16 Best Solarpunk Books

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed with pessimism and a sense of impending doom one feels when looking at the current state of fractious politics and lack of action to battle climate change.

Solarpunk is a rebellion against all that. It’s environmentally-focused, optimistic but practical, not “la la let’s dance in the sun amidst the jolly wind turbines” but rather a pragmatic, if hopeful, look at what might be, if humanity actually gets its act together.

Unlike other “-punk” subgenres, solarpunk is also an actual movement of groups of people getting together and trying to improve the world a little bit.

 

16
Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summer
by Sarena Ulibarri – 2018

In this anthology is a guerilla art installation in Milan, a murder mystery set in a weather manipulation facility, and a world where you are judged by the glow of your solar nanite implants. From an opal mine in Australia to the seed vault at Svalbard, from a wheat farm in Kansas to a crocodile ranch in Malaysia, these are stories of adaptation, ingenuity, and optimism for the future of our world and others. For readers who are tired of dystopias and apocalypses, these visions of a brighter future will be a breath of fresh air.

“This anthology is a welcome relief from dystopias and postapocalyptic wastelands, and a reassurance that the future need not be relentlessly bleak.”
—Publishers Weekly

15
A Door Into Ocean
by Joan Slonczewski – 1986

A combination of feminist SF and of hard-SF world-building, A Door Into Ocean follows the Sharers of Shora, a nation of women on a distant moon in the far future who are pacifists, highly advanced in biological sciences, and who reproduce by parthenogenesis—there are no males—and tells of the conflicts that erupt when a neighboring civilization decides to develop their ocean world, and send in an army.

“By the time the conflict… has moved to center stage, you not only know the antagonists intimately, you care passionately about the outcome… The story deals with the efforts of decent people on both sides to see beyond their culture-bound definitions of humanity.”
—New York Times Book Review

14
Woman on the Edge of Time
by Marge Piercy – 1976

Connie Ramos is a Mexican-American woman living on the streets of New York. Once ambitious and proud, she has lost her child, her husband, her dignity—and now they want to take her sanity. After being unjustly committed to a mental institution, Connie is contacted by an envoy from the year 2137, who shows her a time of sexual and racial equality, environmental purity, and unprecedented self-actualization. But Connie also bears witness to another potential outcome: a society of grotesque exploitation in which the barrier between person and commodity has finally been eroded. One will become our world. And Connie herself may strike the decisive blow.

“A stunning, even astonishing novel… marvelous and compelling.”
—Publishers Weekly

13
Remnant Population
by Elizabeth Moon – 1996

For forty years, Colony 3245.12 has been Ofelia’s home. On this planet, far away in space and time from the world of her youth, she has lived and loved, weathered the death of her husband, raised her one surviving child, lovingly tended her garden, and grown placidly old. And it is here that she fully expects to finish out her days—until the shifting corporate fortunes of the Sims Bancorp Company dictates that Colony 3245.12 is to be disbanded, its residents shipped off, deep in cryo-sleep, to somewhere new and strange and not of their choosing. But while her fellow colonists grudgingly anticipate a difficult readjustment on some distant world, Ofelia savors the promise of a golden opportunity. Not starting over in the hurly-burly of a new community . . . but closing out her life in blissful solitude, in the place she has no intention of leaving. A population of one.

With everything she needs to sustain her, and her independent spirit to buoy her, Ofelia actually does start life over–for the first time on her own terms: free of the demands, the judgments, and the petty tyrannies of others. But when a reconnaissance ship returns to her idyllic domain, and its crew is mysteriously slaughtered, Ofelia realizes she is not the sole inhabitant of her paradise after all. And, when the inevitable time of first contact finally arrives, she will find her life changed yet again—in ways she could never have imagined…

“A fascinating adventure… masterfully rendered… Enthusiasts for alien anthropology, as well as Moon’s many fans, should enjoy.”
—Booklist

12
Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind
by Hayao Miyazaki – 1985

Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind is a manga by master animator Hayao Miyazaki, and he turned this story into an excellent movie. I recommend seeing it, along with everything else Miyazaki has created.

Nausicaä, a young princess, has an empathic bond with the giant Ohmu insects and animals of every creed. She fights to create tolerance, understanding, and patience among empires that are fighting over the world’s remaining precious natural resources.

11
Pacific Edge
by Kim Stanley Robinson – 1990

2065: In a world that has rediscovered harmony with nature, the village of El Modena, California, is an ecotopia in the making. Kevin Claiborne, a young builder who has grown up in this “green” world, now finds himself caught up in the struggle to preserve his community’s idyllic way of life from the resurgent forces of greed and exploitation.

