Author Archives: Navarre

The Deep – A Review

A mermaid with a shark-like tail floats upright in the water. A whale, sailfish, and several other aquatic animals are in the background. The title of the book, "The Deep" is at the top, and the bottom has the authors listed, "Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Johnathan Snipes."

The Deep covers a number of different themes in such a rich way that it seems impossible it could be as short as it is. I personally really resonated with how the main character, imbued with the memory of their people, runs away from this duty because it is killing her. Much like Atlas bolted when Hercules gave him the chance, Yetu can’t take it anymore. When coupled with the environmental and human (mermaid?) rights themes of this book, I couldn’t help but think of how many people have burned out of activism while fighting to make the world a better place.

Yetu’s struggle with balancing her own well-being and that of her people is really the conflict here, with the fate of the world dependent on one person. The story didn’t pull any emotional punches and hit me a lot harder than any typical farmboy with a sword narrative might.

I also really love that the story didn’t end in the traditional, singular sacrifice of our hero, but in a more collaborative solution that was far better for Yetu and her people. It felt optimistic, but realistic, and was a welcome change to the one person saves the world on their own narrative even if Yetu’s own actions are a critical piece of that solution.

Despite the short length, the characters beyond Yetu held their own and felt like real people, not just cardboard cutouts there to advance the plot, which I’ve sometimes found to be the case in novellas.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It deals with some heavy stuff, but makes you feel like anything is possible if you don’t try to do it all on your own. It’s definitely going on my list of tidalpunk recommendations.


If you’d like to support the blog, please use the affiliate link to the book above, or consider supporting us on Comradery, a cooperatively-owned patronage platform.

Weird Fishes – A Review

Weird Fishes by Rae Mariz was a wonderful journey that reminded me of how I felt the first time I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a kid. This book is definitely going on my recommendations list for tidalpunk literature, as it very deftly addresses climate change and its effects on the ocean without feeling preachy.

The story is an interesting take on the buddy genre, pairing a sheltered octopod scientist with an emotionally-vibrant and well-traveled mermaid. Amusing and profound interactions between the two characters help them grow as individuals while they investigate the cause and solution to slowing ocean currents.

Mariz’s prose is beautiful and evokes a true feeling of wonder and connectedness to the ocean. Clever twists on common turns of phrase remind you that the main characters aren’t human, and the interplay of the many different species of the ocean gives hints at the biodiversity teeming below the surface. There’s even a cameo by 52 Blue, the “world’s loneliest whale.”

This book helps you remember that we came from the sea and that it still exerts an emotional pull on us like the tide. One of my favorite lines from the book is “People carry the ocean inside them. On an upright fishbone spine sits the soul of an octopus.” Not every line in the book is that poetic, but I feel that encapsulates my feelings when I read this book.

While I wholeheartedly enjoyed this book, it isn’t for everyone. The book doesn’t shy away from the real world consequences of microplastics, commercial fishing, and warming oceans. Many creatures die, often in graphic, but not prolonged, ways. This book also has a content warning for sexual assault.

If you’re looking for a tidalpunk read that rekindles your love for the ocean, I can’t recommend Weird Fishes enough. If you’ve read any good tidalpunk books lately, let us know down below! I just started The Deep by Rivers Solomon and hope to report back on it soon!


Thanks to Stelliform Press for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

If you’d like to support the blog, please use the affiliate link to the book above, or consider supporting us on Comradery, a cooperatively-owned patronage platform.

Revisiting Offshore Wind

A large wind farm consisting of many large, three-bladed wind turbines sits in the ocean. The waves are a choppy dark blue and black while the sky is a light blue.
Windmills in the Ocean

Offshore wind is going to be a big part of our clean energy future, and if you like podcasts, you’ll really want to listen to Windfall, a mini series from Outside/In. Windfall follows the development of the US offshore wind energy from the ill-fated Cape Wind project up through the approval of Vineyard Wind. This is a great explainer for why the US is so far behind Europe and China in the offshore wind space.

