Optopia Issue #1 (Fall 2019)

Page 1

a solarpunk zine

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR It’s hard to think about the future these days. It’s hard to feel hope. It’s hard to feel anything but despair. And when we do think about the future, it’s in terms of how we can stop this train from careening off a cliff, how we can limit the oncoming catastrophe. But in all this panic and grief there’s almost no room for dreaming – what could the future be if we didn’t see saving our environment as a gruelling task but an opportunity for innovation and change? What might a world look like in which we have not only diverted climate disaster but actually made the world more in harmony with nature than it ever was? Where do we go from here and how do we get there? People often think of the opposite of dystopia as utopia – but the word utopia, literally “not place,” is an unachievable dream, something that by definition can never exist. The true opposite of a dystopia is an OPTOPIA: the best possible place we can create given the circumstances. The optopia of climate change has a few names – solarpunk, ecotech, ecofuturism – and it’s both a beautiful dream and an achievable one. Optopia is the idea that an eco friendly future is not only necessary, but beautiful and exciting and rich with possibility. So much of climate change activism revolves around getting rid of things: less gas, less coal, less water, less plastic, less technology. But a solarpunk future is one that allows for more: more farms, more plants, more cities, more inventions. Instead of cutting down on technology, we create better technology. We have all the materials and technology necessary to create a solarpunk optopia and save our home planet – all we need to do is do it. This zine is a place where artists and thinkers share their dreams and inspirations for a solarpunk future, and where planners and doers can come to be inspired by those dreams and help make them a reality. It’s a place to spread the seeds of optopia and then carefully tend them as they sprout. It may be hard to think about the future – but it’s necessary to dream about it. -Rosie Albrecht



clean and green; eco-friendly bath additives for solarpunk spa days - milo rusnak


sol lucet omnibus aequalier -commando jugendstil collective


sunset city - justin herschel


renewable - gracie albrecht


future vision: abandoned malls as solarpunk housing - navarre bartz


the mall - irma


future fashion forward: a sustainable style shopping guide - rosie albrecht


the botanist - nik ivanov


celestial - rosie albrecht


responding to change -


solarpunk fashion - nik ivanov


thundering rain - maura lydon


in bloom - rosie albrecht


tree o’ clock - ngoc le


suplant - m. lopes de silva


column: what does a solarpunk community look like? - meira datiya

phoebe shalloway



ECO-FRIENDLY BATH ADDITIVES FOR SOLARPUNK SPA DAYS MILO RUSNAK After a stressful day, a hot bath is a great way to unwind. If you need a special treat, adding a bath bomb, bath salts, or bubble bath can make the bath even more relaxing. However, bath additives tend to come with a lot of plastic packaging. For people trying to reduce their waste or live a zero waste lifestyle, it may seem like there are no options for such a relaxing bath. However, there are numerous bath additives that produce little to no waste. As an added bonus, many of these additives have real health benefits and can be even more relaxing than their commercial counterparts. DIY BUBBLE BATH There are lots of bubble bath recipes, many involving vegetable glycerin. However, glycerin difficult to find without plastic packaging. Although the bubbles from natural recipes aren’t as strong as commercial bubble baths, they come without the sulfates and waste. Here’s one recipe from the blog Live Laugh Rowe: 1 cup baby oil 1/2 cup honey 1/2 cup hand soap or shampoo (preferably unscented) 1 tablespoon vanilla extract OATMEAL Oatmeal is incredibly beneficial for sensitive skin, especially for eczema. It helps calm redness as well as soothe and soften the skin. Be careful to put it in a pouch before adding it to the bath to prevent it from clogging up the drain. 3

green tea Green tea is lovely for toning, smells great, and is an antioxidant. Stick it in a strainer or pouch, add to the bath as it fills and let it steep. HONEY Honey helps moisturize dry skin, antibacterial, and antifungal. Simply add half a cup to your bath as it’s filling to enjoy the benefits. ESSENTIAL OILS Many people claim essential oils have medicinal benefit. Whether it is true or not, a pleasant scent can improve anyone’s bathing experience. Those with sensitive skin should be cautious and test oils on their skin first, but a few drops of lavender or peppermint can make for a relaxing or energizing bath, respectively. The glass oil bottles are also often recyclable. APPLE CIDER VINEGAR Although ACV isn’t the best smelling additive, it can help with urinary tract infections and yeast infections while restoring the PH balance of the skin. OTHER HERBS There are plenty of other herbs that can be added via a pouch or strainer. Some favorites include ginger (soreness and colds, great in winter), chamomile, and roses. It’s clear that you don’t have to give up your spa days to stay zero waste, and hopefully this inspires you to continue to enjoy relaxing baths with the addition of health benefits as opposed to chemicals added in! 4








Everyone knows the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Recycling tends to get a lot of press, and rightly so, as it’s a step in the right direction as far as a circular economy is concerned, but one underrated idea in the solarpunk community right now is architectural reuse. One idea worth considering is to repurpose abandoned malls as housing co-ops. While building high-density, plant-encrusted skyscrapers like those in Singapore is fantastic, it’s not a great allocation of resources in many places around the world. Large numbers of people do live in megacities that could benefit from these architectural wonders, but smaller towns and cities are full of interesting pieces of real estate that has been abandoned due to the vagaries of capitalism. Hayley Peterson, in “Dying Shopping Malls are Wreaking Havoc on Suburban America,” outlined the 25% of US shopping malls at risk of closing due to the increasing loss of large retail department stores. Dozens of malls have already closed their doors for good. As a co-housing or commune environment, malls offer an interesting opportunity. With hundreds of thousands of square feet available including kitchens and bathrooms, a small community could sprout up in a mall with little infrastructural investment. Rezoned as a mixed-use property, these mini-arcologies could have small stores on-site for groceries and hand-crafted items. The food court could become a communal kitchen and house restaurants run by the people living in the mall co-op. Residents could take food back to their quarters or meet up with their neighbors for a friendly meal.

