I got in an argument a while back with a couple Tumblr users about whether solarpunk is misusing the -punk suffix. Here's that thread, heavily edited, with the trolls' comments abridged completely into questions, because reading the original thread can be kind of infuriating. (If you really want to, here's the link.)
First blogger: [Solarpunk doesn't seem to contain any social problems. Shouldn't a genre named solarpunk be about a world that's dealing with total collapse as a consequence of the end of abundant fossil fuels?]
Watson: Resignation to the death of civilization and infrasturcture isn’t punk, it’s apocolyptic nihilism. We’re not looking for ways to see the world fail; we’re not banding together to get ready for the kind of apocalypse we expect to live in. We’re standing up to the things that are fucked up now and we intend to wrest control of our living world back from the parasitic corporations polluting it.
Solarpunk is punk because prioritizing happiness stands against prioritizing labor.
Solarpunk is punk because we’re solving problems we’ve seen those in power fail to solve, or problems they’ve created.
Solarpunk is punk because we’re de-institutionalizing science, education, production and industry.
There’s nothing punk about waiting for the world to fail so you can say “I told you so.” That’s not revolutionary or counterculture or insightful. That’s rolling over. The “punk” you’re describing is looking at the problems that are lining up and saying “I guess we’ve already failed, better start writing the concession speeches.”
Punk doesn’t mean grim or gothic or apocalyptic. Punk means standing up for humanity in the face of oligarchy and industry. If you can’t look at a movement’s ideology and see a better world at the end of it than the world in which it’s advocated, it’s not punk, it’s defeatism.
FB: [I meant "punk" not in reference to the Punk movement, but to the suffix as a genre convention. Cyberpunk, steampunk and deiselpunk are all dystopian and nihilistic, and the definitions I've seen of solarpunk characterize it as utopian. -Punk subgenres are defined by unpleasant environments and class conflict, aren't they?]
W: Okay, first of all: The “-punk” suffix has never had a coherent ideology. It has a coherent aesthetic sensibility: near future relative to a reference point, like 1980 (cyberpunk) mid-1800′s (steampunk) early 1900′s (deiselpunk) and so on. But even that doesn’t hold up across the full spectrum of “-punk” suffixes. William Gibson, the guy whose work defined both cyberpunk and steampunk, has referred to contemporary fiction – all contemporary fiction – as “nowpunk.”
I’m guessing in grabbing this one-paragraph summary of the genre (which is not a bad summary, it’s just obviously incomplete) you failed to spend any time in the tag, didn’t read Adam Flynn’s Solarpunk: Notes toward a manifesto, haven’t read any of the other essays or posts or discussions on the topic – because in identifying a definition that focuses on the ideological goals of our movement, you’ve completely ignored the reality that solarpunk narrative concepts overwhelmingly lean toward a world in which the communities advancing these values are not yet dominant over the pressure of imperialist capitalism.
The dingy, grungy, depressing edge to solarpunk doesn’t come out of the new technology, it comes out of the old power structures. We’re living, now, in real life, in a dystopia – which is why a full-tilt optimistic movement aimed at telling stories in which peace, love, happiness and security are the winners is punk.
Second blogger: [But Adam Flynn doesn't seem to be talking about a genre of fiction, but a political movement. There's already been a push for optimistic science fiction about the near future, in "postcyberpunk." Is it really legitimate to describe a political movement and a genre of fiction as part of the same entity? And if so, should it really be called punk?]
W: Y’all keep swinging back and forth on whether you want “Punk” to mean “Consistent with the ideology of the punk movement” or “Consistent with the genre conventions of a narrow, arbitrarily sampled selection of works from within a massive diversity of genres.” As for the former: Solarpunk is absolutely a punk movement.
As for “Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifseto” – did you catch the reference implicit in the naming there? Did you notice that the Solarpunk one was posted on Project Hieroglyph, an organization of which Neal Stephenson (a major cyberpunk writer, heavily cited in the manifesto you linked) is a prominent founding member? Have you considered the possibility that in the fifteen years between these two essays, some of us might be a little tired of the complete failure of the Postcyberpunk non-genre to get off the ground and start injecting some positivity into 21st-Century sci fi?
Btw: that essay also deals with the reality of the subtlety and ambiguity inherent in genre naming, a point from which you might take a cue if you’re looking to define a community out of their name.