One thing I really appreciated about the podcast was its nuanced take on some of the drawbacks of offshore wind while still showing it as an important climate solution. The ocean is a big place, but siting an offshore wind project in a way that promotes a just transition is no easy feat. Some areas contain indigenous cultural heritage (Cape Wind) while others impact fisherfolk who’ve been plying their trade for centuries (Vineyard Wind). Now that oil companies are fronting as clean energy pioneers, are we going to let them repeat the same injustices with a shiny green wrapper? The podcast stops short of offering answers.

I’ve mentioned before that offshore wind has the potential to be a great resource in a tidalpunk future, but that I wasn’t sure how to fit the billion dollar megaprojects into a *punk framework. Just after listening to Windfall, I found out that Denmark, one of the leaders in the offshore wind space, actually requires 20% of any new wind project to be community owned, and the Middelgrunden installation is actually 50% cooperatively owned. Scotland is another place where community ownership of renewables, including offshore wind, is revitalizing communities that had been in decline for decades.

Offshore wind will generate cheap, renewable energy a lot more consistently than land-based turbines, but we need to hold those building these facilities accountable so we don’t see a repeat of the injustices baked into our current energy system.

Do you know of other solutions to deploy renewables while avoiding handouts to the same old energy companies we love to hate? Share with us in the comments below!

RadRunner Plus Long Term Review

A step-through ebike sits on a shared path. Trees and grass line the edges as it curves off to the right in the distance.
My Radrunner Plus on the John Warner Parkway Trail in Charlottesville

After having my RadRunner Plus for nearly two years, I thought it was time for a long term review. Getting an ebike isn’t a small financial decision, and I was both excited and a little nervous spending what I did to pre-order a brand new model of ebike. Some of you out there might be on the fence about whether to get an ebike yourself, so I hope this helps in some way.

From hauling groceries, taking things to the recycling center, selling crafts at the farmers market, or going to the park with my kid, the RadRunner Plus has made biking around town an option for me. The electric assist makes me feel much safer when having to contend with traffic since the speed differential is much lower than when I was still riding my traditional bike.

Riding the bike is still a little less convenient than driving a car around Charlottesville, but it is a lot more fun. I need to plan my routes more carefully than if I were driving, and parking the bike can be a hassle since most places have plenty of car storage but no place to stick a bike securely.

Bike theft isn’t a huge problem in Charlottesville, but an acquaintance and his wife had their RadRunner Plus and RadWagon stolen not too long ago, so I’ve been a little more anxious with respect to parking the bike lately. If you’re worried about bike theft, I’d recommend this episode of the Bike Here podcast.

I kept my bike in front of our townhouse under a motorcycle cover for about a year with no issues, but have since moved it inside. During that time I didn’t really ride the bike since we had the new baby, but everything booted right up when I plugged in the battery despite being out in all weather conditions. I’m not sure if that’s a point in favor of RadPower Bikes or the Pro Bike Tools cover, but good job either way.

There are still certain aspects of riding a bike in America that make it more difficult to just hop on and go versus driving. Helmets aren’t a huge inconvenience, but it’s an added bit of friction compared to taking the car. When I was just riding by myself, I didn’t always wear one, but now that I’ve got a tiny human on board, it’s helmets all around. Despite the inconveniences, I did have two errands last week that I think demonstrate how ebikes can be a great car replacement.

The cat bus from "My Neighbor Totoro." The cat bus is a large orange tabby cat with ten legs that's back looks like the passenger compartment of a bus with open air windows and covered with fur. Two mice with purple glowing eyes make up the marking lights on the top of the cab.
Charlottesville Area Transit’s acronym is CAT

First up was an unexpected run to the pharmacy. I was thinking of taking the bus, but since the bus only comes once an hour it made more sense to grab the bike. While it took a little longer in travel time than driving, I suspect our time door-to-door was similar since there is bike parking next to the pharmacy while the parking garage would’ve taken more time to navigate. The only worry I had was I hadn’t charged the bike and three trips into town stretched the battery to its limits. That’s a range of >25 miles in 80-92ºF (27-33ºC) weather hauling 250 lbs (113 kg) of humans around. I didn’t run the battery down all the way, so I don’t know how much further we might have been able to go. The battery did go empty on my way back from a grocery run before, and I do not recommend it unless you’re really looking for a new fitness regimen.