The parking lots could be reclaimed as greenspace, leaving a small area for car-sharing vehicles and a transit stop. A community garden could spring up where there was once only asphalt. Depending on the local bike infrastructure, spur trails could be built from the mall to other interesting parts of town. Most malls have some natural lighting, so placing stained glass in some of the skylights would add to the solarpunk vibe. Given their size, malls have plenty of roof area to generate power for residents by adding solar panels and small wind turbines. With enough efficiency upgrades in the building, the mall co-op could sell excess power to the grid to make money for residents as a small-scale power plant. Some of the key upgrades to target would be a geothermal heat pump for HVAC and switching all the artificial lighting to LEDs. As a small step in this direction, a housing coop might buy and rezone one abandoned store in a mall for a pilot residence program. Existing mall businesses would benefit from the increased traffic of people living in the same structure, and this would be a much lower cost solution than buying an entire mall outright. Slowly, co-op-affiliated businesses and residences would grow up through the cracks left as the corporate giants leave the mall. Once critical mass is reached, the co-op could buy the building from the previous owners and complete the solarpunk transformation to a solar or wind powered mini-arcology. The death of the American mall may be one of the most promising opportunities we have toward the birth of bastions of solarpunk society.


THE MALL / IRMA flash fiction

We met at the mall in the afternoon. She wore her blue summer dress with the ladybird patches and the chainmail scarf made from fragile wooden cut-outs. Once I saw her, I felt both lighter and more grounded as if her presence anchored me. We sat on one of the more secluded benches that was engulfed by willow and oak trees on either side. The sky was dark but still lit the entire construction through the glass dome that stretched in octagon shapes far above us. It was a comforting place because we were so familiar with it. What makes home, are the stories that are hidden in the corners, the alleys, the shops, the toilets even. The more stories you have lived and collected at a certain place, the more it becomes home. It roots you to it and it to you. Most of our childhood was spent running through the long glass corridors that stand on long stilts and overlook the city. We had come up with adventures and games, often with other children, sometimes just the two of us. And as teenagers we had kissed here for the first time, while the rain drummed on the high ceiling and the sky was dark and wild. We sat on the bench that had been made by a group of children who had evidently had a lot of fun painting it with multiple patterns and adding decorative bits and bobs. This part of the mall was very quiet. The only sound was the printing machine, it’s voice dull and soothing in the distance. Our community had figured out that if people only printed the books they wanted, there would be much less surplus than if a specific number of copies was printed and then displayed in the library for people to take or borrow. The library still held a rich stock of diverse literature, zines and pamphlets, scrolls and papers but didn’t overflow with material anymore. Growing up, we had strolled the stalls and workshops and we had joined and co-founded many collectives and classes. In the evening we often ate at one of the people’s kitchens in the mall or down in the city, and sometimes she cooked her grandfather’s shepherd’s pie for everyone. Combined with whatever ale or stout the brewery had come up with this week, it was the stuff of legends. Sliding down one of the big glass slides into the city from the mall was a lot less enjoyable with 9

a full stomach and while being slightly tipsy, but we were normally too proud to use the lifts. Lately she had gotten into sewing clothes and joined one of the sewing collectives on the second floor. She was there most days and would have gone on Tuesday (which was our calm-day) if I hadn’t persuaded her to stay home with the promise of a foot massage. We sat in silence for a while. I started picking berries from the bush closest to me. “Would you go away with me?” she asked suddenly. “Sure,” I said. “No, I’m serious. Would you?” I looked up at her. Her deep brown eyes were piercing. Hopeful. And a little afraid. “I would have to...I mean I couldn’t...there’s...” I stammered. “Not forever” she said quickly, “just long enough to get a taste of other cultures and languages and to learn new skills and meet new people. We could take a solarbike or go by train.” I imagined leaving my home. Then I imagined returning after having been away. “We’d need to find someone to look after the plants while were gone.” I said. “Does that mean you’re in?” I hesitated for a breath. Then I smiled.



A SUSTAINABLE STYLE SHOPPING GUIDE ROSIE ALBRECHT Fast fashion is notorious for being one of the most environmentallly harmful industries on the planet, pumping out a continous stream of clothing made from plastic-based textiles, only to toss them in the landfill as soon as the newest trends roll around. So what does fashion look like in a solarpunk world? Solarpunk clothing is sewn from sustainably sourced, natural materials, produced and distributed in small batches and with minimal waste, and made to last. These fashion lines are working hard to make that fashionable world a reality.

SOFT HAUS A colorful line of quirky and delightful knitwear, all sourced from sustainably farmed alpaca wool and Pima cotton. In addition to being eco-friendly, Soft Haus is commited to partnering with female artisans from all across South America.

GAIA This line features a gorgeous assortment of bohemian handbags, accessories, and home goods. GAIA uses both sustainably sourced and recycled materials. But here’s what makes Gaia really special: all of thier pieces are crafted by female refugees in Dallas, Texas, and the brand’s mission is to help these women successfully move forward into empowering careers.

