In a grimdark world, filled with truth, lies, and politics many of us have been longing for a literary escape that can give us some hope. For this generation, Hopepunk is our solution.
At WorldCon 77 Dublin, Jo Walton, Lettie Prell, and the creator of the term, herself, Alexandra Rowland, on a panel moderated by the marvelous Sam Hawke discussed the true meaning of Hopepunk.
What Is Hopepunk?
After the term hit NPR and Vox, it started to shift from what was originally intended to something lighter and shinier.
Luckily for all of us, we had the coiner of the term there to set the record straight, aided by the creator of the SFWA bulletin, formally acknowledging the genre. (SFWA stands for Science fiction Writers of America)
- It’s the counter to grimdark
- Stories to support people
- The emphasis should be on the punk, with a core strength of hope
- Punk in its need to “fight the man”
- Hope in its goal that “we deserve a better world”
- It’s contemporary fantasy or near-future
- It’s characters don’t give up — they stand up, resist, and fight back
- It’s characters are ordinary people who care
- The characters don’t have to win, but they do have to make a difference, and offer hope for a better future.
Some might wonder why we need a term for this. Why we even need subgenres at all.
3 Reasons Why We Need Subgenres
- Naming something help defines it and the beliefs or story expectations that go with it
- Naming a genre lets people find other stories like it
- Plus. Marketing.
Writers That Invoke Hopepunk Philosophies
- Ruthanne Emyrs
- Marissa K. Lingen
- Ada Palmer
- Alexandra Rowland
- Lettie Prell (“Crossing LaSalle”)
- David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) – note: he writes plenty that isn’t hopepunk
- NK Jemisin (Broken Earth trilogy)
- Usman T. Malik (“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn”)
- William Alexander (“The House on the Moon”)
- Kim Stanley Robinson (40 Signs of Rain, New York 2140)
- Ursula Le Guin (“The Ones That Walk Away From Omelas”)
Why Hopepunk Now?
Hopepunk is a reaction to the current political, cultural, and physical environment. During times of prosperity and progress, grimdark reminds us to fight complacency. During times of stagnation and fear, Hopepunk is reminding us that we’re not powerless.
We were reminded of that quote:
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”G.K. Chesterton
In Western culture, so often we consider literature more serious, more worthy when it is cynical, ironic, and distant.
Western culture finds the upbeat, shiny stories found in 1950’s sci-fi to be trite and naive. Then, extends that opinion to anything that isn’t full of cynicism. Which leads to interesting circumstances, like award winning novels failing to warrant academic acclaim.
We need to remember that human acts of kindness are common and real and normal.
Do you think Hopepunk is right for you? Ordinary people fighting back, and making a difference — even if they can’t win the day?
Do you know any stories you think would be a good fit for this genre?
P.S. After this post went up, I got a few questions on Hopepunk’s relationship to Solarpunk. Here’s what I came up with as the answer to:
What’s the difference between Hopepunk and Solarpunk?
I’m less familiar with Solarpunk, but according to google:
“Solarpunk is a genre of Speculative Fiction that focuses on craftsmanship, community, and technology powered by renewable energy, wrapped up in a coating of Art Nouveau blended with African and Asian aesthetics.”
So. I’m gonna say the difference lies in the emphasis of ‘punk’ — ie “Fighting against the man”, with less of a focus on renewable energy, and a less defined aesthetic.
They are clearly related genres and there could easily be overlap between the two.
Hopepunk! My post apocalypse novella, “Jars” under my pen name of D.W. Welsh is definitely all of that, although I didn’t know there was a term for it. – David
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What age does the protagonist have to be for a story to be considered Hopepunk? It sounds like what I write, but my protag is middle-aged, so I may still not have an actual genre (and I will still continue to refuse to write grimdark anyway, ha!)
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I see no YA or Adult flags anywhere in the description! It might seem a little more YA oriented, but there’s nothing stopping you!
Do you think Hopepunk is a genre or an approach? The only things from your list I have read are the first two of the NK Jemisin Broken Earth trilogy and The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, and while they are very different I can see the way they both have characters acting as though moral choices are important and that attempting to do good is not a waste of time.
Would you think of “Station 11” as Hopepunk or Hopepunk influenced? I was very struck by how the protagonists in the post-apocalyptic world were a troupe of travelling actors, making explicit the idea that culture is important to humanity and even in desperate situations we will want more than just basic survival.
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Well, Omelas is closer to proto- hopepunk. But I’d definitely glad it as a subgenre.
I have not had the chance to read Station 11, so can’t speak to that. This post was sharing the thoughts and observations from the people who defined the (sub)genre.