Cassandra Khaw on solarpunk and finding light in the sf dark

Rupert Wong: Cannibal Chef author Cassandra Khaw on bright (ish) futures

Solarpunk and Us 

I’m a tech reporter by trade. For ages now, I’ve popped open feedly, scrolled through a deluge of online news items, searching for something that’d appeal to audiences. And the weird thing I’ve realized, amid all the reports I read, the future’s not really a bad place.

Global warming is an issue. The fact we’re in an Orwellian state is an issue. The death of our oceans? Huge issue. And don’t get me started on the conspiratorial rumblings about the state of modern medicine. Amid all of that, however, is something a lot of us forget: there are people trying to make this better. We have scientists with PhDs in triplicates coming up with fantastic new ideas. We have a privatised space race stuttering into life. We’re 3D-printing organs and making plushies that’d comfort our old and delving into solutions for our poisoned seas. Hell, we’re finally making headway into reversible male birth control. And god, guys, even if we as a species are doing our best to destroy our world, there are tens of thousands of people fighting to keep it alive, to make it better, to engineer new hope.

Post-apocalyptic fiction frequently works on the assumption that people give up, that scientists weren’t competent enough to consider a solution to burgeoning problems, that we will concede to being fully colonized by the avatars of capitalism. It’s still possible. I’m not saying that it isn’t. Historically, a lot of good people have been made to do bad things before. But I don’t think that’s universally true. And our stories, perhaps, shouldn’t reflect that.

Storytellers are conduits. We map the world in our heads, condense it into parables, and then share it with our audience. We are the ones who told villagers not to fear the lightning gods, that if we were careful and quiet, we would be safe. We are the ones who warned children from the night. We are the ones who curate cat gifs, drone news, and images of the future. And we are also the ones who give voice to the voiceless, who open the eyes of those who refuse to see, who hide life lessons and traumas in poetry and then make the world lesson.

For that reason, if nothing else, I want there to be more solarpunk fiction, or even fiction that imagines a world where science hasn’t destroyed it all. It doesn’t have to be boundlessly positive. Our universe is far too bleak to allow for that lie. But I could imagine something like Black Mirror. There’s an episode that keeps bouncing in my head: ‘The Entire History of You.’ Without spoiling the story, it is depressing and bleak and it digs into the horrific parts of human nature. But it is also set in a world where we can replay memories, where our world is sleek and chrome and organized, where possibilities exist. Similarly, ‘Back To You’ breaks my heart with its idea of loss. (My biggest fear in life is losing my partner.) But it is also staged in a world where the dead can be given new life through data-mining, where you can input recordings of your loved one to create a digital simulacra of their person. It’s dark and strange and beautiful.

And that is the world we live in. So, can we have more of that, perhaps?

Cassandra Khaw’s debut Abaddon novella Rupert Wong: Cannibal Chef is out on 23 October! You can order it here.