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L8: What’s solarpunk and why you need to write it

Shweta Taneja
Shweta Taneja
Welcome! Dear Penpal is a monthly newsletter by me, Shweta Taneja, to support you in your creative journey with tips, opportunities and a few laughs. THANK YOU for being here.
In my 8th letter, I talk about solarpunk, writing sci-fi and the power of resilience. Also, some free submission opportunities and inspiration for you to write.

Dear Penpal
Before we were plunged into a seasonal pandemic-caused cycle of socializing and distancing, I loved reading dystopian science fiction. Tales about the future where everything was bleak—protagonists struggled in corrupt authoritarian intergalactic, corporatised ‘verses; climate change crated new territories to colonize; young adults became terrorists to survive zombie-infested lands.
Sci-fi written about terrible worlds where a little hope, a little determination was the only light. These scrumptious tales went beautifully with lazy mornings, an Earl Grey and bowls of snacks.
Then things changed – for me at least, maybe for you too.
The world today feels so tiresome. We use the word ‘cope’ in everyday exchange between friends. We’re facing challenges like climate emergency and covid, not sometime in the future, but right now, right here. Our world is shaping into the dystopian tales we imagined.
The future is now. And it’s anxious, frustrating and emotionally flux.
Perhaps that could explain why I’ve moved to writing (and reading) different sci-fi subgenres. I’ve gone back to the escapist genre of space opera, a tried and well-loved genre of fantastical intergalactic empires, and heroic protagonists. And I’m also writing something we’ve consciously named solarpunk (sometimes ecopunk) that explore green futures enabled by dramatic, doable technologies and anti-establishment protagonists.
My recent short story, The Songs that Humanity Lost Reluctantly to Dolphins (published in English and French) was part of a worldwide anthology of such hopeful stories which explore cities shared by humans, animals, insects, plants and machines. Though optimistic, my story was a bit sad, showing my dystopian roots, where a collective ‘us’ suffers because dolphins take over the world and our children. The story’s being discussed in a few classrooms across the world, which is kind of cool and surreal.
Other than bursts of short-lived positivity, my current WIP is all about escapism – an entertaining romper on a spaceship with a bunch of weirdos, travelling across the universe. Escapism, after all, is the best medicine for some of the anxieties I (and probably you) face. The novel is not there yet and I don’t know when it’ll be ready to face the world.
But like the writers of solarpunk, I have hope and resilience.
I hope you have it too. Keep working on that idea, my dear pal. I want to leave you with some inspiration, and some leads to encourage you to write and create.
Sundry Sunday
Submission alert: Imagine 2200: How do you imagine the future of your community, tribe or language? Fellows at Fix run this sci-fi contest everyyear to develop diverse cli-fi tales. Submit fiction here, for free.
Want to explore climate fiction? Read up one of these books in this must-read list collated by folks at Grist magazine.
Is there pleasure in doing nothing? If you had enough money, what would you do? Living amidst billionaires-at-25 and retirees-at-42, Sirin Kale at The Guardian ponders on this question of living in the present, doing nothing. It’s a Sunday after all.
Writing updates
Book excerpt in RoundGlass Sustain: This month, I celebrate a year since the release of my book on Indian scientists They Made What? They Found What? To my delight, it’s become a bestseller and royalty-spinner of 2021. A cheering feat considering India-made kit-lit is so hard to sell. Here’s an excerpt of one of my favourite chapters on finding a genus of a frog.
French translation of a short: My slapstick short story Bhaisaab’s Bespoke Brides Boutique was translated into French and published in a sci-fi magazine. It was published in English in the digital magazine, Antonym. Read here.
Struggling to write? As I chug along yet another draft of my novel, this Twitter thread by author Ed McDonald resonated with me. It’s about him writing, rewriting, taking on feedback, and bouncing back from rejections. And getting it right. Never give up, creators! 
Writing Prompt
I wandered through Malleswaram, a neighbourhood in Bangalore, chatted with a migrant from north Karnataka who is a traffic constable outside Veena stores, taking photos of graffiti and hogging on dosas. This photo, I thought, can be a nice writing prompt. (Don’t miss my fellow in the skirts of the sari)
Why are you not writing something? What’s stopping you
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Shweta Taneja
Shweta Taneja @shwetawrites

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Shweta Taneja, Bangalore, Karnataka, India