GORMAN The boldest prints in the brightest colors – all printed on Global Organic Textile Standard certified cotton, recycled polyester, and other recyled fibers. A lot of ecologically sustainable fashion can look a bit like a burlap sac, and Gorman is the perfect, pigmented antithesis to the beige wave of eco-fashion. 80% of their stock is sea-freighted, to reduce emissions from air freighting, and even their storefront is outfitted with sustainably sourced or recycled fixtures.


REFORMATION The perfect shop for the most glamourous eco-warriors out there, Reformation carries stylish, sophistocated, sustainable fashion. Reformation’s factory building is designed with a green infrastructure, getting 100% of their electricity from wind energy and using only low-power appliances. They currently recyle 75% of all of their waste (their goal is to reach 85%), purchase all of their textiles from heavily-screened local sources, and package their products in plastic-free, compostable bags. Even the paper in their offices is 100% recycled. And how do we know all of this? Reformation makes a point to release a regular detailed report on their sustainability practices – the sort of transparency you’d never see from an environmentally irresponsible company.

VEJA Never fear, sneaker fans – you don’t have to give up your kicks to save the environment. Veja, the super cool eco-friendly French sneaker brand, has you covered. Made with cotton sourced from farmer’s associations in Brazil, rubber farmed by local communities in the Amazon who are fighting to save their forests, and leather tanned without the toxic chemicals that usually go into leather-making. The company is also committed to transparency and releases regular reports on their environmental impact. The sneaker designs, which come in both adult and child sizes, range from old-school to sleek and modern – and they’re made to last.

BROTHER VELLIES Inspired by African footwear and textiles, Brother Vellies shoes are gorgeous, unique, and built to last. Every step of the process – from the farming of materials to the creation of textiles to the assembly of the shoes – is done by African artisans, all of whom are paid a living wage. As one of the >0.5% of US companies with female African-American CEOs, Brother Vellies is committed to minimizing their environmental footstep, employing women and LGBT+ workers, and preserving the traditional crafts and practices of Africa.

TITANIA INGLIS These edgy, dark designs are an eco-goth’s dream come true. Titania Inglis is a designer committed to minimalism in both design and environmental impact. Her pieces are crafted in small batches using low-impact materials like sustainable cotton, deadstock wool and vegetable-tanned leather. They’re designed to be staples that the wearer can use for years to come – and they’re constructed well enough to actually last that long. Her pieces are a bit pricey, but unlike anything you can find anywhere else.






excerpt from “even in arcadia: a situationist game about representations of nature / phoebe shalloway “even in arcadia” is an experiential narrative game set in a sci-fi botanical garden by phoebe shalloway. download the game or learn more about it at: https://girldebord.itch.io/arcadia

Towards the beginning of my work on my senior project, two images compelled me to focus my attention on issues of the Anthropocene. The first image was that of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a colossal accumulation of plastic bags and plastic bottles and little broken-down bits of plastic too small to see, all trapped and swirling in the North Pacific Gyre. Because the smallest pieces of plastic are invisible in satellite images, the precise extent of the Garbage Patch is unknown, though according to a recent study it is over 600,000 miles, or three times the size of France. The landfill, that most distasteful of all human-made geological formations, has colonized our ocean’s ecosystems. Microplastics are swallowed by fish and travel up the food chain, settling in our air, water, and bodies. It is beyond our ability to clean up and it will never decompose. The Garbage Patch will circle the Pacific forever, unless… The second image was that of plastic-eating bacteria evolving amidst the chaotic geologies of our endless waste. A friend sent me an article that claimed such a miracle was discovered in a landfill in Japan. I imagined the tiny mutants swarming over the plastic, chowing down on chemicals that scientists have always claimed to be indestructible by natural forces. The Romantics pointed out the sublime in the myth of untouched wilderness, but it appears even more powerfully in those landscapes that we have touched and changed. We trash the world and it spits out something with the potential to save us. I saw these bacteria as the twenty-first-century sublime. 15

Sublime, and strange. Objects that humans no longer want or need are designated as garbage and thrown away; this is familiar. Some of this garbage ends up in ‘nature,’ on the side of the road, in the woods, in the water; this is familiar. But that hundreds of thousands of miles of garbage have amassed in the center of the Pacific Ocean—so much garbage that new lifeforms are evolving to exploit it for their survival—these are unfathomably strange happenings. Sociologist C. W. Mills describes his discipline as a lens to “make the familiar strange.” Human societies are full of problems: they are hierarchical, cruel, unequal, short-sighted, wasteful; and perhaps their most insidious aspect is that they hide their own insufficiencies from their inhabitants, disguising what they really are by presenting an image of themselves as good and even natural. Many things that we take for granted as part of our everyday lives are in fact profoundly destructive social constructions: gender, race, capital, garbage, roads… We fail to notice their strangeness because society privileges a way of seeing that presents them as the unquestionable rules of life, and so we internalize them as such. A society’s rules and ways of seeing reinforce one another, thereby locking themselves in place and rendering invisible the fact that they are socially constructed. This is true today under capitalism; this may also be the fate of any system of social organization, in which case resisting this process will never stop being necessary. Until we discover a way of seeing that allows us to notice the strangeness of our society’s rules, we will not question their place in our everyday lives. But, hopefully, once we recognize them as strange, we will also begin to relegate them to the unfamiliar. In Made to Break, Giles Slade muses on the relationship between humanity’s legacy and its production of garbage in the Anthropocene: “It occurred to me that while the ancient Egyptians built great monuments to endure for countless generations, just about everything we produce in America is made to break. If human history reserves a privileged place for the Egyptians because of their rich conception of the afterlife, what place will it reserve for people who, in their seeming worship of convenience and greed, left behind mountains of electronic debris? What can be said of a culture whose legacies to the future are mounds of hazardous materials and a poisoned water supply? Will America’s pyramids be pyramids of waste?” If we imagine our own evolutionary trajectory as a straight line towards teleological perfection, we imagine that ‘nature,’ as captured in Romantic poetry and American landscape paintings, has already reached that state of perfection. But 16