The second trip was to pickup our CSA from the farmers market. My child and I normally take the car after my wife gets home, but she wasn’t going to be back in time for us to make the farmers market before it closed this time. Ebike to the rescue again. All the vegetables fit in the front delivery bag along with a couple other items I picked up while we were there. Even in the 80s with 76% humidity, the ride was comfortable since on the bike you’ve got a breeze when you’re moving. I think I needed more cooldown time at the end than if I’d driven, but, since the car would have to cool down before it was comfortable, I wasn’t any sweatier if we’d driven.

Image shows the underside of a brown bike seat. The seat is mounted via a solid metal plate instead of the more traditional adjustable seat mount found on most bikes.
This Seat Features Zero Adjustability

The only complaints I have about the RadRunner Plus are the uncomfortable stock seat, the poor options for mounting the headlight if you have a front rack, and the flimsy kickstand. Definitely DO NOT step away from the bike with a kid onboard! I’m looking for a better kickstand solution, but my first pick, the Ursus Jumbo, doesn’t work on 20″ bikes. I decided to give it a go despite the manufacturer recommendations, and I can confirm it doesn’t fit the RadRunner Plus.

If you’re on the fence about getting an ebike, I think you’ll really be impressed what they can do. They are definitely going to be part of our solarpunk future. I really like the RadRunner Plus, but everyone’s needs are a little different. You can’t haul more than one other person on this bike, so that might sway you one way or the other for a RadRunner vs a RadWagon if you’re looking at entry-level cargo bikes. If you’ve got a bigger budget, I’ve heard great things about the Tern and Urban Arrow bikes some people have here in town. I was incredulous when people said having an ebike is a game changer for getting around in a city, but they were totally right.

Do you have an ebike or cargo bike you love? Let us know down below!


If you’d like to support the blog, use our referral link if you’re going to buy a bike from RadPower or check out our page on Comradery, a cooperatively-owned patronage platform.

House of Drought – A review

The House of Drought is a WEIRD novella. I don’t typically read horror, so this is from the perspective of a fantasy/scifi reader. To that end, I really loved the folklore aspects of this story. Seeing what elements of stories are common and different across cultures is always facinating to me, and this story definitely delivers there. There aren’t any concrete explanations of what’s going on, and the multiple names and explanations for any given phenomena by different people bring the folklore to life. Knowing nothing of Sri Lankan folklore, I’m led to believe the author did this part justice.

Since the story hops around between several characters and timelines in the space of a novella, I never really felt a strong connection to any one character. I think that this is where the story would’ve benefitted from being fleshed out into a full length novel or cutting the number of viewpoints if it needed to stay a novella. I really want to give this story four stars since the setting was so interesting, but the lack of engaging characters drops it down to a three for me.

Speaking of multiple timelines, if you really need your books to be linear, this isn’t the story for you. There are frequent time jumps within a chapter, although they do follow a pattern once you realize what’s happening. It’s an interesting approach, but I don’t think it was really necessary to the story.

This is one of the first times I’ve seen a piece of fiction really try to connect colonialism and climate change and how imperialism has wounded the natural world. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish without getting preachy, but the author managed to weave it into the story without it feeling too heavy-handed. The tension between the House of Drought and the surrounding forest becomes an analogue for the tension between colonialism/capitalism and nature. I wouldn’t call it subtle, but by these forces being more animate setting than viewpoint character, it feels like an innate truth suffusing the story and not something the author slows down to explain in a pedantic manner.

This novella had me turning pages to find out what happened, but, like I said, the lack of any compelling characters makes it hard for me to give it more than three stars. I’m very interested to see what Mombauer can do with a full length novel though, since I think the rest of this story is pretty solid.

I’d like to thank Stelliform for providing an ARC in return for this honest review.

Bad News First…

A sad face emoji in black spray painted on an off-white wall.
Photo by Jan Prokes on Pexels.com

I’ve written before about how my laptop has served me well for nearly a decade at the low cost of several replacement parts. Unfortunately, one of the things I didn’t think to replace was the thermal paste on the CPU and GPU. This is the goop that helps transfer heat away from those critical components and into the cooling system so they don’t overheat and fail. This is particularly critical if you’re doing intensive tasks like editing video for a YouTube channel.

