Solarpunk – a worldview that imagines hopeful futures of social justice, planet-friendly technologies, decentralisation and harmony – has come quite a long way since its first appearance in an online article in 2008. Today this genre of science fiction is being explored by multiple authors, poets, academics and critics all across the world. The ultimate goal of these stories and the associated politics is to imagine and work towards a future of coexistence, which acknowledges our kinship and interdependence with all beings big and small, as an alternative to wandering about a zombie apocalypse or sinking in dystopian gloominess.

After the publication of the much-acclaimed anthology Multispecies Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures, the editors decided to publish another anthology focusing on creatures, the more-than-human allies who would live with and among us in a possible future. The editors, Christoph Rupprecht, Deborah Cleland, Melissa Ingaruca Moreno, Norie Tamura, Rajat Chaudhuri and Sarena Ulibarri have collectively brought this second offering, a second anthology titled Solarpunk Creatures, three years after the first.

A multispecies imagination

Explaining the rationale for this collection of stories, the editors write in their introduction, “Where Multispecies Cities sought to broaden the spotlight and highlight the multitude of actors on the stage, Solarpunk Creatures introduces a whole new cast of more-than-human protagonists: organic and digital, alien and fantastic, tiny and boundlessly large.” These creatures are not only restricted to animals and plants but also include AI who take the role of the main protagonist in some of these engaging tales. “The AI characters that made it into the anthology are gentle and loveable – not disturbing and often a malevolent presence that is unsettling the role and value of artists around the globe,” explains the introduction. In these stories, AI creatures do not try to destroy or dominate humankind but often are companions and co-participants in humanity’s engagement with a hopeful and sustainable futures.

Christoph Rupprecht, Deborah Cleland, Melissa Ingaruca Moreno, Norie Tamura and Rajat Chaudhuri have efficiently and strategically framed the “Introduction” by referring to other critics and writers who have discussed multispecies communities such as Robin Wall Kimmerer’s memorable Braiding Sweetgrass. It would also not miss the careful reader’s notice that the team of editors, true to the sense of community harboured by Solarpunk, represent far-flung regions of the world and that the book also includes at least two stories written by collectives. The editors have also provided tasting samples of the stories in the anthology which will intrigue and draw the readers to explore the book.

“Multispecies imagination can heal us from our chronic isolation from nature,” the editors write. The lucid introduction, which will interest academics and genre-readers alike, ends with this possibility of healing, it says, “breath-taking encounters and a sense of wonder, await not only among the stars, but at the end of every one of the countless threads connecting us to the world and its inhabitants.”

Indian writers

Apart from writers from advanced industrialised countries, this anthology, like the one before it, has also featured stories from the Asia-Pacific region among which we have three stories by Indian writers, Priya Sarukkai Chabria, Rimi B Chatterjee, and Tashan Mehta. Casting its net wide this anthology has managed to portray multifarious perspectives, problems and ideas of people spread out across the globe, weaving them together into thought-provoking tales.

Tashan Mehta’s “Leaf Whispers, Ocean Song” is a beautiful tale about the influence of Opi, a deep sea creature on the life of humans when it arrives on the coastline of Goa. Opi is showcased as a humongous yet loveable creature who somewhat transforms the lives of humans. Here, this alien creature does not come from the sky but from the ocean and as soon as it reaches the shore, Opi is perceived differently by different people. While the local fishermen call it “a visiting God from the sea”, marine biologists, conservationists and researchers wish to study and understand this creature. On the other hand, the linguists in the story, Jen and Lu are interested in studying Opi’s language and Jem soon admits that the speech of this creature is “too vast. Its sound, scent, song, feeling, thought – just everything…” The presence and effect of this creature are beyond human understanding because Opi somehow seems to unite animals like dogs, crabs and starfish – something unimaginable to humans. This story, rejecting anthropocentric beliefs, reiterates the fact that humans are just a tiny part of the wide unknown world around us. This is best conveyed by Jen when she says, “…[Opi] is a reminder of how insignificant we are, of how life plays out in a magnitude we cannot imagine.”

