Eye on the Indies

Eye on the Indies

A Look at Indie Authors and Their Publishers

By Lanie Tankard, Indie Book Reviews Editor

Lanie Tankard

Book: Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation

Nashville, TN: Upper Rubber Boot Books. August 29, 2017. 253 pp., $13.99 paperback (ISBN: 9781937794750), $6.99 e-book (ISBN: 9781937794767).

Editors: Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland

The editors of Sunvault are both graduate students in Iowa State University’s MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment.

Phoebe Wagner earned her undergraduate degree in creative writing at Lycoming College (Williamsport, Pennsylvania). She writes fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Hearth Magazine, Rose Red Review, and The Allegheny Review.

Brontë Christopher Wieland graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in mathematics and linguistics. His fiction has appeared in Flash Fiction and Hypertext Magazine, and his poetry in FreezeRay. He has also written drama.

In a conversation with Chloe N. Clark for the fanzine Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together, Wagner and Wieland talk over the philosophy behind the solarpunk movement. Clark also interviewed Wieland for Pints and Cupcakes.

Michael J. DeLuca interviewed Wagner for Reckoning: An Annual Journal of Creative Writing on Environmental Justice, where she details the Kickstarter experience getting Sunvault off the ground and discusses how they created diversity in the submissions by seeking out marginalized groups.

Introduction: Andrew Dincher

Andrew Dincher holds an undergraduate degree from Lycoming College, with a double major in English literature and history. His Sunvault introductory essay on the origins of solarpunk also appeared in OBSOLETE! magazine #10 (February 2017). He is married to Phoebe Wagner.

Publisher: Upper Rubber Boot Books

What’s an upper rubber boot? It’s a high boot made of rubber—and slang for a remote location. Upper Rubber Boot (URB) in Nashville, Tennessee, “publishes literary and speculative poetry and fiction from (metaphorically) remote places in ebook and print format.”

Founded in 2011, URB is headed by Publisher Joanne Merriam, a poet and short-story writer originally from Nova Scotia. She graduated from Dalhousie University in Halifax with a degree in English and mathematics. She has been executive assistant at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia. Her debut poetry collection, The Glaze from Breaking, came out in 2005. Merriam is editor of How to Live on Other Planets: A Handbook for Aspiring Aliens and The Museum of All Things Awesome and That Go Boom, as well as co-editor of Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good.

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, URB’s acquisitions editor, is a lecturer in the Program for Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He earned an MFA from Southern Illinois University (Carbondale). McFadyen-Ketchum is a contributing editor for Southern Indiana Review. His first book of poetry, Ghost Gear, was a finalist for the 2015 Colorado Book Award, the 2014 Foreword Indie Award, and the 2014 Miller Williams Poetry Prize. He is founder and editor of Poem of the Week, begun in 2006. His writing has appeared in Glimmer Train, Southern Poetry Anthology, American Literary Review, storySouth, and Missouri Review, among others.

Sunvault’s cover art is by Likhain (Mia Sereno), an artist and writer from the Philippines who lives in the indigenous Gunaikurnai country of southeastern Australia. She was a finalist for Best Fan Artist in the 2017 Hugo Awards. URB Publisher Merriam designed the cover of Sunvault.

Upper Rubber Boot is currently closed to submissions of manuscripts and cover art. Merriam explained URB’s policy in an interview with Bill Kieffer for Underground Book Reviews: “We don’t have a standard open period that’s the same from year to year. We post calls for submissions for specific projects with deadlines clearly posted, and when I have space for a single-author title, I open up submissions and mention it on Facebook and usually have to close up again in a week or two. We promote calls for submissions on our website, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. I also make a point of promoting them to Facebook groups for calls for submissions instead of assuming people will see posts on my own page. Duotrope picks up our calls for submissions, too.”


Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.”
Ursula K. Le GuinThe Left Hand of Darkness

Many millennia ago, Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, “The sun is new each day.” A number of centuries later, Galileo Galilei combined scientific and literary language when he wrote: “The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” Were they solarpunks?

The #solarpunk movement has a hashtag on Twitter, communities on Reddit and Tumblr, a public group called Solarpunk (and others like Solarpunk Anarchists and Solarpunk Revolution) on Facebook, and a number of boards on Pinterest in areas such as fashion, green architecture, and DIY. Eco-fiction has also found its niche.

What is solarpunk? It’s neither cyberpunk nor steampunk, neither dystopia nor utopia. The word solar, of course, refers to the star around which Earth revolves, signifying something that operates using energy from the Sun. The word punk implies a culture that expresses opposition to authority through style or culture.