I started getting some weird slowdowns and freezes on general tasks and then full crashes when trying to edit video. The crash log helpfully said “GPU Panic” and a bunch of other things that are probably only decipherable by a hardware or firmware engineer. After the third or fourth crash, I decided that if I wanted to continue using my laptop, I’d need to offload the video editing to a different machine.

I decided to go with a Mac again, since my main use case was video editing. I’m not in college anymore, so I realized I didn’t really need to be mobile which is great since adding a battery and screen means laptops are more expensive and more likely to need repairs than a desktop. The new Apple Silicon Macs aren’t really repairable, but it is rare that you get a chance to jump to a completely new, but well-supported, platform. So, I gave into the new and shiny by getting an M1 Mac mini.

A Mac mini sits on top of a 15" MacBook Pro Laptop. The Mac mini desktop has a smaller footprint than the laptop. The laptop has stickers from Sparkfun electronics, NaNoWriMo, and the Center for Civic Innovation on it's lid.
My New Mac mini on top of my 2010 MacBook Pro

A big part of why I went with the Mac mini is that it is the greenest option if you do want to go with an M1. The storage and RAM aren’t user serviceable like on my Macbook Pro, but since there’s no battery and the screen, keyboard, and mouse are all separate components, I can use peripherals I already have. Plus, if one of them breaks, they’re easily replaced.

As Solarpunk Druid recently said, most modern devices are not built to be repaired, so we have to do the best with the options we have available. I’ve been very impressed with the new computer, but I’m glad the laptop still works as I’ve formed an emotional bond with the machine after using it so long and replacing so many of it’s components. I’m hopeful that this new machine will be as long-lived since while it’s less repairable it also has fewer components that could fail. I guess we’ll see.

How do you balance sustainability and replacing or repairing the broken things in your life? Are you reading this on a thirty year old computer and laughing at my boasts of using a mere decade old laptop? Let us know in the comments!

What’s Old is New Again – Deconstruction

A picture of the indoor waterfall at the Singapore airport. A large metal and glass bowl pours water out its bottom while surrounded by greenery.
Photo by Tiff Ng on Pexels.com

I recently saw several complaints about the preponderance of tree-stuffed glass towers or eco-brutalist structures in solarpunk art. Are trees on buildings the solarpunk equivalent of steampunk’s oft-maligned, “just stick some gears on it?” For an actual regenerative future, we’ll need to keep our buildings in use longer and reuse the materials from them more effectively when they do reach the end of their life.

Construction and demolition (C&D) waste accounts for twice as much of the waste stream here in the United States when compared to municipal waste. While 455 of the 600 million tons of waste were used again, the majority of that went to aggregate, making it a significant case of downcycling. This is not getting us to a closed loop, Cradle-to-Cradle system that we’ll need for our solarpunk future. Deconstruction presents a way out of this mess.

A woman looks at a partially deconstructed wall with two windows. There are slats along the wall, indicating it was once plastered. A ladder leans against another wall in the background and an exposed stud wall is between the camera and the woman. Debris litters the floor, presumably from demolition.
Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

Almost any building, no matter how dilapidated, contains a treasure trove of materials: wood, steel, wiring, and plumbing. Unfortunately, in our cost-obsessed culture, it’s considered too expensive to retrieve these useful materials from the building. Instead, a building will be demolished, either by crane or explosives, and the debris will be hauled away. As we know from municipal recycling programs, once waste is mixed, it is much more difficult to separate. Any material that was still useful will be recovered at a much lower rate than if it had been separated before the building was demolished.

There are places where the careful removal of useful materials from a building is prioritized, like Portland, which passed an ordinance in 2016 to require deconstruction of homes built before 1940. Homes built after this time were not designed in a way to make disassembly simple, so the city is building up its deconstruction apparatus with the low hanging fruit. My impression is that the leader in this space is Japan, where space and materials are always at a premium. Other places in the United States investigating or requiring deconstruction include Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and San Antonio.