this is another myth. ‘Nature’ is all the time evolving, both on its own and in response to human activities. It will continue to create solutions to the problems we make, even if those solutions involve wiping us out. The myth of a perfect ‘natural’ state continues to appear in contemporary media. Hayao Miyazaki’s film Nausicaä of the Wind depicts Earth as a ruined wasteland in which an ever-growing toxic jungle threatens the last surviving remnants of humanity. Over the course of the film we discover that this jungle, whose deadly spores have driven humanity close to extinction, actually evolved to purify the Earth after humans polluted and incinerated it. We see caverns below the toxic jungle where, having nullified the poisons from the Earth above, its petrified trees crumble into sand. The film’s final shot shows a single sprout with green leaves emerging from this purified ground. This ending particularly irks me because the film comes so close to getting it right. As we learn about the toxic jungle we come to marvel at the beauty of an ecosystem that at first seemed fearsome and repulsive. But the final shot undoes this work, claiming that the jungle is not beautiful in its own right: after purifying the Earth, it is fated to fade away, making way for that image of ‘pristine nature’ that was cultivated by the Romantics and the early American landscape painters, an environment innocuous to humans, so that we can once again inherit the Earth. But this is an injustice to the toxic jungle and a misrepresentation of evolving systems. Miyazaki’s toxic jungle would not do the work of purifying the Earth only to recreate a paradise for the humans who polluted it, and after we ruin the world, it won’t grow backwards towards some Biblical state. Permanence is a human-constructed myth: cities, monuments, and feats of infrastructure are built with the presumption that they will stand forever, that future


travelers will “look on [them] and despair.” Humanity’s inability to look to the future and see how the world will change and how our current actions will stand the test of time is part of what has allowed the environmental crisis to get as far as it has. Life is just trying to survive. The world will change and evolve to accommodate our effects, but it will do this work for its own benefit, not ours, and we must evolve as well, to coexist with this new world. Climate change on a catastrophic, global scale is inevitable now. What Naomi Klein terms ‘disaster capitalism’ has moved well past its tipping point. Its effects will define my generation. How will we respond? We must not respond by maintaining our faith in the teleological straight line of progress, in the Promethean assurance that everything will be fixed by some new technological innovation (Elon Musk won’t save the world). Likewise, we must not respond by turning to a romanticized image of ‘pristine nature’. That image was a construct in the first place and changes to ‘nature’ cannot be stopped. We must observe how the world around us reacts. Like the plastic-eating bacteria, we must look for new and unexpected ways to interact with our environment that will ensure our mutual survival. A role of artists in our time can be to prepare society for a positive response to the coming changes. We can make strange our world and behaviors so that we might break out of society’s rules and develop new ones. If the bacteria can do it, we can do it, too.


solarpunk fashion / nik ivanov




The boy’s black leather jacket smelled like rot and grease and rain when he shoved her. It shocked her every time, how thin the line was between stillness and violence. Kanta tried to catch herself before she fell, only to have her feet tangled by angry steel-toed boots. She rolled away from the first few kicks, back on her feet with the quickness of prey. But it was too late to run. It had been too late to run from the moment they’d seen her. Kanta turned to stare at the gaggle of boys, feeling her heart’s heat spread, feeling the scrapes along her palms well with blood. “You’re not a girl,” one of them said, and the words hit harder than any punch. “Just leave me alone.” Kanta backed up another few steps while the gang tried to edge around her flanks. “Freak.” The word came with another shove, and Kanta felt something hot uncurl in her chest, just short of painful. “Please, please leave me alone.” They only laughed. Kanta couldn’t tell if she was more afraid of them or the fire burning behind her ribs. “You want us to cut your hair for you, fag?” one boy hissed in her direction. Kanta felt her back hit an unfriendly wall, cold and rough. She glanced away, to see where she’d ended up, and one of them darted forward. Kanta saw his fists coming, and she let herself fall to avoid them. Instead, he hit the stone behind her, and he screamed. Fear and anger and desperation burned through her mind like fire through kindling, and as she flung herself into the midst of the pack, she felt her blood ignite. It burned her hands, red-hot and beautiful. Her flaming fist caught the second boy in the chest, and the air left his lungs with a smell like a despoiled corn crib. His shirt––a thin, elastic thing––blazed with the stink of burning plastic. He screamed soundlessly, twisting as if he could get away from the fire suddenly licking at his chest. 21