Yet when the two words are combined into solarpunk, a more positive framing of our environment’s fate emerges. The “eco-speculation” of Sunvault’s subtitle also combines two words: eco, a prefix stemming from ecology and referring to the environment, and speculation, denoting a conjecture—a “what if.” Climate change is a downbeat composition, and this movement seems to have arisen as an upbeat gesture within that melody.

Ursula K. Le Guin speculated in her introduction to the 1976 edition of The Left Hand of Darkness (published originally in 1969) that many people do not read science fiction because “it’s so depressing.” In a sense, then, solarpunk is a constructive reaction to that widely held belief. LeGuin also stated there: “Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.”

In the Sunvault collection of artwork, fiction, and poetry, we perceive darkness shifting to light. The fact of climate change is accepted. Solarpunk moves beyond the stasis to imagine new ways of being, different methods for slowing the planet’s alterations, and creative settings unaccented by hopelessness.

In Sara Norja’s poem “Harvesting the sun” (Part III of “Sunharvest Triptych”), she writes: “In the half-dark I harvest the sunlight lying in wait, after all, within me.” A.C. Wise catalogs past and present sunlight at the end of the world from around the planet—Svalbard, Prince Edward Island, Colorado, and Luang Prabang—through lovely prose in an exquisite short story. Clara Ng’s illustration “Hand Over the Future” shows a woman’s head arising from a bed of flowers as if it were a Garden of Eden, silhouetted against a circuit board. Drawing on Emily Dickinson, C. Samuel Rees constructs a tale called “Teratology” about researchers exploring adaptation in “accelerated evolution.” T.X. Watson spins a yarn titled “The Boston Hearth Project” via a fictional application essay describing collective action that employs augmented reality and drones to break into a building and repurpose it to house the homeless during polar vortices. Leigh Wallace takes an Art Deco approach in her drawing “Through the Glass,” depicting a woman gazing through a window at the sun as if inside a fancy biodome.

These few examples illustrate the wide variety of work compiled in Sunvault. Standing at the intersection of science and humanities, the book could rightfully be classified as Sci Hum—in the same way the merger of medicine and humanities produced a variety of programs termed Med Hum and Lit Med.

Who are Sunvault’s contributors? There’s a builder of open-source electronics, a neuroscientist, writers with MFAs, teachers, and poets, plus PhD students in comp lit, steampunk, and religious studies. You’ll come across programmers, translators, editors, and artists of all types—as well as students in environmental science and mechanical engineering, a wildlife conservation biologist, a zookeeper, and “a queer disabled mixed race Filipino-American.” A performance artist, a paramedic, musicians, scriptwriters, and lawyers. And not to forget: a linguaphile, a government privacy analyst, and a clinical psychologist.

These solarpunk eco-speculators inhabit the globe: Massachusetts, Switzerland, Brazil, Iowa, Texas, Canada, California, the Philippines, Australia, Virginia, Belize, Washington, Maryland, Finland, England, Trinidad, Tobago, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, India, Japan, Pennsylvania, South Africa, and Wisconsin.

Their names include Yilun Fan (translated by S. Qiouyi Lu), Lisa M. BradleyJosé M. JimenezBogi Takács, Iona SharmaCarlin ReynoldsBrandon O’Brien, Daniel José OlderSantiago Belluco, joel nathanael, Jack Pevyhouse, Sireesha ReddyTyler Young, Lev Mirov, Aleksei ValentínKaryn L. Stecyk, Christine MoleskiLavie Tidhar, Jaymee Goh, Brandon CrillyJess BarberNick Wood, Camille Meyers, Leigh WallaceBethany Powell, Nisi Shawl, and Maura Lydon.

In a 2014 post on Hieroglyph, a project of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, Adam Flynn set down a declaration of principles to create a solarpunk manifesto (which he fleshed out in an interview with Mary Woodbury on Eco-fiction.com). “We’re solarpunks because the only other options are denial or despair,” he wrote on Hieroglyph.

Sunvault is the first published collection of solarpunk images and words. This debut anthology thus lays out a set of conditions for the genre, defining its very nature through the atmosphere found within the book’s pages. Ursula K. Le Guin has written: “All fiction is metaphor. Science fiction is a metaphor. What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors….”

And that’s precisely what Sunvault is doing. Within the symbolic expressions of meaning found in the various stories and images and poems of this volume, a nouveau milieu emerges. The eco-speculation of solarpunk reflects the surrounding influences of our time. And as Kristine Ong Muslim writes in the short-story “Boltzmann Brain” in Sunvault: “Hope, hope is a good thing.”

Copyright 2017 Woven Tale Press LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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