“Demand utopia!” That’s the tagline for a new digital magazine based in Eugene, Oregon. Solarpunk Magazine will focus on optimistic ideas about the future. What if humans came together to solve the climate crisis? What if people from marginalized groups all felt safe in society? The solarpunk genre imagines creative answers to these questions. Solarpunk Magazine will feature fiction, poetry, essays and interviews that fit into this relatively new genre. The editorial team raised $27,306 on Kickstarter and is currently reviewing submissions for its first issue, due out in January. We hear from co-editors-in-chief Justine Norton-Kertson and Brianna Castagnozzi about their plans for the magazine and what solarpunk means to them.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. Move over steampunk. Solarpunk is here to point a way to a better future. Two years ago, the solarpunk manifesto was published. It says the movement seeks to answer and embody the question: What does a sustainable civilization look like and how can we get there? It does so through speculative fiction, art, fashion and activism. Now the movement has spawned a new digital magazine based in Oregon. For more on the solarpunk movement and this new magazine, I’m joined by its two co-editors-in-chief, Justine Norton-Kertson and Brianna Castagnozzi. Welcome to Think Out Loud.
Brianna Castagnozzi: Thank you for having us.
Justine Norton-Kertson: Thanks.
Miller: Justine first. What is your own personal definition of solarpunk?
Justine Norton-Kertson: Yeah, for me, solarpunk is a utopian artistic movement that is really geared towards imagining solutions to the world’s current social problems. It’s almost like the sense that, if there’s any future that is going to be worth imagining, given the state of the world that we’re in, in climate change and everything, that it’s got to be a better world. It has to be a more optimistic world. So from that starting point, how do we get there? What do those solutions look like? And what do those stories look like?
Miller: Brianna, what does solarpunk mean to you personally?
Castagnozzi: Personally, solarpunk is a means of an escape from a dystopian reality and also a sort of cultural blueprint for the future. Now I personally, as a Filipino American, I have seen just a skyrocketing in the past two years of hate crimes on Asian Americans. And I think to myself: I am tired of living in this dystopian present; let me work towards a future where marginalized people are safe from their environment and safe from bigotry.
Miller: Do you have a sense, Brianna, because it’s interesting, you said this is an escape from dystopian reality. What’s your theory for why dystopian imaginings of the future are so popular?
Castagnozzi: I believe -- I do like dystopian writing, don’t get me wrong -- I feel that dystopian writing almost provides a sort of hope within humanity that if things come to this, if we realize these terrible futures, then we will have something within us to overcome that.
Miller: Nevertheless, you’re pushing for the opposite, for a positive, more solution-filled version of the future.
Castagnozzi: Yes, that is correct.
Miller: Do you have a favorite example of solarpunk work?
Castagnozzi: I would say that the first story in Sarena Ulibarri’s “Solarpunk Summers” anthology, “Caught Root.” That is one of my favorite solarpunk pieces of short fiction. In terms of overall media, I really have to say the video game “No Man’s Sky” to me is very solarpunk. I mean it’s an endless multiverse where players can explore vast endless resources and everybody has enough and there’s always enough to share.
Miller: Going back to that story, I’m probably not alone among people hearing you right now who aren’t familiar with that story. So, what is it about that one that speaks to you?
Castagnozzi: Yeah, sure. So “Caught Root” it’s about a young person who comes from one solarpunk community to another. These two communities differ from one another in terms of how they are solarpunk, how they interact with their environment, how they create resources and disseminate them to their peoples. What I love about this story is its central characters are people of color and there is also the heart of the story is is a queer relationship, which I love to see.
Miller: Justine what about you? Do you have favorite examples of solarpunk fiction or solarpunk art?
Norton-Kertson: Yeah, there is a great novella that just came out this past summer by Becky Chambers from Tor.com that’s called “A Psalm for the Wild-Built.” It’s a short, long story, right, as a novella. But it takes place kind of in a far future where artificial intelligence and robots kind of came up, and played a much bigger role than they do now in our current reality, and left, went on their way and sort of separated from humanity. And then a long time later, there’s sort of like a reunification. The book really explores what humans want and what we can get out of therapy, for example, which I think is [a] really important topic. It paints a picture of the future that is both not as embroiled in technology, but is also not like a primitivist society, which is really kind of in line, I think, with my personal, I guess, vision of utopia.