Kanta felt heavy arms wrap around her and stifled the impulse to cough as a wave of purely human stink rolled over her. She set her bloody, burning hands to the ones wrapped around her, clinging against the flames that curled around the edges of her eyes, that had her jacket smoking before her captor realized what was happening and let her go. This time, she could not avoid the punches of the boy who’d thought to hit her while she was pinned. His fists slammed into her stomach, one-two, hard enough to force her back and to her knees. Forgetting the fire, Kanta curled into herself, gagging, as his matte-black boot caught her face, smearing tarry rock into her cheeks. She fell onto her back, her mouth full of blood that burned. Her face, full of broken skin and sticky tar, burned with a brighter, blue heat that dried her tears before they fell. Barely able to see past the flames around her eyes, Kanta spat fire and looked up. They were all still there, hanging back in a circle about ten feet away. “Witch.” One of them spat the word out like a missile, and Kanta flinched from it. “I’m calling Orion,” another said, and ran. The others followed quickly, even as Kanta stumbled to her feet. “No!” She tried to yell and ended up with a whisper. “Don’t.” The Orion Organization would bring witch hunters, and if the hunters caught her there would be no option to go live in India with her grandparents. If the witch hunters caught her, there would be no living at all. For a long moment there was only the sound of the rain and the rasp of her bruised lungs. And then Kanta started to run. She gasped to a stop outside an old apartment complex. The building had clearly seen better days––the windows, where they were not held up by sheets of plywood, stared mournfully out over the street, and the front door had left a small carpet of splinters across the welcome mat. Kanta huddled in the recessed doorway, splinters and all, staring as if she would be able to get away if she just saw the hunters coming soon enough. The door behind her, both unchained and unlocked, creaked open several inches when Kanta pressed her shoulder up against it. Her magic flared with shock, a flash of flames around her hands and face. Kanta curled in tight around herself, eyes squeezed shut against the brightness. Even when she’d wrestled her fire back under control her clothes steamed. A new wave of thundering rain splashed into the door-


way, and Kanta flinched from the water. Slowly, she opened the door a little wider and let warm air come spilling out. It was dark inside, but it was a soft, red darkness that glinted with unpredictable bursts of brightness where infrared bulbs winked from behind leaves. Somewhere in the space under the stairs, hidden behind a bush at least six feet tall, Kanta heard someone singing. She paused with one hand against a raised bed full of bristling squash leaves, feeling the wood through cauterized blood and broken skin. Whatever the song was, it matched the heavy, quick pace of the sheeting rain outside, full of dark notes that made the throat hum. Crouched next to the door, one hand still resting on the squash bed, Kanta felt her heartbeat settle into the song’s steady rhythm. The person behind the bush appeared, carrying something in a broken basket of cane and still singing her sleepy, rainy song. Kanta should have run then, back out into the cold and the rain and the witch hunters. But she stayed frozen, wanting to be still just a little while longer. The singer didn’t stop to look in her direction, retreating to a sunshine room with a broken basket full of mushrooms. This was by far the very strangest building Kanta had ever set foot in, and that wasn’t counting the pentacle that was painted over 1C with something that gave off a blue glow. She should leave. It was no safer in here than it was on the street, and if Orion was coming...if Orion was coming, it wouldn’t matter how far she ran through the rain. Anxiety wrapped around her ribs tighter than her sari ever had, and without thinking, Kanta shut the door behind her. It was stupid to think that made her safer, but she did it anyway. Instead of leaving, she crept to the edge of the stairs and peered upward to watch the grape vine give way to a kiwi plant covered with pale flowers that had turned bloody in the lamp-light. The second floor garden was full of smaller plants, things like soft-footed sage and thin-leafed cilantro. Kanta let her burnt fingers trail over their edges, jealous of every scent she brought to her fingertips. Her mother was a devout gardener, full of the secrets of plants and their roots. Despite the terms on which they had parted, Kanta missed her with all the ferocity of a trapped fox; gnawing off her own foot for freedom, yet unable to think of anything but how wonderful it was to be whole. On the third floor, plants had entirely replaced the tile. Tiny leaves with daisy-like flowers nodded in the dark lights of the hall. Inside the patched-together beds, long bunches of young wheat whispered together, adolescents let loose without


supervision. The door to 3B was open just a crack, and Kanta could hear the rain outside. The softness of the path-maker daisies made it a little less painful to walk on her bruised bones. While she crept over to the last flight of stairs, she watched the cracked door with all the attention of a hunting bird. She had just put her feet onto the third step above the tiny daises when a voice rang out from the open apartment door, louder than the rain and shocking in its brightness. “You might not want to go up there. That’s the guest floor, and none of the rooms are empty.” Kanta froze, her heart suddenly thundering in her ears. Magic sparked under her skin, pricking along her arms and sending renewed waves of steam spiraling up from her soaked clothes. No one emerged from the apartment, but she didn’t dare move while her insides were writhing. She stayed very still, wrestling the heat that crept up the back of her throat. Eventually, the anxiety subsided, and Kanta took another few moments to sit on the stairs, breathing hard, staring the door like it was going to swing wide and bite her. When the silence continued, growing louder and louder as the rain pattered away into a lull, she returned to the plant-covered pathways and stood just outside the door, not brave enough to knock. “It’s not that our ghosts are particularly rude. But they’re not a very friendly bunch when the storms are out.” As if to punctuate the words, a silent flash of lightning shocked the garden room white for half a second. The speaker left space for the thunder to roll before they continued, “However, if you would like to come in, I promise not to bite.” Kanta let the silence grow up again in her hesitation, not sure what she was supposed to make of the offer. Of any of this, really. Who grew wheat in the atrium of an apartment building, and invited ghosts to live in the fourth-floor apartments? What kind of people painted glowing pentacles on their doors, or let kiwi vines grow up their staircases? So she pushed the door open and entered, if only to prove to herself that there was nothing to be afraid of. At first, the room did not exactly reassure her. Charms made from broken concrete and chips of colored plastic hung in the window, while a cone of thick incense smoldered in a beautiful, liquid-looking dish. Purple, knotted tapestries tangled arms and wings and legs of strange, elongated beasts, overlapping in some places and leav-


