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Lunarpunk - lost in its glow?

Lizzy Yarwood discusses the glowing promises of Lunarpunk and questions whether its current storytelling modes engage fruitfully with the complications of utopia.
von Lizzy Yarwood, 05.04.2023

Lunarpunk and I have an intense relationship, one that burgeoned out of Tumblr and other pockets of the internet during my deep-dives into sci-fi subgenres. It captivated me - I found its imagery and ethics inspiring, and it has since heavily informed the novel I’m writing. It's taken me down existential quarries, and introduced me to a lot of sci-fi/fantasy writers of all genres; I’ve written for Grrrl Zine about the lunarpunk’s engagement with utopia. Currently, however, I find myself at an impasse. Lunarpunk feels stuck.

First, let’s define the term, embracing the shifting, leakiness of words, and acknowledging that the following description is not exhaustive. Tumblr account Lunarpunk Anarchist defines it as an ‘artistic, aesthetic, literature, and political movement founded on ecology, decentralization, non-hierarchy, mutual aid, individual liberty, liberatory technology, diversity, feminism, and the merging of art, science, and politics.’ It is influenced by magic systems and mysticism, witches, folklore, moon rhythms and the water; supernatural, dreams and liminal spaces. It is inherently queer, rejecting colonialist ideas of gender (see Alok V Menon’s brilliant book reviews), and drives to break down racist systems. It is important to focus on the significance of the suffix, ‘punk’, too, which crops up in many a sci-fi sub-genre. Culturally seismic from the 1980s, cyberpunk was decidedly dystopian and expressed fear at a growing technological power within a decaying society, shown in the brilliant Iron Man: Tetsuo. ‘Punk’ emphasises the inclusion of struggle and resistance to hegemonic forces intent on steering the world’s course towards destruction and exploitation. 

Solarpunk, lunarpunk’s so-called sibling, emerged out of a desire to imagine more hopeful futures, drawing on the power of collective action and resistance, and green technology. It is commonly viewed as an antidote to the doom and gloom of today’s world, with the increasing prevalence of environmental tragedies which displace millions and destroy lives, while oil companies’ profits continue to soar. However, critics have pointed out how solarpunk sometimes acts as a vehicle for green capitalism. In an article I often return to, Otter Lieffe pinpoints what is drastically missing from utopian narratives: ‘In utopian future stories, oppression has been replaced with equity and equality for everyone. It sounds great, but I’ll admit I can’t quite trust a story like that until I see the receipts. How did the world change to this better version? How is post-capitalist society run? And, most importantly, who cleans the spaceships?’

Solarpunk and lunarpunk are often viewed as siblings: as sun is to moon, day is to night. Writers see them as a duality, compensating for one another and complementing each other. While they have similar values, like building a sustainable future and moving out of capitalism, the type of people and their actions may differ - lunarpunks act in the nighttime, secretly, hexing and glitching, while solarpunks would be extroverted in their actions.

Currently, lunarpunk is in vogue aesthetically. It has been whipped into the social media maelstrom in a myriad of ways. Glitch feminism, as is brilliantly explored in Legacy Russell’s text, shows how the internet can be a space for radical, grassroots action, to cause errors in the cogs of capitalism, which I believe lunarpunk loves greatly. Online communities flourish, finding safer places to explore identities and connect with others when it isn’t so feasible AFK (away from keyboard). While online can veer into influencer-as-witch commercialism, or wellness whitewashing, other significant acts such as a make-up tutorial quickly diverting into info-sharing about political suppression are cool to witness. Likewise, social media has helped the proliferation of independent fashion designers and makers challenging the fast-fashion giants through upcycling, making on demand and fair wages, and clothes-swapping / selling second hand clothes helps to make the sustainable fashion movement more accessible across incomes. Goth-inspired clothing, and latex made by friends, DIY outfits - these are what I imagine my lunarpunkish characters wearing. 

Within the literary scene, too, it is having a moment. Android Press recently published ‘Bioluminescent: A Lunarpunk Anthology,’ succeeding a lunarpunk-themed edition of Solarpunk Magazine. I was greatly excited to read the first major collection of stories gathered under this sub-genre. And some of the stories felt rooted, defiant and practical, with complex characters. In ‘Seashells and Soda Cans’, the cynical narrator generates reflections on human nature and magic when confronted with grief and hurt. Jennifer Lee Rossman’s story is set in ‘Rich folk’s former vacation destinations’ in the midst of an algae threat, exploring queer love and connections to one’s environment, but I felt there was more interest to be pulled out of the dynamic between the main character’s position as a local and the other two tourist characters who help them alter the fate of the place. ‘A Message from the Moonlight’ examines ways in which violent, traumatic history will continue to percolate through the human consciousness, and how to create a future with it in mind. In one scene the protagonist traces through particular instances of subjugation, human exploitation and abuse in the name of wealth accumulation. It’s brief, and Hunter’s innocence is problematic, as the history of slavery should never escape education. Likewise, while community patrol officers appear to have replaced the police, for me that was a source of significant interest. I would want more details on what exactly the transition out of a police state might look like, and how to ensure patrollers don’t become a euphemism for their predecessors.

Finishing the anthology left me restless. Many of the stories left a sugary sweet taste, with a slightly shallow nature will set us free energy, love thy environment. Access to nature and land is a mammoth geopolitical topic that affects the entire world population - from the history of land enclosures in the UK, to worldwide land stolen from indigenous peoples by white settler colonialism. Imagining worlds on which one lives freely requires grappling with difficult questions about restoring land that was extracted for resources and the concept of the nation-state. The importance of having stories from a wide range of ethnicities and races cannot be overstated here. Despite much of the imagery digging underground for reference, many of the worlds felt surface-level, glowing mushrooms and an abundance of natural materials solutions in themselves.

Justine Norton-Kertson, in the November Solarpunk Magazine issue, places a heavy emphasis on the role that eco-spirituality has in lunarpunk thought, suggesting that lunarpunk is a space to explore the conflict between spirituality and results of scientific inquiry and also how we might ‘develop healthy public rituals that bring people together and strengthen our communities’, all which I appreciate. However, I felt many of the stories refused to ask the messy questions of how we will get ourselves out of the climate emergency, and a binary emerged between utopia and dystopia - future and present. It also prevented more nuance emerging: I didn’t really see hard questions asked in the stories, such as how utopias still slant to benefit certain groups of people. The narratives often followed a similar structure, in which an environmental problem was solved by the land’s guardians. I want more from the lunarpunk space - I want it to engage more critically with our times, to incorporate its literary forebears like cyberpunk, and, perhaps, to not be so uncomplicatedly utopian. 

I recently read Elaine Castillo’s How To Read Now, a mind-changing book. The text impressed upon me, as one of its many readers, but as a white person, is how fantasy and sci-fi often lift narratives of oppression by marginalized people of colour who are then erased. She talks about the importance of reading as an expansive process, to ask questions about what is not written as much as what is, reading the racial politics in writing as a way to engage more viscerally with the text. And that’s what I ask from lunarpunk texts - to feel viscerally hooked by questions it poses. I’d like lunarpunk to draw away from solarpunk, to spread its tentacles into the present, to reflect on the pitfalls of imagining utopia, that feels more fruitful, that will ensure this sub-genre’s survival, but also maturation into a lasting, provocative, cultural reference. 

Lizzy Yarwood is a freelance writer and the editor of Liquid Skies, a Berlin-based sci-fi magazine. You can purchase Liquid Skies in store at She said!