Miller: Am I right that, at the heart of this movement is the idea or the belief that positive imaginings of the future -- in the form of a video game or a short story or whatever -- that they’re not just wonderful escapes that we can sit with for a while, but they can actually lead to a better world. I mean, am I right that that’s at the heart of the political project here?
Norton-Kertson: Absolutely. I think it goes without saying that before we do or accomplish anything physical or tangible in the world, that we’re sitting down and we’re thinking about it. To some extent it goes through our minds first. And that’s true, I think, of fiction and just sort of looking at how we build a better society, too. The more that we are focusing on positive solutions to the crises that we’re in, the more likely I think we are to find those solutions that work in the real world. Right? If all we are exploring is dystopia, I feel like we shouldn’t be surprised if and when that’s what we end up with. Right?
Miller: Well, to follow that down like the next line. I mean, does it imply that a work like “The Handmaid’s Tale” makes a world like “The Handmaid’s Tale” more possible? ..or less possible? I mean, that wasn’t written because the hope is that that would be the future. It’s a warning, right, a reading of today and a warning about where we’re headed. But I’m wondering what you think a saturation of dystopian takes, where it leads us?
Norton-Kertson: Yeah, well I think it does lead us towards dystopia. I mean, we could argue whether there’s a direct connection or not. I certainly haven’t haven’t done the studies myself. But dystopia has really been sort of the fashion in terms of science fiction -- and storytelling and entertainment in general, I think -- for a good half century. I mean, I think since “Nineteen Eighty-Two” came out, like in 1950 or whatever. And in a lot of ways of the--
Miller: Or “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, right? Yeah.
Norton-Kertson: Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah, you’re right, “Nineteen Eighty-four.” But, in many ways the world that we are living in has come to reflect those dystopias. But I also think that it’s important to not just sort of like throw dystopian stories out completely because they are written oftentimes with an element of hope and optimism in mind, right? Like, there’s a dystopian world that’s at the heart of these stories, but people in these stories are rebelling against that world and are fighting back and are trying to do something about it. I think the point of departure for solarpunk is that, where dystopian stories just kind of sit and always live in that dystopian world, with solarpunk we’re trying to get past that and maybe use dystopia as a starting point and then move forward towards utopia instead of just always living in rebellion.
Miller: Brianna, conflict: In one way or another it seems like it’s a prerequisite for an engaging story. At least that’s what we were taught in middle school, many of us. And it still rings true today. How much room is there for conflict in a story that is inherently positive?
Castagnozzi: You know, that is probably the driving question behind solarpunk stories and the value inherent to their literary status. I would say, in solarpunk stories, the conflict usually does not stem from places of war or climate disaster that is caused by man. That still leaves room for conflict that is interpersonal, conflict that explores a character’s identity crises, conflict that even comes from environmental disasters. Environmental disasters are still part of nature and no utopia is ever going to completely mitigate them. So yeah, there are still lots of places that story, plot, and conflict can arise from.
Miller: What can we expect from the first issue, which I think is going to come out in early 2022?
Castagnozzi: Yes, that’s correct; it will come out in January. Our first issue is looking at solarpunk stories, of course: short fiction, flash fiction, poetry, nonfiction -- which will look into scientific articles and such -- and also visual art as well.
Miller: Is there a clothing version of solarpunk style the way there was for steampunk, some kind of Victorian mash up of, or idea of Victorian machinery in 2015?
Norton-Kertson: There is. I guess it’s a little hard to say that, because it’s still developing. Solarpunk is so new in general; all of this is sort of in flux to an extent. But, the real sort of fashion out there that has seemed most solarpunk, I think to a lot of people, is stuff that employs biomimetic design, so clothes that look like plants or like animals in some way or are modeled after the structures and design of nature.
Miller: Brianna and Justine, thanks so much for joining us today.
Norton-Kertson: Yeah, thanks for having us.
Castagnozzi: Thanks for having us.
Miller: Justine Norton-Kertson and Brianna Castagnozzi are the two co-editors-in-chief of the new Solarpunk Magazine that’s based in Eugene.
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