t be effective in the immediate situation.
In many ways, whether or not we are doomed is baked into the geophysics of the climate at the moment. We can’t control the outcome, but we can imagine a future where we made good decisions.
We can have the community discussions to define what is better. We can decide to switch our energy production to solar or wind. But there are many ways that story could play out. For example, one the one hand we can imagine a corporate dominated future, in which every home has solar panels but they are owned by Elon Musk so they end up perpetuating the status quo. On the other we could imagine a society were transformation is beneficial communities and peoples who are now marginalized. It’s about a pre-figurative, grand dress rehearsal, to play games with the future in our minds to prepare us for what happens when we get there.
The future is not a given. There’s no guarantee that humanity is going to survive for long. Living inside the box is what’s gotten us into this mess in the first place. And speculative fiction writers are thinking outside the box, it’s one of our essential skills.
I think massive changes to our consensual realities are required to survive our current predicaments. Speculative fiction offers ways for embodying, telling, imagining, symbolizing different futures that allow us frames and understandings to get us on the right pathway.
We are a point of multiple interelated crises, and fiction is the correct landscape to lay down a foundation to build upon.
Because the way we look at the future, the way the challenges are framed determines how we search for answers and solutions, and will inform how we prioritize. And what Solarpunk in particular is prioritizing is ground-up approaches as opposed to top-down. And a move away from patriarchy. Because we can’t just look to the past to move into the future. It’s just not going to get us there.
Ana: How can we present Solarpunk in a way that will convince the leaders of today?
It’s all about narrative, right. For example, my brother-in-law is a lawyer and he once told me over lunch: “It’s not about who is right in the tribunal. It’s all about who controls the narrative. Whoever controls the narrative can win that process.” It was years ago, and I was miffed at that, but it turns out he was right.
This is just the newest installment between the official narrative and alternative narrative. This is not fake, but real alternative. It is not alt-right, but a good alternative.
Somehow those who support the official narrative (which is a bald-faced lie!) are still in control of or in thrall to this narrative.
There’s a collective hallucination, a consensual hallucination, which is awful. There is an idiocracy taking place, and when you say “I’m a teacher” or “I like to read” many people scoff. They say “don’t read so much, reading will damage your brain.”
But in my teaching of journalism, I think maybe we still have time to talk to the young generation. Because I’ve seen them working on so many interesting games in recent years. For example, people are creating games about the lack of water. A game can ask the fundamental question that our own governments avoid: How to solve water resources and distribution? These games are not relying on the official narrative for a solution. The games will permit any kind of solution that the collective of players can can think up to solve issues raised in these games. This is exactly the sort of thinking we need.
I myself am not a game writer, I’d rather be writing my stories. Even so, maybe we can learn something from these young game players and developers, to help with the real problems of climate change.
Thinking back, we can see that the steampunk community is good at this, at making things and being Makers. This is the energy they bring to our current crises.
In Cyberpunk stories we typically find a lone hero, which feeds into the established narrative. But in Solarpunk the protagonist fights for an ideal, for something bigger. Take for example, Greta Thunberg, who fights for climate change.
The esthetics are quite different. In Cyberpunk they are wearing black leather with zippers and mirrorshades in urban settings. While in Solarpunk we can see people planting a tree, or putting in flowers to make urban settings more lively. In Solarpunk, people help each other and fight for their community against gentrification. These images completely change the narrative.
Young people reading these stories want to know how they can achieve this, asking what are the tools? Through word of mouth and in our books we can transmit ideas. This mimetic engine is something we must use to leverage the social network and communication that we have. I really believe it is important for us to communicate these ideas, especially in this moment, when they are being contested.
To survive, we need to have a kind of map of the future, even if it is mostly smoke and shade and rife with problems. But the highest peak might be visible above the smoke, and it can to help lead us out of the dangerous waters where we are now swimming.
What we’re dealing with is the long shadow of the industrial revolution. Essentially some countries gained great wealth by plundering their own working classes and the countries that they colonized. We thus realize that in the bones of capitalism is baked the assumption that “we’re out for ourselves,” and the goal is to have as much as we can and to own as much as we can. Further the whole of scientific progress is very inextricably bound with these assumptions now.