From a sea creature, we move on to a comet in Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s story “Flyby”. Comet Izumi is the protagonist of this memorable tale which blends poetic language with a capacious imagination, to portray the dynamics of non-human beings which are boundlessly large. Chabria writes, “Unlike planets, beautiful and rounded as melons, with moons circling and circling them, comets are loners, each speaking a unique language of elliptical orbit and ellipses from sight. Pilgrims of the universe, they plunge in and out of the neat orbital paths of the planets, streaking their immense fiery tails over unknown skies”

Readers can also visualise the future of the Earth through the eyes of Comet Izumi, “A series of climatic changes has altered Earth’s topography; begun by Capitalocene greed in the brief human geological epoch…Earth’s invisible armour that protects life, the radiation shield is temporarily ripped.” Though the story may seem to showcase destruction in the beginning, it gradually takes a soothing turn towards hope and most importantly, towards the importance of sound which has the power to regenerate life. The author has beautifully blended the wisdom of ancient texts in this unique solarpunk narrative which will definitely help us think far beyond our limited human and planetary sphere of being.

After Mehta’s sea creature and Chhabria’s comet, we travel to the land of our four-legged friends, in Rimi B Chatterjee’s “Hopdog” which is reminiscent of her “Arfabad” in the previous volume. The story begins with “Dog number 834” who is rescued from a dogfighting ring where “her masters would watch as she and her competitors tore the prey to shred and wolfed down whatever they could snatch from each other’s jaws.” Dog number 834 is finally rescued from a place that smelt of fear, trouble and death by the survivors of Zigsa’s Nest, referring back to Chatterjee’s “Arfabad”. Arfabad is a land inhabited by dogs and everything is dog-sized there, which is where the central character, Zigsa had created a survivarium where dogs could be protected.

The dog of the present story, after trials and tribulations, arrives in this gentler, kinder place of love and happiness. Here, “…for the first time since she could remember, Peaches was sharing space with other breathing creatures that manifestly did not want to kill her.” But can she continue to live there and be protected from all dangers lurking outside? You have to read the story to find out.

AI and other friends

Apart from these engaging and thought-provoking stories by the three Indian writers, Solarpunk Creatures includes a wealth of tales from other parts of the world. “An Inconvenient Unicorn” by Geraldine Briony Hunt is a Solarpunk fantasy set in a distant corner of Arcadia where nothing had grown in the last twenty years due to war: “It was not the sort of war where soldiers take up arms and march against one another, but a war waged in peoples’ kitchens, local pubs and schoolyards.” This land had faced a lot of adversities until a magical creature, a unicorn arrives to rejuvenate the land, bless it with harmony and greenery. “An Inconvenient Unicorn” evokes hope, telling us the importance of preserving the wild and being wary about the false dreams of ecomodernism.

Lyndsey Croal’s “Hunting for Rain”, is written from the perspective of a robotic dog who hunts for rain in a world affected by drought. This AI-guided creature has the ability to geolocate an area even before it begins to rain, hence it can signal people to head for those areas. Here, a robot has not been projected as something alien, industrial or dangerous, instead, it behaves like kin, fulfilling the common responsibility of sustaining life by pointing out where it will rain. When it finally begins to pour, the drought-stricken people give credit to this mechanised dog by patting its head and scratching behind its ears and it absorbs all the love from its beloved humans and wags its mechanical tail. This beautiful tale gives us hope that AI and robots can also be kin and can join with us in more-than-human connections of life-giving, reciprocal care.

Another story, “The Business of Bees” by Andrew Knighton is simple, funny, and memorable. Told from the perspective of the cat, Luna, who is frustrated about the fact that her human hosts don’t seem to notice some weirdness about the bees. Luna gets so curious that she leaves home to find out what the bees are up to. This will definitely be a memorable journey for the curious cat.

This is a necessary collection for a time in the planet’s history when shifts in collective imagination are the need of the hour. In these times of climate doom, growing inequity and injustice, books like Solarpunk Creatures help us think and imagine differently, beyond our insular selves, together and in community with others, human and non-human, visible, invisible or fathomless.

Sayantani Sengupta is a PhD student at St Xavier’s University, Kolkata. She is researching Solarpunk literature and movement.

Solarpunk Creatures, edited by Christoph Rupprecht, Deborah Cleland, Rajat Chaudhuri, Sarena Ulibarri, Melissa Ingaruca Moreno, Norie Tamura, World Weaver Press.