And as for the fiction: There’s work that’s arguably consistent with Solarpunk as a genre, but since you may have noticed our major source texts come from, like, last August, there hasn’t been a huge outpouring of explicitly self-identified Solarpunk authorship. Many of us who identify with Solarpunk as a movement also identify with it in terms of our goals as Science Fiction writers.
And while it is true that in the Eighties, books generally came before the genre names – as with Cyberpunk and Steampunk, both basically deliberately invented by authors – in the wake of the internet, it can and does work the other way around.
The New Weird, for example, before it had any real canonical works of fiction, emerged from forum discussions among authors who wanted to see more classic implausible and horrifying Sci Fi. This history is documented in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s anthology “The New Weird.” New Weird identified authors and works have since gone on to win Hugos and Nebulas, among other things.
If you don’t want to participate in Solarpunk, fine. That doesn’t bother me. Nobody in this movement is going to press-gang you into a job on a wind farm with mandatory cheery whistling and hot cocoa breaks. If you dumped a ton of money into domain names with the word “Solarpunk” anticipating a future of sad, depressing apocalyptic storytelling to capitalize on, I’m sorry about your bad investment.
But don’t wander into a community you’ve barely glanced at and try and lecture us on what we’re doing because you think noticing an etymological resemblance between our name and the name of some other thing you like to read means you’re an expert on our community. That’s not how words work.
It’s a bummer that you’re weirdly offended we’re taking the cultural punk aspect more seriously than the hyphen-punk genre expectations, but we’re not working together to brainstorm and market a new literary product to you and your friends. We’re working together to try and slam the breaks on global oppression and environmental catastrophe.
And, yeah: a lot of us are coming from the sci fi nerd perspective, and a lot of us, me included, believe that a big part of building change is writing narratives that can shape that change. That’s what we mean by optimism when we talk about Solarpunk fiction. That’s what many of us, me included, are working on, and since the process of writing, revising, selling and publishing fiction is not instantaneous, not very many of us are finished yet.
And we don’t care whether nihilists like you don’t buy it, because we’re not trying to craft the most commercially viable form of narrative as capital. We’re trying to build stories to give hope to other people out there who think like us, and maybe don’t know where to look for support and direction.
I realize that’s probably not as important to you as having a really good taxonomy to organize your bookshelf with, but literally no one here cares about optimizing for your personal shopping comfort.
SB: [I have three points of criticism: One, that I'm not a nihilist, two, that your use of that expression is a "straw man" argument, and three, that a community isn't allowed to be a literary genre and a political ideology at the same time.]
W: One: I was being facetious.
Two: A straw man argument is when you misrepresent your opponent’s position, then argue against that misrepresentation. If you read my post carefully, you’ll find that none of my actual points rely on the premise that you’re only into depressing fiction. What I was doing there wasn’t a straw man, it was just mockery. (Oh, and before you toss out “Ad hominem,” I also wasn’t mocking you in an attempt to falsely discredit your authority to advance a point on this topic; I correctly identified you as an outsider to the genre, but again, none of my actual argument leans on my deliberate mischaracterization of your personality.)
Three: It’s both. It can be both. I don’t care if you find that confusing or upsetting. And movements and genres of all sorts are by their very nature difficult or impossible to clearly outline. That’s why we have concepts in aesthetics like family resemblance, and organizations like the Interstitial Arts Foundation.
Four: I don’t intend to respond to any further critical posts in this thread, for the following reasons:
(a.) You have demonstrated to my satisfaction (and this is a genuine statement of my beliefs about you) that your worldview is fundamentally incompatible with the Solarpunk ethos, especially in terms of Solarpunk’s strong postmodern, socialist, and punk influences,
(b.) In light of (a.), I don’t think you’re in an ideological position to be capable of reasonably evaluating the Solarpunk community or ideology in good faith,
(c.) It’s my impression that the content of your rebuttals is not contributing anything substantially new or interesting to the conversation that’s worth addressing for my own benefit or that of my followers,
and (d.) I don’t want to allocate substantially more of my time and emotional energy to arguing on the internet in the immediate future.
I have the impression that you’re a reasonable, fair-minded person who happens to disagree with me so fundamentally on foundational philosophical positions that we are unlikely to come across to each other as anything but hostile. I want to try and say this without coming off as condescending, but if your worldview changes such that you see the Solarpunk community as appealing at any point in the future, I hope you won’t feel unwelcome for having participated in this exchange. (Same goes for OP.) I trust you’d extend the same inclusiveness to any of us in Solarpunk, with respect to any communities you identify with.