I realized that all the futures I’d been writing about for the last decade or so were bleak, starved, oppressive wastelands. I took for granted things like “all the trees are gone” and “everywhere is overpopulated.” Why? A combination of the bleak future painted by real life scientists and politicians as they fought about environmental issues, and the bleak future painted by all the cyberpunk and dystopia science fiction films and books that I loved. But this is not the only kind of future possible, either in life or in fiction.
When I joined World Weaver Press as an Assistant Editor in January, I wrote this about the kind of books I hoped to publish:
I prefer SF that shows a positive or hopeful view of the future, or that has a lighthearted or even humorous tone. Bonus points if your futuristic world prominently features plants and animals.
Solar energy is not perfect, and it may not be the only way or even the best way to free ourselves from fossil fuels — the production of solar panels still requires fossil fuels, after all, and solar energy is nearly impossible to store. But “solar” still works as a good symbol for something like solarpunk, because it represents the brightness of a potential future, and the freedom that could come if everyone had equal access a virtually unlimited resource like the sun.
It’s the role of scientists and engineers to create new technologies; it’s the role of the science fiction writer to speculate about how those technologies may interact with people and culture. It’s too easy, sometimes, for the science fiction writer to be reactionary, imagining all the things that could go wrong with a new or proposed technology. After all, fiction needs conflict, right? The last hundred years certainly saw the development of some scary technologies, but it’s possible to move beyond fear without losing story conflict. Nuclear energy can create awful, destructive weapons. Know what else it can do? Fuel desalination plants to provide water to drought-stricken areas. Drones can be used in warfare, but they can also be used to identify animal poachers, or to provide supplies to disaster areas. The silica sand that’s used in natural gas fracking is also the main ingredient in silicon solar panels, and it’s one of the most abundant resources on the planet.
One way to motivate change is to make it uncomfortable for people to be where they are — that’s the strategy of dystopia: if you continue on this path, look where we’ll end up. Another way is to make it comfortable for people to be where you want them to be — that’s the strategy of solarpunk: look at this beautiful world we could build. Can science fiction directly influence science or policy? No, nor should it. But it can influence what people see as possible, and what images people default to when they think of the future.
I know I’m ready for brighter visions of the future.