A brick wall with a window on the left, and a large creeping vine covering it on the right. The bricks are red and black with white mortar.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

More difficult materials, such as masonry products, present a special difficulty for reuse and recycling. While individual bricks are reusable, extracting them from a wall and removing all the mortar can be painstaking at best. Gabriela Medero, a professor from Scotland, has a possible solution, the K-Briq. Made mostly from construction waste in a process that can be placed onsite at C&D disposal facilities, K-Briq is one possibility for reusing masonry materials.

As more streamlined methods of construction like modular or 3D printed buildings reduce the labor needed for construction, increased deconstruction requirements will lead to an increase in the labor needed for a building’s end of life. While in a solarpunk future, a person’s ability to work wouldn’t be tied to their survival, in our current world, the ability for construction workers to provide for their families is a major concern. The labor unions that can influence the direction of the construction industry are particularly concerned about having enough labor demand for their members. Deconstruction gives us a way for both people and the planet to win.

Do you have deconstruction requirements in your area? I’m especially curious about how this is handled outside the United States, as we often lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to sustainable construction techniques. Please share in the comments!

Exciting announcements

Before I get into the big (for me) news, I thought I’d offer a bit of clarification. I often use we and I interchangeably here on the blog, and it’s not an attempt to set myself up as royalty. I’ve always intended Solarpunk Station to grow beyond just one rando’s ramblings on the internet, so I’ve used we aspirationally in the hopes that someday there would be more contributors beyond myself. I am currently planning a project for the fall that will include some guest contributors that I hope will move the blog and channel in that direction.

Three black and white CGI characters carrying what appear to be celery, a drumstick, and perhaps a giant noodle emerging from a cloud are walking together beneath yellow and black text saying "Comradery."

If you haven’t heard, Solarpunk Station is now a member of Comradery Coop! Comradery is a place where people can support their favorite creators via monthly donations or memberships. The big difference between Comradery and Patreon is that Comradery is a platform coop and creators are not subject to the whims of a centralized corporate entity. If you’d like to support the work I’m doing here on the blog and on the YouTube channel, check out the page here.

An image of a raised planter garden with the anthology title: "Almanac for the Anthropocene: A Compendium of Solarpunk Futures" and the words: "Edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland."

The other exciting announcement is that an anthology I contributed to, Almanac of the Anthropocene: A Compendium of Solarpunk Futures, is up for preorders now! It’s coming out in September, and you can get it from WVU Press.

Thanks everyone for making this worthwhile, and I look forward to continuing to work together to build regenerative futures!

What is Lunarpunk?

Lunarpunks are the night dwellers of our solarpunk futures. Biomimmicry of bioluminescent creatures, moth-themed cloaks, and gossamer fabrics fluttering in the night breeze are some of the aesthetic influences here. Winter would be the lunarpunks’s time to be more active, hosting events in the crisp nights from art exhibits to street festivals.

Creatures of the Night

Lunarpunk focuses more on the night than solarpunk’s sunny disposition. Because of this, lunarpunk aesthetics are heavy in purples and blacks as opposed to the greens and yellows of solarpunk. Bioluminescent creatures provide inspiration for clothes that glow either under black-light or as a result of smart textiles. Lunarpunks love their fellow creatures of the night – moths, mushrooms, and bats.

Where the punk really comes in is that in a lunarpunk society, people feel safe going out at night. Social safety nets mean that people don’t have to resort to crime to get by, rape culture has been excised from the cultural consciousness, and sex work is demarginalized, voluntary, and safe. Police, prisons, and punitive justice have given way to restorative justice and a world where anyone, regardless of sex, gender, or sexual orientation, can feel safe walking down the street at night.

Person wearing a black, white, and crimson cape patterned like moth wings. Cape is wider than armspan in width, makeing the wearer appear to have moth wings.
Moth Wings Cape by CostureoReal on Etsy

Biotech

Biotechnology will have a big role to play in our solarpunk future, but I especially associate lunarpunk with biotechnology. I think this might be because of the aesthetic associations with mushrooms and bioluminescence. Bioluminescent trees or algae lamps could provide electricity-free path lighting in the cities of the future, and amazing different materials are being created from mushrooms like leather, wood, paper, or even structural building materials. Hempcrete and coral-inspired biomimetic concrete are being investigated to replace the carbon-intensive traditional concrete we use for so much infrastructure today.