ing large undecorated patches in others. The only light in the apartment came from the window, leaving much of the room in shadow. Directly underneath the grey light was a table that might have made its home in a more ordinary room. There was nothing peculiar about its scratches or chairs, except for the person seated at it. Two mugs large enough to double as bowls had been set out at opposite ends of a large green teapot, and a man––at least she thought he was a man––was holding out a hand to indicate the empty chair. Kanta shifted her weight from foot to foot, but after another endless hesitation she decided that she’d already come in, so she might as well sit. “What is this place?” she asked, watching a wisp of steam curl languidly from the spout of the teapot. “This is Redwood,” the blind man said. Kanta tried not to stare at the wide white scars that ran down his face, or the scar-smooth skin across his eyes. Something about the deeply unsettling face fit with the rest of the apartment; the incense sinking claws into the back of her nose and the unforgiving snarls of the knotted creatures on the walls. “If you ask nicely, you might even hear Her say how pleased She is to meet you.” Kanta wrapped arms around herself, not because she was cold but because the strangeness of the building, so comforting in the red dark of the hallway, had turned ominous. “I don’t know why she would be,” she said. “No one else ever is.” “What a shame.” Her host reached unerringly for the teapot, but felt the edges of the cup carefully before pouring. “My name is Dusan Cech. What’s yours?” “I––I don’t have a name,” Kanta whispered. Her birth name did not belong to her anymore; it was one of the things she had promised herself after she ran away. But this man was certainly a witch, and it wasn’t safe to tell witches your name. “I have to go.” “Wait.” Dusan put out one of his dark, scarred hands as she stood. Somehow, he knew where to reach to grab onto her wrist. “Why did you open our door, child?” “I just snuck in to get out of the rain,” she protested, but quietly, her unease making the tips of her fingers glow bright with flame. “I can’t...they’ll be coming, I have to run, I have to––” “No one’s chasing you. Not today.” Dusan clicked his tongue against his teeth and


took a sip of tea. “I don’t see much anymore, but I saw that.” He spoke as quietly as Kanta had, a soft tone that matched the dim light of the window, the smoky stillness of the room. “Please, sit.” “You’re a witch.” Somehow, saying it out loud made it more dangerous. More real. Dusan smiled a twisted smile and nodded. Kanta sank back into her chair. When she touched the cup its glazing cracked with a thin, tired sound like electric rain. “I am a seer, ironically,” he said, waving a hand up to the blank, ruined place where his eyes should have been. Kanta’s stomach twisted in horror and sympathy. “In the old days, I used to see vast things, years and years of memories I hadn’t yet experienced. Now,” Dusan tilted one hand back and forth in front of him. “I sometimes get an hour’s warning if it’s going to rain.” “How did you know I was out there? On the stairs?” Dusan turned his face away, running his fingers idly across the table and the teapot. “When she lit the open fire, the hearth tried to swallow her whole. It was raining when she screamed, and she needed help controlling her flames.” There were plenty of things in that sentence that Kanta could have questioned, but there was only one that mattered. “She?” “You are a girl, aren’t you?” “I––yes.” It was the other thing she’d promised herself the day she ran away. “I also heard you on the stairs.” Dusan smiled again. “But I did see someone ask for my help in the rain. This rain. If there was anyone chasing you, I would have seen it.” Kanta had no reason to believe him. This witch was strange, and dangerous, and she had only known him for about five minutes. But not believing him meant going back out to die in the rain, and she couldn’t bear that either. So she reached again for the teacup, and she told the witch her name. “I’m Kanta. Kanta Singh.” The words tasted strange on her tongue, and Kanta took a gulp of tea to replace them. Dusan only nodded thoughtfully, his face turned as if to look out the window. “There are twelve of us living here right now.” “What’s that got to do with anything?” Kanta wrapped her burned hands around


the mug, still waiting to hear sirens from the street outside. Fear didn’t go away just because her brain told it to. She had decided to trust the witch because if he was wrong she was dead anyway, but she still didn’t know what she would do if he was right. If there was no one chasing her, then what did it matter that she listened for sirens? “You would be the thirteenth. A number for change, new beginnings. And upheavals.” “I don’t understand. You’re offering me a place to stay?” Kanta angled her whole body towards the door. “I’m not looking for any more change in my life, thanks.” “Tell me you wandered in here without feeling lost, and alone, and wounded by the magic inside you. Tell me that you have a home to get to, and your parents will be worried. Tell me that, like a lost child from a fairy tale, you have only come in to get out of the rain.” “I can’t,” she whispered, staring at the blank, scarred eyes of the seer. He smiled again, and it was not a tender expression. “Then come with me.” Dusan stood, not slowly but with great care, and picked up a polished wooden walking stick from its place against the wall. Whatever had taken the seer’s eyes had taken his speed as well, leaving a heavy limp in Dusan’s walk towards the apartment door. After a long moment Kanta followed, leaving her tea steaming in the hushed air of the apartment. Back down the stairs she went, through the young wheat and the oregano plants and then the strawberry leaves. Dusan moved gracefully through the living hallways, only occasionally bumping into a garden bed with his cane. On the second floor, all three apartment doors stood open. The entrance to 2A was blocked by a beaded curtain of wood and backlit by flickering candlelight. Two small glass lanterns hung just inside the door to 2B, both of them lit with some kind of candle that burned blue instead of yellow. From inside 2C Kanta could hear the restless, irritable hum of computer fans and noisy screensavers. Dusan took them down to the first floor, back down into the bushes and the sprawling squash plants. The seer opened the door to apartment 1A without knocking. A bright, almost sunrise light poured out with a chorus of welcomes; Kanta stopped just outside to see what kind of impossible room this one would be.


