This week, I'm wrapping up my reviews for the stories in the anthology Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Dragon Anthology.
Did you see parts 1 and 2 of my Wings of Renewal solarpunk book review? You can click here and here to see my reviews of the first 15 stories.
I definitely have favorites, and I definitely have criticisms, but overall, this book has been an enjoyable read. With so few options out there for books and stories that identify as solarpunk, this is a good place to start, and to gather ideas for your own solarpunk stories.
Morelle and Vina by Sam Martin
A couple of kids find an old airplane in the off-limit ruins, and, through some salvage work and genetic engineering, build it into a living dragon. The imagery of this story is absolutely gorgeous: elevated bike paths made from sea shells and shaded by solar panels, a central vertical garden draped in greenery; streets designed with colorful mosaic tile. This is also the best example in the book of a co-operative, post-capitalist society. It seems like a lovely world to live in, but it doesn't feel like a static utopia—things are not perfect, and there are consequences for pushing boundaries the way our main characters do. Unfortunately, we never actually get to see those consequences, because the story ends so abruptly. It lacks resolution, ending right at the climax, and on quite a negative note. One of the key things people are looking for in solarpunk is optimism. Does that mean solarpunk stories have to have happy endings? If not happy, I think, then at least hopeful. This story, though it had many beautiful moments and ideas, ultimately left me on a sour and unsatisfied note.
Wings of the Guiding Suns by M. Pax
One of the few stories in this book told from the point of view of a dragon, this a galactic guardian sent to rescue the last remaining humans from Earth before the sun is destroyed—if only the humans will agree to be rescued. Overall, the writing is strong and the imagery is great. The premise is intriguing, though I think vastly oversimplified. Still, it's a nice tale of the complexity of human nature and perseverance against great odds.
Seven Years Among Dragons by Lyssa Chiavari
Mixing fantasy and science fiction can work, but the rules and limitations of the world need to be established and consistent. (Have you noticed my primary criticism of stories in this anthology is usually worldbuilding?) This one does not feel consistent at all. The sci-fi and solarpunk aspects seem tacked on to what would otherwise be a coherent fantasy story, and could be extracted and replaced with lower-level fantasy tech or magic—both of which already exist in this world, though there's little explanation for why one is used rather than another for any given reference. Still, there are a lot of things to like about this story. It's a unique twisting of Snow White. The writing is vivid and engaging, and the author has an excellent knack for tension and pacing. I would have liked this one a lot better just as a fantasy story. The solarpunk themes feel forced, and the technology is unexplored.
One Last Sweet by Claudie Arseneault
A sweet story (no pun intended) about a boy who wants to do something nice for a dying dragon that helped his village become self-sufficient. There's not a lot at stake, and there's a lot of "telling" exposition, but overall it's a nice story with interesting tech, likeable characters, and good disability representation. The final scene is vividly rendered and memorable.
Community Outreach with Reluctant Neighbors by Kat Lerner
If we accept solarpunk as an aesthetic or a mode rather than a genre (as I suggested in my Part 2 review), then this is a solid example of solarpunk fantasy. On the tech and setting level, it's light, but it's there. Two important scenes directly involve solar panels, and there are several mentions of algae lamps. But in terms of solarpunk themes—environmental balance, community and cooperation, accepting others, hope and optimism, etc.—it has those in droves. This is one of the better written stories in this anthology. A Leslie Knope-type community organizer makes it her personal mission to get the anti-social witch on the hill involved with community activities. It's a lovely story of mutual redemption, and really, the anthology is worth buying just for this story alone.
Wanderer's Dream by Maura Lydon
To be honest, I didn't entirely understand the plot of this story, but it has something to do with a couple of "Wanderers" (which seems akin to the aboriginal "walkabout") who help a dragon and a dragon-lady. The stakes are high—humans and dragons are not allowed any contact, on penalty of death—but seem arbitrary. The background and logic of this law are never explained or explored. Though, maybe that's part of the point. Maybe, like much paranormal romance, it's a metaphor for "forbidden" types of love (i.e. queer relationships or kink). I'm not sure. But while the plot didn't hold together for me, the characters and interpersonal relationships were well drawn and kept me engaged. This is another fantasy story with a solarpunk overlay, and while nothing is lost from that overlay, I don't think much is gained from it either.
The Last Guardians by J. Lee Ellorris
This is a wonderful story, and a perfect end to this anthology. I may have teared up a little bit... In a world where dragons have come to Earth to be caretakers and guide humans back to the right path, the last two guardian dragons have reached the end of their lives. But as her partner prepares for death, the last one seeks a miracle that will ensure they are not actually the last. As solarpunk continues to develop, I'd love to see it focus on how humans can save ourselves, without aliens or magic or divine intervention, but even though dragons save us in this story, the themes of environmental stewardship and cooperative responsibility are crystal clear. And if we must be saved, then I can think of no better saviors than gorgeous, kind, queer dragons. This is a world I would definitely love to live in.
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