“I believe solarpunk could be a valid and innovative theme in science fiction”

An Interview with Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro

Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro

A few days ago I sent an e-mail for a proposal of interview to Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro, a Brazil writer and editor who published Solarpunk: Histórias ecológicas e fantásticas em um mundo sustentável (Draco, 2012); he has been very patient to answer questions from an Italian perfect stranger. We managed to discuss his work for Draco Editora, solarpunk and Brazilian science-fiction.

— Luca Albani

Luca Albani: Four years ago, after two anthologies about Vaporpunk (2010) and Dieselpunk (2011), you decided to publish a sunny sci-fi anthology christening it not Greenpunk but Solarpunk. Why did you choose this name? We believe not for marketing purpose because your anthology has never been translated.

Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro: From the beginning, our proposal to Draco publishing house was to organize a “trianthology”, that is, a set of three books, a sort of trilogy of anthologies, inspired by the original concept of Steampunk: retrofuturism, early advent of scientific and technological advances in an Imperial, Victorianlike, Portuguese-speaking society, and so on.

It seems that Brazilian and Portuguese authors found it more difficult to write solarpunk than the typical space-opera kind of science fiction.

Thus, Vaporpunk was an anthology of Steampunk short fiction. “Vapor” means “steam” in Portuguese. Dieselpunk was an anthology of retrofuturistic short fiction in the beginning of the internal combustion engine age. And, finally, Solarpunk was an anthology of short fiction on self-sustaining energy sources, like solar, wind, nuclear fusion etc. Curiously, while the short stories and novelettes in both Vaporpunk and Dieselpunk were essentially alternate history short fiction, most of Solarpunk stories were straight science fiction. It seems that Lusophone (Brazilian + Portuguese) authors found it more difficult to write that kind of science fiction (on renewable energy sources and the like) than the typical space-opera kind of science fiction.

On why not Greenpunk? Well, we had really considered that title for a few seconds. However, in Portuguese (Verdepunk), it would not sound so good.

In this third anthology, we employed the solarpunk concept in a broad sense, for our short fiction does include other kinds of sustainable energy and not only solar energy. However, even living in these clean (pollution-free) futures, the characters of these solarpunk narratives face conflicts and the stories themselves still keep a fairly dose of drama, because, in truth, from the reader standpoint, aseptic utopias use to be dull.

LA: In Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF (2010), edited by Jetse de Vries, we can read 16 bright stories about future and a science-fiction Brazilian storyThe Greenman Watches the Black Bar Go Up, Up, Up by Jacques Barcia; he was one of your steampunk authors. Did de Vries anthology inspire you?

GL-R: In fact, it did not. We only heard of de Vries’s anthology months after publishing Solarpunk. In truth, by 2010 or 2011, we already saw the concept of Solarpunk as a natural extension of Steampunk and Dieselpunk.

LA: Do you believe solarpunk could be a worldwide genre? In these years YA dystopian novels have climbed up the charts revitalizing science-fiction but it seems readers have got enough gloomy skies to desire a brand-new way to imagine future… or solarpunk is just a fad? Were you satisfied with your solarpunk anthology reception?

GL-R: Yes, in that broad sense we talked above, I believe solarpunk could be a valid and innovative theme in science fiction, both in their literary and visual expressions. As a reader, I must confess I am fairly bored with all those same old dystopian plots dressed in their fake new clothes. I don’t think solarpunk is just a fad. Solarpunk narratives are important in themselves, because, at their best instances, they show to their readers that it’s not only possible, but also logical to conceive a civilization without pollution, waste and global warming. The challenge any solarpunk author must face is to write his/her narratives not in that didactical, silly Gernsbackian way, but as stories and novels whose plots incorporate those relevant ideas (clean, renewable energy sources, sustainability etc.) in an enjoying manner and as part of their contexts.

Writing about a future where people use sustainable energy sources sounds very plausible to me.

As a science fiction author, I usually try to create the most plausible future than I can conceive to the story or novel I am writing. Because writing about a future where people use sustainable energy sources sounds very plausible to me. After all, it’s very difficult to imagine the survival of humanity in the next one hundred years without shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, from consumerism to sustainability.

Unfortunately, Solarpunk anthology had received a poorer reception than both Vaporpunk and Dieselpunk. Perhaps, it had happened because Brazilian and Portuguese readership and critics would rather enjoy a narrative written in the alternate history subgenre than another one written as science fiction proper.

LA: M. Elizabeth Ginway wrote that “the [sci-fi] genre provides a barometer to measure attitudes towards technology, while at the same time reflecting the social implications of modernization in Brazilian society”. Is science-fiction in good health in Brazil now? Which new sci-fi Brazilian books can you recommend?

GL-R: Since 2009, we are living a small boom in the Brazilian fantastic literature. However, this boom doesn’t reflect itself much in the sales of science fiction books. On the other hand, fantasy and horror are in good health in Brazil. Today, these two genres sell much more books than science fiction. Brazilian science fiction had become a poor cousin of sorts of these two other genres of the fantastic literature. Even so, it seems easier to publish Brazilian science fiction today than it was in the past.

Speaking of science fiction proper, for those who read in Portuguese, I recommend Carlos Orsi’s Guerra Justa (Draco, 2012); Alexey Dodsworth’s Dezoito de Escorpião (Novo Século, 2014); and Flávio Medeiros’ Homens e Monstros: A Guerra Fria Vitoriana (Draco, 2013). And, of course, the trianthology Vaporpunk, Dieselpunk and Solarpunk.

LA: You are a well-known sci-fi writer yourself, one of the most active in Brazil, please tell us about your works and your role in Editora Draco. Can we read your stories in other languages than Brazilian? And do you plan to translate Solarpunk: Histórias ecológicas e fantásticas em um mundo sustentável to different languages?

GL-R: I had published five short fiction collections, one novella and four novels in Portuguese so far. The novels are Xochiquetzal: uma Princesa Asteca entre os Incas (2009), Aventuras do Vampiro de Palmares (2014), A Guardiã da Memória (2011) and Estranhos no Paraíso (2015). The first two novels belong to the alternate history subgenre. Besides, I had organized ten short fiction anthologies, seven of those were already published.

Although I don’t have books published in other languages yet, several of my short stories were published abroad. Among them, I will mention only the ones translated to English, although some of those were also published in French or Spanish: the alternate history novelettes “The Ethics of Treason” and “Patriotic Crimes”; science fiction novelettes “Secondary Mission” and “Long Journey Home”; alternate history short stories “Xochiquetzal” (Sidewise Awards finalist in 2001) and “Cousins from Overseas”, the science fiction story “Peak Time”.

As far as I know, Draco publishing house has no immediate plans to translate Solarpunk: Histórias ecológicas e fantásticas em um mundo sustentável to English or other foreign languages.