Pacific Edge is the final book in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias Trilogy, so you might want to check out the first two books before reading this one.

Three Californias Trilogy
The Wild Shore
The Gold Coast
Pacific Edge

“Through a blend of dirt-under-fingernails naturalism and lyrical magical realism, Robinson invites us to share his characters’ intensely personal, intensely loyal attachment to what they have. The result is a bittersweet utopia that may shame you into entertaining new hope for the future.”
―The New York Times Book Review

10
Suncatcher: Seven Days in the Sky
by Alia Gee – 2014

In this underrated book, Professor Radicand Jones has survived climate change, pandemic, and peak oil—but can she protect her sister’s airship flock from pirates, and hunt down their shadowy sponsors before the aether drives her mad?

9
Walkaway
by Cory Doctorow – 2017

Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza―known to his friends as Hubert, Etc―was too old to be at that Communist party.

But after watching the breakdown of modern society, he really has nowhere left to be, except amongst the dregs of disaffected youth who party all night and heap scorn on the sheep they see on the morning commute. After falling in with Natalie, an ultra-rich heiress trying to escape the clutches of her repressive father, the two decide to give up fully on formal society and walk away.

After all, now that anyone can design and print the basic necessities of life―food, clothing, shelter―from a computer, there seems to be little reason to toil within the system.

However, it’s still a dangerous world out there, the empty lands wrecked by climate change, dead cities hollowed out by industrial flight, shadows hiding predators animal and human alike. Still, when the initial pioneer walkaways flourish, more people join them. Then the walkaways discover the one thing the ultra-rich have never been able to buy: how to beat death. Now it’s war—a war that will turn the world upside down.

“Thrilling and unexpected… A truly visionary techno-thriller that not only depicts how we might live tomorrow, but asks why we don’t already.”
—Kirkus (starred review)

8
Way Station
by Clifford D. Simak – 1963

Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel

Enoch Wallace is not like other humans. Living a secluded life in the backwoods of Wisconsin, he carries a nineteenth-century rifle and never seems to age, a fact that has recently caught the attention of prying government eyes. The truth is, Enoch is the last surviving veteran of the American Civil War and, for close to a century, he has operated a secret way station for aliens passing through on journeys to other stars. But the gifts of knowledge and immortality that his intergalactic guests have bestowed upon him are proving to be a nightmarish burden, for they have opened Enoch’s eyes to humanity’s impending destruction. Still, one final hope remains for the human race, though the cure could ultimately prove more terrible than the disease.

“Simak does an excellent job… [His] ideas are so sharp and his writing so warm.”
—The Guardian

7
Orion Shall Rise
by Poul Anderson – 1983

Centuries ago, humankind was nearly destroyed in a nuclear apocalypse. Many generations have passed since that terrible time, and the remnants of civilization have re-formed into separate, vastly different societies. The dominant culture of a widely diminished Earth, the ecologically sensitive Maurai, hold fast to their belief that “non-green” science is an unacceptable evil. But the reborn dream of space flight harbored by a forward-thinking few could herald the revival of the nuclear technology that once ravaged the planet and its people. The powerful Maurai Federation will take every step necessary, no matter how drastic, to prevent doomsday from dawning again.

“Anderson, far more than many newer science fiction writers, takes the trouble to envision a genuinely strange, complex future for mankind.”
—The Washington Post

6
Sunvault
edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland – 2017

This anthology’s stories focus on people living through crucial moments when great change can be made by people with the right tools; stories of people living during tipping points, and the spaces before and after them; and stories of those who fight to effect change and seek solutions to ecological disruption.

Contributors include Elgin Award nominee Kristine Ong Muslim, New York Times bestselling author Daniel José Older, James Tiptree, Jr. Award winner Nisi Shawl, World Fantasy Award winner Lavie Tidhar, and Lambda Literary Awards finalist A.C. Wise, as well as Jess Barber, Santiago Belluco, Lisa M. Bradley, Chloe N. Clark, Brandon Crilly, Yilun Fan and translator S. Qiouyi Lu, Jaymee Goh, José M. Jimenez, Maura Lydon, Camille Meyers, Lev Mirov, Joel Nathanael, Clara Ng, Sara Norja, Brandon O’Brien, Jack Pevyhouse, Bethany Powell, C. Samuel Rees, Iona Sharma, Karyn L. Stecyk, Bogi Takács, Aleksei Valentín, T.X. Watson, Nick Wood, and Tyler Young.

