New Stories May Be Just What the World NeedsDec 01, 2023 12:01PM ● By Branwen OShea
As the world changes, the types of stories we crave and need evolves as well. We want characters and plots that speak to us and our lives, that help us make sense of the world we find ourselves in. Storytelling changes with the times, and our current issues with global warming, sustainable energy and political unrest have spawned fresh, uplifting fiction genres to meet these issues head-on. The new genres of hopepunk, climate fiction, solarpunk, noblebright and the more established visionary fiction offer readers stories that challenge the status quo and offer uplifting alternatives to our current situation. With characters that remain true to themselves and their humanity regardless of their challenges, they give us new role models for this new world, role models that help us see new possibilities.
These novel genres involve new ways of experiencing our world, and indeed even creating potential new worlds. Because of that, these genres are typically seen as subsets of the science fiction and fantasy genres. If they use technology and science, they fall under science fiction. If they involve either magic, mythological or paranormal creatures, or a new world not seen through the lens of science, they are fantasy. This gives the author freedom to develop different scenarios to explore difficult issues.
Each of these genres has a slightly different flavor and feel. All of them are searchable on Google, but specific sites for each are also listed below.
Hopepunk has several elements specific to it. First and foremost, no matter how dark the situation, it offers a hopeful outlook for humanity. Stories often feature people coming together to address issues rather than a single chosen one. Characters are ultimately not eroded by their dire situations, but instead find strength in their compassion, kindness and connection with others. It offers new ways to view these traits, often looked down on as being too soft or not practical for “real life” problems. This is the punk part, the going against the status quo, the way we think things must be done or always have been done.
Holding onto hope and optimism in a dark world is punk. Characters become role models for a new strength that effects positive changes in their world through collectively working together.
When you search for hopepunk books, Becky Chambers comes up a lot. Her book, The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet, kicks off a hopepunk sci-fi trilogy. Another hopepunk novel is This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.
Climate fiction, or cli-fi, explores our changing climate and ways that may affect our environment, our own biology, societal structure and so on. Unlike hopepunk, cli-fi may be dystopian or utopian, but exploring the issue of climate change prepares us for what may be coming and how we may best deal with it. These stories help us understand that climate change is not just a change in the temperature, but how it potentially changes every aspect of our lives. We can’t make wise decisions about our world without fully understanding the broad-reaching implications of these changes. As readers becomes more informed, they can make better choices and we create a better future.
A great climate fiction book that starts off a series is Emissary by E.B. Brooks. A cli-fi standalone novel is Walk The Vanished Earth by Erin Swan.
Solarpunk, like hopepunk, is more openly optimistic. It showcases successful and creative ways societies can be more environmentally balanced. These stories focus on green, sustainable communities that may have advanced technologies but still remain connected to nature. Solarpunk also tends to explore egalitarian societies where everyone is accepted and to explore how that may look.
Examples of solarpunk are Wild Flowers, Electric Beasts by Alina Leonova, and the anthology, Multispecies Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures.
Noblebright is a reaction to grimdark fantasy (dark, violent, dystopian, heroes often must compromise their values to survive, not happy endings). Noblebright is most often fantasy, not sci-fi and involves a heroic quest, and heroes that ultimately stay true to their values and overcome evil. It’s a reactionary genre to reclaim fantasy from the gritty, violent and often misogynistic worlds that some modern fantasies have taken on.
A common theme of noblebright books is that the world may be dark, but a single good person or group can change it for the better. If it sounds like the way fantasy used to be decades ago, that’s because it very much is. It’s for readers who want fantasy without the dark, violent, dystopian worlds where heroes must compromise their values to survive and where happy endings rarely occur (grimdark).
There’s a great website, Noblebright.org, that has updated lists of noblebright books and articles about them.
Visionary fiction is probably the most established of these genres, having been around for decades, but recently growing in recognition. It’s also the most misunderstood, often mistakenly lumped together with religious or new age stories. Visionary fiction involves envisioning ways individuals and societies can shift through changes that come from within themselves. These changes often have a spiritual nature or involve expanding one’s consciousness.
Visionary fiction novels often utilize ancient wisdom traditions or esoteric knowledge, and may include healing, energy, past lives, meditation, mysticism, expanding consciousness and more. Visionary fiction does not preach about such topics, and characters are not simply acting out an author’s beliefs. In visionary fiction, the wisdom comes from within the character, not a dogma, and they then actively engage with the wisdom to effect change. Visionary fiction can be a subset of any genre, including contemporary and historical fiction, as well as science fiction and fantasy. Its main component is that it explores the individual and societal potential for change through reconnecting with ancient wisdom or expanding one’s consciousness.
For more information on visionary fiction, the Visionary Fiction Alliance has a website (VisionaryFictionAlliance.com) and an active Facebook page.
In addition to the above resources, the annual Nautilus Book Awards has lots of excellent award-winning books in all the above categories. They keep the past years winners on their website for several years.
Because these are all newer genres and the traditional publishing industry likes to wait and see how the public reacts before investing, a lot of authors specializing in the above categories are indie authors. Indie authors tend to explore genres and are the cutting edge of what’s new in literature, much like the indie music scene. However, by now it’s become clear that there’s a market for these books, and traditional publishers are starting to publish more of them. The suggestions above are a mix of traditional and indie-published books.
As people and countries struggle to find balance in this new world of limited oil reserves, climate change and political extremism, many need an escape, a way to turn off the endless negative news cycle. These new genres of fiction offer the uplifting escapism and the inspiration we sometimes all need.
Branwen OShea is the author of multiple hopepunk sci-fi novels. The first in her future ice age series is The Calling. She can be found on BranwenOShea.com.