Lunarpunk: A Developing Solarpunk Subgenre
In many ways lunarpunk is the opposite of solarpunk. I made this point in an earlier article on the new subgenre published on the Solarpunk Magazine blog back in October 2021. As I wrote then, the dichotomy certainly isn’t a one-to-one relationship; lunarpunk and solarpunk have many similarities, and many of the differences are hardly perfect opposites. Nevertheless, it’s the differences that allow us the room to separate the two. This article then looks more closely at some of the key differences between lunarpunk and solarpunk in hopes of gaining a better understanding of both relatively new genres on the science fiction and fantasy scene.
Before diving into what makes lunarpunk different from solarpunk, it’s worth using up a bit of space to ground us in the two genre’s shared aspects. Lunarpunk is a subgenre of solarpunk, and as such they have important commonalities. The biggest of those similarities is that both are hopeful and optimistic genres with stories that focus on solutions to climate change and other global problems. While this article focuses on where the two genres diverge, keeping this foundational shared characteristic is important.
However, the moment you look at lunarpunk, you realize it’s a far cry from solarpunk’s identical twin. It’s more like solarpunk’s goth sibling. Where solarpunk leans into art nouveau, lunarpunk often has a much more gothic style. Solarpunk is fond of bright greens, oranges, yellows, browns, and reds. Lunarpunk glows with neon softness against a canvas of blacks, silvers, purples, blues, and dark greens. Solarpunk stories often take place during the day, while lunarpunk stories often happen at night, making them far more conducive to glowy, bioluminescent scenes and technology.
But it’s not just about aesthetics. Another key difference between solarpunk and its new subgenre, lunarpunk, is setting. A number of authors and artists depict the concept of lunarpunk from the perspective of solarpunk in space. For example, Anselmo J. Allegro, whose art appears on the cover of this current lunarpunk themed issue of Solarpunk Magazine, illustrates a scene on a utopian space station. Kanishk Tantia’s lunarpunk short story, “The Moonlight Muse,” takes place on the distant planet Epsilon and its moon Zeta, far from planet Earth.
As a die hard Trekkie, I’d even go so far as to suggest that Star Trek is almost a poster child for this “solarpunk in space” vein of the new lunarpunk genre. The franchise’s hopeful and utopian tone, storylines, and long history of diversifying casting have stood out for more than half a century against a predominance of dystopian literature, TV, and movies. For this reason, I’d argue Star Trek is a progenitor of both solarpunk and lunarpunk.
But lunarpunk can also prefer dark alleys and dark stories. Speculative fiction author and podcaster, Rob Cameron, in his article for Issue #6 of Solarpunk Magazine, calls for a strain of lunarpunk he describes as solarpunk noir. M. Lopez da Silva’s story from the same issue, “The Werewolf of Slumberday,” is a solarpunk crime story that fits this thread, as does the Solarpunk Detective series by Solarpunk Stories.
But my favorite part of lunarpunk is its exploration of eco-spirituality. A clear difference from the heavy science and technology focus of its parent genre. By eco-spirituality, I’m talking about spiritual practices and paths like Wicca and paganism that place emphasis on fostering an inner, spiritual connection to the Earth, to nature, to the life and spirit of the world around us.
Eco-spirituality’s value within future solarpunk communities is one of the more common themes in lunarpunk stories. If you’ve read through the fiction in this issue, you’ve noticed this by now. There will also be a number of stories exploring eco-spirituality in the forthcoming Bioluminescent: A Lunarpunk Anthology (Android Press, January 2023) that I’m also editing. I’ve practiced eco or Earth spirituality for decades, so it’s no surprise that stories containing this element appeal to me. But it isn’t just me. Solarpunk Druid’s 2019 article “What is Lunarpunk?” has already made this point. There are any number of themes along this line that are ripe for lunarpunk to explore. One example is how we can develop healthy public rituals that bring people together and strengthen our communities. Another is how developing personal and spiritual connections to nature can help solve the climate crisis and foster more resilient communities.
Lunarpunk stakes out this literary and thematic territory for itself (certainly not with the intention of any kind of exclusivity) for reasons that seem both quixotic and natural. Although the spiritual focus within lunarpunk seems at odds with the shared focus it has with solarpunk on ecological technology as well as scientific and technological solutions to climate change, its openness to spirituality gives lunarpunk further fertile literary and philosophical ground to explore. This juxtaposition is emphasized by a long history of conflict between science and religion.
However, there are plenty who don’t believe those themes and focuses are at odds, or more broadly that there’s a substantive conflict between spirituality and the results of scientific inquiry. Lunarpunk then becomes a space in which to explore this conflict and perhaps even help move beyond it. The genre becomes a space to explore how spiritual worldviews and communities might contribute to solving climate change and other social problems, to building utopian societies.
Which brings us to the other hand. An important aspect of Solarpunk’s utopian aspirations is creating technology, communities, and societies that foster harmony between humanity and nature as opposed to the dystopian and conflict-based relationship that capitalism creates and encourages. This harmony with nature is, of course, embedded in the ways of life of many Indigenous communities. Harmony with our ecosystem and environment—with Mother Nature—is also at the roots of newer forms of eco and Earth spirituality such as modern paganism, Wicca and other forms of witchcraft, and neo-druidry, to name just a few. It’s no surprise then that these kinds of Earth-based spirituality are most often, so far at least, envisioned by authors as the kind of spirituality common in future lunarpunk/solarpunk communities.
The practice of magic within Earth-based spiritual paths like Wicca, for example, also creates space for lunarpunk stories to explore solarpunk through more of a fantasy lens. Again, this isn’t necessarily at the expense of science and technological solutions. I’m not suggesting magic or supernatural solutions to the extremely difficult challenges we face together in building utopia. But still, solarpunk stories taking place within communities of people who practice witchcraft naturally lend themselves to worldbuilding that includes magic, making them lunarpunk stories. Such magic could be simply an aspect of aesthetics. It could also be a tool to help move plot along, and thus be an important component of a story without risking the scientific and technological integrity of the solarpunk genre’s focus on solutions to real-world problems.
As someone who found fantasy books before science fiction, this is another aspect of lunarpunk that especially appeals to my personal taste. I grew up reading epic fantasy as well as more quirky and comedic fantasy series. Piers Anthony’s The Magic of Xanth, Terry Pratchet’s Discworld, and Terry Brook’s Landover series come to mind, not to mention more urban fantasy like Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing. The latter in particular is a great example of how magic can be woven in utopian climate fiction.
Regardless of what direction(s) lunarpunk takes, I’m excited to see where the young and developing lunarpunk genre goes in the future. That direction will be heavily influenced by the authors who take up writing the stories, the editors who take up choosing them, and the artists who take up producing the visual images. Wherever it goes, it has the potential to be a powerful compliment to solarpunk and help continue to push climate fiction to the forefront of our cultural conversation.
Justine Norton-Kertson (they/she/hhe) is the co-editor-in-chief of Solarpunk Magazine as well as an author of stories, games, poems, and music. Their work has been featured in over a dozen magazines including Utopian Science Fiction Magazine, Rulerless, and Jupiter Review. Her lunarpunk anthology, Bioluminescent, is forthcoming from Android Press in January 2023. His debut nonfiction book, Solarpunk Witchcraft, is forthcoming from Microcosm Publishing in 2024. They can be found on Twitter @jankwrites.