On one side, you have the emphasis of a dystopian setting which consists of underground body modifications, computer hacking, runaway artificial intelligence, robot rebellions, and evil megacorporations. Whereas on the other side, you have a more utopian setting. One which consists of unity, green technogaian landscapes, the proliferation of beneficial technologies, and the end of a pro-capitalist, top-down hierarchy.
Instead of emphasizing my own personal preference of one over the other, I’d much rather share a list of books that I believe will help shape your own opinion on the matter. Where do you stand: are you Cyberpunk or are you Solarpunk? You decide!
1. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester is, arguably, the original cyberpunk novel. It predates the rise of cyberpunk literature and culture by around twenty years, though set the standard for what said literature would adhere to. It was originally serialized in Galaxy in four parts beginning with its October 1956 issue.
Filled with evil megacorporations, body modifications, and a dystopian background setting to encapsulate it all, The Stars My Destination is what started it all and deserves a #1 placement for this category.
As summarized on Amazon, “Marooned in outer space after an attack on his ship, Nomad, Gulliver Foyle lives to obsessively pursue the crew of a rescue vessel that had intended to leave him to die.”
2. Software by Rudy Rucker
Considered one of the most creative novels of the subgenre, Software by Rudy Rucker takes place in a 2020 future where robots, mind-uploading, and artificial intelligence come at the forefront of this dystopian story. Winning the Philip K. Dick Award in 1983, Software was the first novel of what eventually became known as the Ware Tetralogy.
As summarized on Amazon, “It was Cobb Anderson who built the “boppers”–the first robots with real brains. Now, in 2020, Cobb is just another aged pheezer with a bad heart, drinking and grooving on the old tunes in Florida retirement hell. His “bops” have come a long way, though, rebelling against their subjugation to set up their own society on the moon. And now they’re offering creator Cobb immortality, but at a stiff price: his body, his soul…and his world.”
3. Neuromancer by William Gibson
No fan of cyberpunk will ever tell you they’ve never heard of Neuromancer by William Gibson. Although it was Gibson’s debut novel, of what would later become part of the Sprawl trilogy, this story set the tone for what would ultimately become the subgenre’s most sought out plot: a conflict between rebel hackers and an evil corporation.
As summarized on Amazon, “Case was the hottest computer cowboy cruising the information superhighway–jacking his consciousness into cyberspace, soaring through tactile lattices of data and logic, rustling encoded secrets for anyone with the money to buy his skills. Then he double-crossed the wrong people, who caught up with him in a big way–and burned the talent out of his brain, micron by micron. Banished from cyberspace, trapped in the meat of his physical body, Case courted death in the high-tech underworld. Until a shadowy conspiracy offered him a second chance–and a cure–for a price…”
1. Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Dragon Anthology by Claudie Arseneault and Brenda J. Pierson
Mixing fantasy with science fiction, Wings of Renewal serves as an anthology of various authors introducing technologically enabled magical worlds which adhere to a solarpunk setting. When given a more utopian outlook of the future, could our own outlook of said future change as a result?
As summarized on Amazon, “In WINGS OF RENEWAL, twenty-two authors explore the exciting new subgenre of solarpunk through the lens of these majestic creatures. Whether they irrigate dry terrain or serve as spaceships, are mythic beasts come to life or biomechanical creations of man, these dragons show us a world where renewable energy overcomes gas and oil, and cooperation replaces competition.”
2. Solarpunk: Histórias ecológicas e fantásticas em um mundo sustentável by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro
Solarpunk by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro serves as a much needed exploration in the rising new sci-fi subgenre. Emphasizing utopia over dystopia, readers are embarked in a vision of the future which serves all, as opposed to a few.
As summarized on Amazon: “Imagine a sustainable world powered by clean and renewable energy, less harmful to the environment. Now imagine humanity under the impact of these changes. This is the proposal of Solarpunk – ecological and fantastic stories in a sustainable world. Envisioning a hopeful future has arisen from the noveletas of Solarpunk–[such as] exploiting the use of atmospheric lightning for biofuel production via nanotechnology, large spatial sailboats driven by the pressure of solar radiation, and the advent of photosynthetic human, and, as there is no perfect society, even terrorism against enterprises and green governments.”
3. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
No good sci-fi novel goes without some form of conflict. But how one introduces a conflict without it resorting to dystopian elements is certainly the trick. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin introduces a future where utopia has been created, but is still dealing with a bitter conflict with another world that took on a somewhat different path.
If you’re looking for utopian sci-fi, The Dispossessed won’t disappoint. This is solarpunk at its best, and an absolute must read!
As summarized on Amazon, “Centuries ago, the moon Anarres was settled by utopian anarchists who left the Earthlike planet Urras in search of a better world, a new beginning. Now a brilliant physicist, Shevek, determines to reunite the two civilizations that have been separated by hatred since long before he was born.”
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