“Every story and poem in this optimistic illustrated anthology of ‘solarpunk and eco-speculation’ portrays a future in which environmental disaster is encroaching on or encompassing our world, but a glimmer of hope remains. . . . Some pieces are bizarre. Many are haunting and will linger in the reader’s memory. Readers who’ve had their fill of dystopian fiction will want to explore these more positive futures.”
—Publishers Weekly

5
Island
by Aldous Huxley – 1962

In his final novel—which he considered his most important—Aldous Huxley transports us to the remote Pacific island of Pala, where an ideal society has flourished for 120 years.

Inevitably, this island of bliss attracts the envy and enmity of the surrounding world. A conspiracy is underway to take over Pala, and events are set in motion when an agent of the conspirators, a newspaperman named Faranby, is shipwrecked there. What Faranby doesn’t expect is how his time with the people of Pala will revolutionize all his values and, to his amazement, give him hope.

“[A] coherent view of what society is not but might be.”
—New York Times Book Review

4
Legacy
by Jesikah Sundin – 2014

A sensible young nobleman and his sister live in an experimental medieval village. Sealed inside this biodome since infancy, Leaf and Willow have been groomed by The Code to build a sustainable world, one devoid of Outsider interference. One that believes death will give way to life.

All is ideal until their father bequeaths a family secret with his dying breath, placing an invisible crown of power on Leaf’s head… A death Leaf believes is the result of murder. Now everyone in their quiet town is suspect. Risking banishment, the siblings search for clues, leading them to Fillion Nichols, an Outsider with a shocking connection to their family. Their encounter launches Fillion into a psychological battle with his turbulent past as he rushes to decode the many dangerous secrets that bind them together, a necessity if they’re all to survive.

3
Ecotopia
by Ernest Callenbach – 1975

Twenty years have passed since Northern California, Oregon, and Washington seceded from the United States to create a new nation, Ecotopia. Rumors abound of barbaric war games, tree worship, revolutionary politics, sexual extravagance. Now, this mysterious country admits its first American visitor: investigative reporter Will Weston, whose dispatches alternate between shock and admiration. But Ecotopia gradually unravels everything Weston knows to be true about government and human nature itself, forcing him to choose between two competing views of civilization.

“An environmental classic.”
—Time

2
The Summer Prince
by Alaya Dawn Johnson – 2013

The lush city of Palmares Três in Brazil shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

“[D]epicts a future that’s recognizably Brazilian and human… With its complicated history, founding myth, and political structure, Palmares Três is compelling, as is the triple bond between June, Enki, and Gil as they challenge their world’s injustices.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

1
The Dispossessed
by Ursula K. Le Guin – 1974

A bleak moon settled by utopian anarchists, Anarres has long been isolated from other worlds, including its mother planet, Urras—a civilization of warring nations, great poverty, and immense wealth. Now Shevek, a brilliant physicist, is determined to reunite the two planets, which have been divided by centuries of distrust. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have kept them apart.

To visit Urras—to learn, to teach, to share—will require great sacrifice and risks, which Shevek willingly accepts. But the ambitious scientist’s gift is soon seen as a threat, and in the profound conflict that ensues, he must reexamine his beliefs even as he ignites the fires of change.

“One of the greats… Not just a science fiction writer; a literary icon.”
—Stephen King

2 thoughts on “16 Best Solarpunk Books

  1. “Songs from the Stars”, Norman Spinrad, 1980 – described at:
    http://www.panshin.com/critics/Dream/dream6.html

    “Many years after an eco-disaster there is but one viable, prospering culture in all the world—the neo-hippie, eco-society of Aquaria on the West Coast of North America. This culture divides all science into White and Black. Black Science–the mid-Twentieth Century kind of science–brought the world to ruination. Aquaria follows the ‘law of muscle, sun, wind and water.’

    “Secretly, however, this sweet civilization is supported by crucial technology turned out by surviving enclaves of Black Scientists on the other side of the mountain. Two key Aquarians, the karmic judge Clear Blue Lou, perfect master of the Clear Blue Way, and Sunshine Sue, who runs the Aquarian communication network, are made aware of this dependence…”

    Clear Blue Lou is this society’s version of a circuit judge, so he has to sort this out. I seem to recall he has a solar and/or bicycle powered helicopter. Or something. What’s not to like?

    You might want to be warned that judges in this setting get a lot of sex, and drugs.

    And that I may be misremembering this book considerably.

  2. Hi Dan. Thank you for all the hard work you put into your lists. They are always a welcomed inclusion to my inbox.

    I am half way through Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 and believe (at least so far) that it could be included in this list.

    It’s a terrific read with lots of interesting characters.

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