Review: Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World, ed. Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro

translated by Fábio Fernandes

World Weaver Press

August 7, 2018

286 pages

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Contents:

  • “Soylent Green is People!” by Carlos Orsi
  • “When Kingdoms Collide” by Telmo Marçal
  • “Breaking News!” by Romeu Martins
  • “Once Upon a Time in a World” by Antonio Luiz M. C. Costa
  • “Escape” by Gabriel Cantareira
  • “Gary Johnson” by Daniel I. Dutra
  • “Xibalba Dreams of the West” by André S. Silva
  • “Sun in the Heart” by Roberta Spindler
  • “Cobalt Blue and the Enigma” by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro

 

Stories set in a sustainable future world: you’d think that they’d be optimistic, right?

As these nine authors from Brazil and Portugal point out, however, nothing is ever that simple. Renewable energy and technological advances sound great as ideas, and even work well at times when put into practice, but whenever humans are involved, such  goals have the potential to deteriorate into nightmare scenarios. That’s what Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro asked the authors to explore in Solarpunk: what humanity would look like in a sustainable world. As Sarena Ulibarri notes in her preface: “The stories in this anthology are far less utopian and pastoral than much of the English-language solarpunk I’ve read. There is quite a lot of death and violence in them, and several of the stories show that just because a corporation or government is ‘green’ doesn’t mean it’s free of corruption” (2).

Before I talk about some of my favorite stories in this unique anthology, I want to praise the translator, Fábio Fernandes, for bringing these stories from Portuguese into English so that us Anglophone readers can learn about how Brazilian and Portuguese writers are thinking about a topic that interests the entire world, both politically and socio-economically. He brings out the humor, pathos, and irony that these stories exude, and translating nine different authors for one volume must necessarily be challenging, but Fernandes handles it expertly.

To the stories, then! A few major themes run through this collection: humans using other humans as power sources, corporations exploiting an unsuspecting public, and the synthesis of humans and plants. How each author addresses his or her chosen theme differs radically, which of course isn’t surprising.

The trope I found most interesting was that first one: people exploiting their fellow human beings in the race for cleaner, cheaper, abundant energy. Carlos Orsi’s “Soylent Green is People!” (the first story in the anthology and one of my favorites), Daniel I. Dutra’s “Gary Johnson,” and André S. Silva’s “Xibalba Dreams of the West all offer fascinating, original takes on how such exploitation might happen. If you recognize the Orsi title as a quote from Soylent Green, a 1973 American post-apocalyptic science fiction/noir film, then you’ll know from the beginning that horror is in store (unfortunately, I didn’t know the quote until I read the story, and this knowledge or lack thereof will influence how you read it). Orsi plays around with genre just as he does with the reader’s expectations: ostensibly a detective story, “Soylent Green is People!” slowly veers into the genre that it shares with its namesake, uncovering the horror of a technology that can extract biodiesel from animal protein. Who uses it against whom, though, is a spoiler that I won’t supply here. You just have to read the story *wink/nudge*. In “Gary Johnson,” a Brazilian priest and American scientist collaborate to try and photograph the human soul, subsequently intending to pull it into our dimension and harness its enormous energy. When the experiments go horribly wrong, the priest dedicates himself to stopping the American scientist from using the technology to perpetrate genocide. Unlike the previous two stories, Silva’s “Xibalba Dreams of the West” offers a more (unfortunately) recognizable picture of humans exploiting other humans: this time as slave labor in search of new sources of energy for a dying nation.

Like those stories about human exploitation in search of energy, the two pieces about humanity’s relationship to the sun are fraught and complicated. While Telmo Marçal’s “When Kingdoms Collide” imagines a growing hostility and near-civil war between humans and human-plant hybrids, Roberta Spindler’s “Sun in the Heart” optimistically imagines a time when humans could use photonutrition (like the process of photosynthesis in plants) as a way to use the increasingly-intense sunlight. Noted throughout the collection is the fact that Brazil has one of the world’s highest levels of insolation (4.25 to 6.5 sun hours per day), so it’s not surprising that stories in this anthology would focus on how humanity might change how it interacts with this abundant resource (in a way that’s more efficient and cleaner than solar panels).

If you’re at all interested in speculative fiction about the environment and humanity’s future potential relationship with energy, you’ll definitely want to read Solarpunk.

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