What do we mean by ‘Hopepunk’?

Our January 1-7 submissions window for short fiction is coming up fast. While we welcome all manner of far-out, fantastical, speculative and genre fiction with each monthly open call, we also want to emphasize particular literary itches we hope to get scratched.

Over the next few months, we will for the most part focus on the different ways SF/F explores sociopolitical alternatives for human society. It’s a big topic, which we will write about in more detail at a later date. (Though you may enjoy, in this regard, a dip into PM Press’s excellent “Dangerous Visions and New Worlds,” a gorgeous coffee-table book that goes deep on SF/F’s tendency toward political radicalism from the ’60s to the ’80s.)

Today, this rich literary fabric is full of interesting wrinkles, from the specifics of solarpunk to the broad brush of anti-dystopianism.

While all such works are welcome during any submission window, this January we do have a particular literary inclination we want to encourage.

What is this thing called ‘Hopepunk’?

The phrase is lumpy and difficult to enunciate, perhaps a result of the serial plosives. Hope. Punk. But who said any of this is easy? The term at first glance is a tad facile, playing off, of course, the O.G. usage of “cyberpunk,” which provided a template that invokes punk as a broad ethos of rebellion against established norms, and funnels it through a given aesthetic interest (such as steampunk’s fascination with the Victorian era).

A panel at this year’s World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, “Hopepunk: Five Years In,” was a revelatory look at this coherent literary movement within the SF/F field.

(You can read a tweetstorm we dopped that attempts to summarize key points of the panel.)

The germ of it all was author Alexandra Rowland’s quip: “The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk.” And such a welcome opposite it is.

Grimdark. What a dreary, lazy, reactionary and boringly conservative/nihilistic trope. So people are bad and the world is shit. Let’s wallow in it! Or maybe you can fucking well lick that shit off my boots as I hike over the wreckage of your morally bankrupt military-industrial apocalypse to find somewhere better to read and dream and aspire.

“Hope is a discipline,” the activist Mariama Kaba has said. One of the ChiCon panelists noted that “rainbows and unicorns” may be great, but it takes a punk ethos to bring focus and discipline to our hopes.

Authors and works cited in that conversation included:

• Becky Chambers, and her wonderful Wayfarer books
• Kim Stanley Robinson (“New York 2140” and “Ministry for the Future”)
• On the nonfiction side, Rebecca Solnit’s “A Paradise Built in Hell”
• The “Doomer Optimism” podcast

This is just skimming the surface, of course. But, one of the defining features of hopepunk in these works is their communal nature. It takes fucking village, people.

And so, to this list, we would also add the amazing Star Wars TV serial “Andor” — thank you, Tony Gilroy! Its backdrop is certainly grimdark space fantasy. But it’s the struggle, suffering, sacrifice and success of a widespread group of people, including the title character, that make the series so thrillingly great.

This is in productive contrast to the “noblebright” tropes of the great-man theory of history, and its notable storytelling examplars, such as Luke Skywalker himself. Really, one of the great achievements of “Andor” is the way it sets up Skywalker’s singular shot against the Death Star as not necessarily or solely a triumph of the heroic will (which is, er, problematic) but rather the final stage in a vast, communal effort to change the world for the better.

Hopepunk. There’s way more juice in that battery, and we want you to plug it in and turn it on.

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