Readercon 26: Solarpunk and Ecofuturism

So, I didn't end up liveblogging the Solarpunk panel. (I forgot to bring my laptop.) But here is a summary of the major points I got down in my notes and/or remembered:

Romie Stott, the panel leader, is the author of Postorbital, that Tumblr with the really cool, sometimes Solarpunk, tiny super short very brief flash fiction.

The other panelists were Jeff Hecht, who is a journalist for the magazine New Scientist, and writes occasional short SF pieces for the science journal Nature.

Michael J. Deluca is an enthusiastic environmentalist with a house covered in solar panels, and he just edited the last edition of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, a short fiction magazine put out by Small Beer Press. The theme of the issue was EcoFuturism.

Michael J. Daley is a former renewable energy activist (Not, like, no longer supports renewable energy, but no longer currently working for particular campaigns.) He's written two novels that deal with climate change and solar power. He was by far the panelist most critical of Solarpunk, but for the most part it seemed like it was less a fundamental objection than a not-his-cup-of-tea kind of thing.

Rob Killheffer is an SF/F writer, reviewer, editor and critic, who has been following the trends in climate change SF for a long time. He said he had seen mostly the kind of apocalyptic failure-mode storytelling that the Solarpunk community is specifically responding to.

They talked about the community as a fandom without a subject, or without a specific canon to organize around -- the idea that Solarpunk is a fandom for the future, or for a particular kind of future. One of the panelists (I failed to write down which) said that Cyberpunk was similar to Solarpunk in that regard -- less deliberately or self-consciously, but that Cyberpunk was at least as much about a particular aesthetic and lifestyle lived in real time as it was about the relatively small core of Cyberpunk literature.

Daley pointed out that the technology Solarpunk is dealing with is overwhelmingly tech that already exists, and that just hasn't been widely implemented yet. (He explained that he wasn't very interested in science fiction that wasn't about science that is, in fact, fictional.)

He mentioned the famous William Gibson quote, "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed."

Stott responded to the point about whether SF about non-fictional tech was boring, saying she'd heard from scientists that they were actively interested in seeing more fiction exploring the meaningful functionality of emerging tech -- that it's the scientists' jobs to create cool stuff, and other people's (writers') jobs to work out how people are going to use that stuff.

Someone -- I missed who -- mentioned Low-Tech Magazine, which is devoted to countering the narrative that every new problem should be solved by the liberal application of new technology. In particular he pointed out that the battery problem with alternative energy can be solved by using power to elevate water, which can then be poured out to generate new power.

Daley brought up the idea of grid parity -- the point at which solar panels become economically more cost-effective than running a power grid, which he suggested would be the fundamental tipping point for alternative energy.

There were a couple suggestions about the kinds of stories that Solarpunk writers might tell -- one suggestion was about a person dealing with living through an extreme weather event of the sort that climate change will definitely start to cause (and has already started to cause) in a world organized both to diminish or reverse the effects of climate change, and to help people survive in the new reality of the world in which this change did, in fact, happen, and does, in fact, cause problems. Another suggestion was for a power department -- like a fire department -- whose job is to rush out and restore power to broken personal systems in individuals' homes before their battery backup runs out, the way fire fighters rush out to put out fires before the house burns down.

They repeatedly used the words Utopia and Utopian throughout the panel to describe Solarpunk, and the criticism of that word choice never came up -- but this is a very big topic in an hour-long panel. Hopefully, this is the sort of thing that picks up enough steam to get a whole bunch of panels next year.