It was the warmth she noticed first. Beyond the banked glow of the hearth-fire and the sheer number of people pressed into the room, there was a blistering heat that drew up the fire in her chest. Pulled at her, magic to magic. The walls were covered in paintings made of glass––Kanta couldn’t describe them any other way. There were seamless horses, long-limbed dancers, firebirds with wings that dripped red glass like molten blood. At the back of the room was a hallway blocked by a witch with a crown of feathers nestled in her hair, speaking avidly with her nearest neighbor. All twelve Redwood inhabitants were crowded into this living room. Four had taken seats on a couch clearly built for two, though none of them looked crowded or uncomfortable. In one corner, a witch sat in a wheelchair so close to her neighbor that their shoulders pressed together. And they were all witches: she saw one lady with seashells around her wrists, and a man with glasses so round and thick they might have come from the bottoms of old soda bottles. She saw someone with a lizard sleeping on their shoulder, and someone with improbable flowers pouring out of the pockets of their apron. After a moment they saw her in the doorway, and the heavy, honey conversation was replaced with an electrified silence that made the hair along her arms prickle uncomfortably. She almost left then. The door pulled her away from these strange people and this inexplicable building. “Sorry to interrupt the party,” Dusan said loudly into the silence. He turned slowly from the middle of the room, like he was looking at each of the witches in turn. “But I would like you all to meet Kanta Singh. She only came in to get out of the rain.” A murmur of laughter rippled through the room, and Kanta wrapped her arms around her ribs like that could protect her. The woman she’d first seen, the one who had been picking mushrooms to a growling rain-song, stepped forward. “Nice to meet you, Kanta,” she said, holding out one wide, callused hand. “My name is Selenium.” Kanta stood still, while the room full of witches whispered to each other. Their words were as distant as clouds; as impossible to decipher as the language of the rain outside. “What do you want with me?” she asked at last, unable to take the witch’s hand. “Why am I here?” “It’s quite a long story,” the lady in the wheelchair said. Her voice was old and half broken, a beautiful instrument left to crack in the rain. “Which is why Dusan didn’t tell you, I’m sure.” The dryness in her speech plucked at Kanta’s nerves; too much like the tone her father would take when he was at his most fearsome. But it drew



only a laugh from the rest of the room, and Kanta’s missed heart-beat was overlooked. “In short, we are all here because no one else wanted us.” “This is Redwood,” Selenium agreed. “A home for lost witches and broken warriors.” She turned her palm up between them, and after a moment, fire flickered between her fingers. It spun up out of thin air like cotton candy, changing one reality to another. Empty space to fire, like there had never been anything in between. “If you are here, it is because you were meant to be. We are witches darling. And so are you.” “No.” Kanta’s rejection was automatic, instinctual. To be a witch was to be hunted, hated, shunned. She was a lot of things, but not a witch. “No, I’m not one of you.” “Oh, poppy girl.” The lady with flowers in her apron pulled a perfect chrysanthemum from one pocket, offered it to Kanta. “We know what magic looks like when it comes in out of the rain.” “I’m not––I’m not––” Kanta doubled over as the fire raged inside of her. Her mother’s whip-sharp words lashed into her mind. You are not a girl, you are not a witch. You are my son and it is your duty to do as your father and I say. To deny one was to deny the other, and she wanted to. She wanted to be safe, and normal, and to walk down the street without getting into fights. “I want to offer you a place here,” Dusan spoke very quietly from the middle of the room. Kanta, shivering with the effort it took to stop her face and hands from bursting into flames, didn’t look at him. “We could keep you safe, and teach you magic, and we would remember your name. Here you can grow into the person you should have been from the beginning.” These people didn’t know her, they hadn’t seen her blood on fire. She was monstrous twice over. But so were they. Kanta looked again at the fire in Selenium’s hand. That was what had pulled her forward; that fire rang through the glass on the walls like wind through a chime. It was dangerous, and beautiful, and impossible. She wanted that too. She couldn’t have one without the other. Magic, her real name, her real self. They were all tied up together. “I can’t stay.” She couldn’t stay in a place she had just met. “Tell me you would rather be alone with the rain, and you’ll be free to leave,” Selenium said.


Kanta’s mouth was very dry. She could hear the rain still thundering outside, waiting to swallow her up. The coven witches watched her silently, leaving the last words for her. “I––can I... I think I’ll stay. Just for a little while. Just until the rain stops.” She took Selenium’s hand, and before skin touched skin she knew the fire wouldn’t burn.





