Science fiction, the genre of ideas, is invigorated by solarpunk, where in the philosophy of the savaged past is interrogated by that of a possibly resilient future, in order to seed a restorative present. Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters, edited by Sarena Ulibarri, is one of the latest and arguably one of the best artifacts of this interrogation. The stories are wonderful.
I have quoted Serena Ulibarri here, there, and everywhere. We have never met, though we have spoken on more than one occasion, a symptom of the digital age. She has got a damn good eye for stories. Solarpunk Winters is just as good if not better than its sister anthology, Solarpunk Summers. There is a dark or tragic energy to many of them. “The Fugue of Winter,” by Steve Toase jumped out at me for this, as did “Black Ice City,” by Andrew Dana Hudson, though to a lesser extent. All the stories, while quite good on their own, are ordered for maximum, lasting impact. You can almost imagine some of them sharing the same world, separated by time and space, but not vision.
Sarina Ulibarri collected stories of communities rebuilding around the various kinds of fallout from the same inescapable disaster of climate change (Heather Kitzman’s “The Root of Everything, is particularly personal. The technology in this story is backdrop to the human challenges that don’t go away just because we had to relearn how to survive the long winters). They are inescapable because solarpunk does not do time travel stories; there are no do-overs. It’s the world that you get and you don’t get upset. Okay, you can get upset, but you gotta use that energy and find a way to live.
Still, the stakes are relatively small in scale, the danger only effecting a single community at a time despite the all-encompassing nature of global warming. The city in “The Healing,” by Sarah Van Goethem’s (another stand out for me, partially because of the writing, partially because the main characters are not just scientists) has the largest population, with the lives of about two million people hanging in the balance. But even here, a specific point about the maximum occupancy or all cities is clearly stated.
Even though none of the stories are lobbing atom bombs at the sky (literally, figuratively, or whatever) and usually deal with isolated communities, the anthology as a whole articulates an emergent theme. The point that seems to me being made again and again is that our customs, our hierarchy of relationships, are more flexible than we might let ourselves imagine.
As I read, “Vien Inveniemus Aut Faciemus” by Tales from the EV Studio and Comando Jugendstil-105, I couldn’t help but think of A People’s History of Science. The explorations of engineering of material resources and sustainable everything are beautiful and amazing. But I think the key here is the focus on culture as technology. People worked together and pointed out flaws in the way they dealt with their world and each other. I’ve said elsewhere, there is no greater or more fundamental technology than culture. We change by adapting to new software and rearranging that which we are currently running. We co-create the circuit board maze, and the maze can lead to understanding. These stories crack open the assumptions of community and what makes survival and good behavior function.
One story that I was particularly taken with was “Halps’ Promise” by Holly Schofield, where the necessity of punishment was challenged. Punishment is not an idea that pops up readily when you list words associated with solarpunk. And yet, it was deceptively revolutionary and demanded I pause just on that point and rethink how I interact with my daughter, my students; the carrots and stick we take for granted as necessary to drive our day to day interactions, even our politics.
Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters puts into narrative the most important changes we could make: cutting edge advancement in our relationships to each other. The stories show that people can adapt to anything, even kindness. That is what our future will need most as we come together to share warmth.
Read this book.