From Middle Earth to galaxies far far away, alternative worlds have always fascinated me. Not just the fun ways that a fantasy epic or superhero adventure can imagine a universe, but the methods those stories use to highlight injustices and defects in our real world. When writing The Great Weather Diviner, we gave a lot of thought to what our fantasy world could say about the real one.
As a child, I was really interested in steampunk culture, which takes our reliance on technology to an exaggerated level, especially in a retrofuturistic way, to show how gritty the world is when we become overly reliant. Robots are cool, don’t get me wrong. Out-of-time technology in Van Helsing or the Golden Compass or the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen made for fun movies. While they mesmerize, they also serve as cautionary tales. The effects of technology are often overlooked in favor of the action. While steampunk worlds often portray the pitfalls of unchecked industrialization, they also capture the wonder of human ingenuity and the allure of a past that never was. Those worlds are dark. When we let technology consume us and we lose sight of nature, it opens the possibility for a dangerous and ugly future. In The Great Weather Diviner, we used Punxsutawney to portray that message. Our fictionalized version of the town has become too reliant on coal-powered technology and it’s literally shrouded the sun and taken the sweetness out of food. We wanted to show the long-term impacts of closing our minds to the possibilities of clean energy and green technologies.
Emerging as a vibrant counterpoint to steampunk, solarpunk highlights the ways that we can integrate technology while respecting the environment. It aims to accentuate the beauty of nature without diminishing it. Solarpunk isn’t just about a brighter aesthetic; it’s a mindset. It calls for an equitable society where sustainability and innovation walk hand in hand. Its stories often emphasize community, inclusivity, and a symbiotic relationship with nature, which serves as a roadmap to a better future. The first time I stumbled upon solarpunk art—a sprawling city with green rooftops, solar panels, and streets bustling with community markets—I felt an inexplicable hope. This optimism bled into our writing, guiding the landscapes and ethos of The Great Weather Diviner. Unfortunately, solarpunk isn’t as prevalent in pop culture. Movies and books today get caught up in the fun and tension of a dark world and, in my view, have largely lost sight of the ways a brighter setting can inspire people. Standout examples like Black Panther (a combination of Afrofuturism and solarpunk) and Avatar the Last Airbender highlight how important it is to reimagine our world if we respect and protect nature. In Halidome, our solarpunk haven, spiraled towers reach towards the sky, drawing energy from the sun. Plants and tech intertwine, creating harmonious habitats where the hum of machinery and the whisper of the wind coexist. We depict it as a beautiful place where any reader would want to live.
Real World Implications
The Great Weather Diviner is a fantasy epic for a new generation of middle grade readers that carries a message about climate change. By showing contrasts between steampunk and solarpunk, we aimed to highlight the major costs of disrespecting nature and continuing on our current course of ignoring the dire threats of climate change. Obviously, these methods of creating fantasy worlds are not perfect mirrors. While it’s jarring to see our imaginary dark worlds eclipsed by real-world challenges, it also underscores the urgency of our time. But just as we can dream up dystopias, we can also envision and work towards brighter, solarpunk-inspired futures.
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