In the skeletons of Western democracies is the assumption that democracy is the final model and capitalism is the only viable system. I think it is high time to question that assumption and take a good look at where it’s coming from and take a good look at what the consequences have been, which we see playing out. There were horrific consequences even prior to this playing out, but the Western democracies only worry about that when it’s affecting us…
Focusing on a greater sense of communities and greater sustainability is what we want. And not unmitigated greed. It is about building sustainable, equalitarian set of relationships. The same colonization that was imposed on countries has been applied to the environment.
What was once a mysterious, magical thing – the untouched forests teeming with fairies and danger – became something that must be tamed, something that must be rigidly bound. The forest was treated as something that is essentially a resource, instead of being the abode of spirits, fairies, and beings that should be left well enough alone or be accomodated in our human pursuits. Ignoring and exploiting these spirits and their forests has led to disaster.
People in many sectors, not just speculative fiction people, get this. They are saying we are using those ideas to fix the landscape, understand our ecosystem, and have better communities. Solarpunk tells me that innovation is close at hand and does not require making up magical imaginary advances in technology or science (like FTL travel), all we have to do is get away from the profit motive, and a lot becomes possible!
Solarpunk offers a vision of how can we meaningfully improve our lives besides just having more wealth. How about visions about society that does not have extreme inequalities? Solarpunk help us think about to fix things here, on this planet. Maybe we can learn about the long now from aboriginal people, who stayed in one place and were part of ecosytems for a long time.
One thing my collaborators and I were really intent on is to avoid singular heroes, we would not solve things by shooting or punching our way out of problems. It had to be about bringing communities together and reducing friction between the communities.
Talking about ancestors and ancestrality, one of the things that been more talked about in the last twenty years is fire management and indigenous practices that preceded colonialism. It’s fire management from community based ranger groups. I’ll quote a member of the Indigenous Carbon Network, Willie Rioli:
“Fire is a tool and it’s something people should see as part of the Australian landscape. By using fire at the right time of year, in the right places with the right people, we have a good chance to help country and climate.
“Importantly, people need to listen to science – the success of our industry has been from a collaboration between our traditional knowledge and modern science and this cooperation has made our work the most innovative and successful in the world.”
The idea is to bring technologies together – the indigenous and the modern fire management practices – to achieve a more fire resiliant landscape and benefit the wildlife.
We need to consider listening to the people who lived on the land before we lived there.
And in our storytelling, let’s get away from the hero’s journey! The chosen one who saves us all – no one is going to save us all! Why are superheroes popular? Because we’re so frightened and think we need magic to save us. But we have to save ourselves and to do that we need to talk to each other.
Ailton Krenak has worked tirelessly to protect the areas of Minas Gerais in Brasil, with some success, but all around the Amazon basin the situation is dire. Agriculturists burn whole forests using the technique of queimada and claim that it is the indigenous people at fault. But that is not the case at all, because the indigenous way is in very small controlled burns that are in sync with the rest of the forest.
My hope for a new Solarpunk technology would be a biopunk technology awareness evolution. My hope is for humanity to collectively get the fact that (as far as we know) all the known forms of life in the Universe are found only in one place: on this planet.
We have no knowledge of anything else, and because of the distances involved and uncertainty in the evolution of complex (and/or) intelligent life, we must acknowledge that we are really pretty special here and we need to start acting like that.
So we need narratives that will make us feel as if we are part of the Earth, and not it’s entitled overlords!
Himani Ahuja Blend Of Vernacular And Parametric Design
Jeet Heer The New Utopians
Kim Stanley Robinson and the novelists who want to build a better future through science fiction (2015)
Fredric Jameson Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) p.419
Ailton Krenak Amazon ecologist, journalist, activist
Daniel Munduruku Indigenous Tales from Brazil
Gerson Lodi-Ribiera Solarpunk: Histórias ecológicas e fantásticas em um mundo sustentável
Willie Rioli Australian Indigenous Carbon Industry Network
Ana Rüsche _A telepatia são os outros _
Jay Springett Life in the Future Beyond the Rusted Chrome of Yestermorrow