Magic

Maybe it’s all the purple hues or the influence of the Moon, but lunarpunk feels more magical than solarpunk to me. As solarpunk is a movement that accepts both the spiritual and the scientific, this distinction is probably due more to my own cultural biases of magic being dark and mysterious than it is to any preference for solarpunks or lunarpunks to practice magic or not. The Solarpunk Druid and Justine Norton-Kertson have said something similar though, so it seems I’m not alone. While not a large percentage of the population yet, the growing number of pagans in the world will find a home in a lunarpunk future.

Photo by brenoanp on Pexels.com

Space, the lunarpunk frontier

Space has also become tied to lunarpunk expressions of a hopeful future. One series that I’ll talk more about in a future article that embodies this is the Earthseed duology by Octavia Butler. While the events of the books are terrestrial in nature, the main character is driven to help humanity reach the stars while not neglecting the planet we call home. Lunarpunk offers an alternative to the current thrust of private, corporate space exploration making space travel only for the rich and powerful to escape the planet they’ve ruined by ignoring the toll their activities exact from the natural world.

A proposed lunarpunk flag. A crescent moon in white overlays a black half circle moon silhouette which turns into a gear. These are overlayed on top of a purple (top-left) and black (bottom-right) flag, cut through on a 45 degree angle as many anarcho-fill-in-the-blank flags are.
A proposed lunarpunk flag

Upcoming lunarpunk projects

If you want more lunarpunk, there are two upcoming projects worth checking out. Submissions are open until March 14 for the lunarpunk-themed issue of Solarpunk Magazine, and until March 31 for Bioluminescent: A Lunarpunk Anthology. The Solarpunk Magazine submission window may tentatively reopen in May if they are still looking for submissions.

I’m really interested to see if there will be any stories that are both tidalpunk and lunarpunk, since the Moon’s influence on the tides makes me feel that there is a strong connection between the two subgenres.

Do you know of any other cool projects in the lunarpunk sphere right now? Let us know in the comments below, and have a great night!

Imagination

A black and orange floral background with the text, "From What if to What Next - A new podcast series with Rob Hopkins" it also includes a link to the series Patreon: www.patreon.com/fromwhatiftowhatnext

I’ve talked about how fiction can point the way to better futures, and one thing that really underlies fiction is imagination. As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” If we want to overcome the climate crisis we need to imagine a better future than our current cyberpunk dystopia. This is why I was so excited to find the From What If to What Next podcast by Rob Hopkins.

Hopkins and his guests take the listener on a journey to an imagined 2030 that has seen radical change for the better. Each episode focuses on a specific topic, like Universal Basic Income, and the show starts with the guests describing what a day-in-the-life in 2030 might be like.

It’s been said that people find it easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism, and that’s because imagination outside of how to make more money has been relegated to the realm of children. Having an active imagination is seen as a weakness for adults who shouldn’t have their “head in the clouds.”

An animated GIF of Spongebob Squarepants (an anthropomorphic yellow sponge) moving his hands in an arc to create a rainbow out of thin air (water?). His pupils expand as he says the word, "Imagination."
Spongebob exercising his imagination

We need to reinvigorate our collective imagination to move forward as a society. The challenges facing us are serious, but that’s all the more reason to stop taking ourselves so seriously. Imagination and play are pivotal to our survival as a species, and that’s something we often forget, particularly those of us with backgrounds in STEM. Artists are way ahead of us in this respect.

When I was in grad school, I remember a friend from Thailand telling us how the protests there were like big parties with music and dancing. I just didn’t get it. My understanding of a protest was a bunch of angry people waving signs and calling out demands on a megaphone.

Now though, I think protests parties seem more effective. Prefiguring a better world at a small scale, like Occupy Wall Street did, is like a kind of sympathetic magic to create a future worth running toward. From What If to What Next is a great way to start thinking about the possibilities in our solarpunk futures. As we’re still evaluating how things will be when we establish a “new normal” after the pandemic, I’m cautiously optimistic about how we might see a brighter tomorrow.

Do you have any favorite ways to let your imagination run wild? I’d love to hear what you do in the comments! I love going on walks to jump start my own imagination.