There was one glorious night of revelry in the Dirts before the munnies found out and started punishing us for it. They hate seeing us have fun. It probably ate them alive to watch our LEDs flashing and hear the music and not be a part of it. Oh, they didn’t give the party as a reason – it was our fault that we were suddenly suffering, somehow. They always say that, the way a bully will say “You made me do this” before they tear somebody up. Only a coward says someone else made them hurt you. It was the familiar torture, only amped up: the long hours spent working for them to earn munny for their food/medicine got longer, and the prices of food/medicine rose with every bum munny we made. When I was a scruffy brat my Gramgrans told a story about how people used to charge you munny for electrical power every month. But now they couldn’t charge for power because solar cells were everywhere: studding not only roofs but our clothing and hats and desert stones. The pinch got harder, so hard that people stopped being able to show up to work, but the munnies didn’t stop or seem to care. That got to me. Normally I try to keep my chin tucked, but this time, things seemed to be worse than usual – or maybe things were just the same as they always were, but I was finally done with tucking. Either way, I got a few of my friends from the biofarm to come along and go set things right with the management. “I take it the meeting did not go well,” she said from the opposite side of the detention cell. She lay on her side, using her right arm as a pillow. “You could say that,” I replied. I squinted through my swollen right eye at the long, dirty coat she had on – the kind of thing munny healers wore. “You a healer?” I asked. She laughed. “If you’re asking if I can help you out with your eye – no. If you’re


asking if I’m a munny, no – I never made enough munny to become one of them. They don’t let you live in the nice dwells at my paygrade. And I’m not a healer, either.” “Well what are you, then? I told you everything there is to know about me.” “I’m flattered.” I got hot and scratched the back of my neck, where the nape is shaved close and new hair is always driving me crazy. She sighed and sat up on her steel cot. “I am – or was – a researcher for Medsmedsmeds.” “But you’re not anymore,” I said, trying to catch her meaning. She spread her hands wide. “Do you see me researching anything?” “Got it – I’ll shut up.” “Ah!” she spat in disgust, “Look at me making friends. I’m sorry – what was your name again? I’ve just had a very long, very bad day.” “I’m Cay,” I said. “Delphia,” she nodded. “You must’ve done something real bad,” I mused, “the munnies wouldn’t throw somebody like you in here unless you got in their way.” She snorted. “You’re halfway right.” “Did you steal from them?” I wondered aloud. She laughed – a short, bitter sound. “They stole from me.” “What do you mean?” Delphia leaned forward on her cot, her brows furrowing. “What do the munnies love more than anything?” “Munny,” I said: easy.


“Right. I had an idea, and they liked it, and wanted to use my idea to make munny. But that’s not the point of my idea: it’s not for them, it’s for us.” “I don’t follow,” I said, but I was getting a little excited. There was something in the way Delphia spoke that lit up my insides with minor lightning. The ex-researcher licked her lips and glanced at the door to the hallway, but nobody was there. The closest thing to a guard was a cam posted on the wall five cells down. I’d looked. When Delphia spoke, she spoke in a low, quick rush: “I work – or used to work – in food tech. Genetics is my specialty. Usually I just developed new fauxmeats, but I got in a pinch and couldn’t afford the fresh food I wanted, so every day I’d go to work surrounded by food, hungry as heck, and not able to eat any of it. It got me thinking. And I was thinking about how the munnies can’t charge people who live outside the biome – like yourself – any rent, so they upcharge on food and health care. And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could eat the air – ” “You…made it so people can eat air?” I asked, trying not to laugh. “No, I didn’t,” she hissed, “don’t be gross!” “What do you mean?” I grinned. Delphia narrowed her eyes at me. She reminded me of Sprocket, the cat that took pity on me and kept my campsite vermin-free. “That would stink up the camps in a hurry, anyway,” I said finally. “So what did you really do?” She told me. At first, I didn’t believe her. Then she stood up, and directly under the light a bit more so I could clearly see the hint of green color to her brown skin (not just a trick of the fluorescents as I’d thought). I let out a long, low whistle in spite of myself. “And you don’t eat food anymore?” I marveled. “Don’t you miss it?” She shook her head. “No, I still eat food – and I still crave it. I just need to eat far less food in order to survive, as long as I get a few hours outside in the sun. But most importantly, if I can’t afford an upcharge from the biome, I can choose


whether I want to spend munny on a meal, or stand out in the sun instead.” “That’s zandy, Delphia. I can barely believe it.” She shrugged. “I worked on it on my own time, but they found out when I stayed after hours and used some of their equipment. They surprised me – I thought I was going to get a reprimand, but they wanted me to finish developing my splice. They gave me better equipment, a new office – the works. I was so happy to get the funding and support I didn’t question it, until I found out about their marketing strat. They were selling my splice in boutiques, as fashion for munny.” She said this with such disgust. “So then what happened?” I asked her. Delphia grimaced. “Then I got fired.” “Good for you.” “Thanks.” We looked at each other, but with something like mutual admiration for maybe the first time. ••• We stood in ragged rows, our skin green and glistening in the sun. The munnies were scrambling in the distance, terrified of our forest of slightly photosynthetic bodies. Somebody was plucking a delinak, and someone else started singing a pop song. Soon more people were singing, the lyrics rippling across the open desert like a sudden sea. What are you afraid of? Why are you so sad? We can grow up together And it won’t be so bad Delphia stood next to me, worrying her bottom lip. I slid my hand in hers, and she stilled, then smiled, and returned the soft pressure of my palm against her own.


COLUMN: WHAT DOES A SOLARPUNK COMMUNITY LOOK LIKE? / MEIRA DATIYA In the past, neither cities nor villages were perfect and I don’t think going back to villages with our current population is feasible. I also don’t think cities are quite the answer we are looking for either. A solarpunk community needs to keep all the benefits unique to both systems while eliminating as many of the above problems as possible. For example, you could build federated garden cities that are borderless and interconnected via a raised above ground rail system. Apartments would have their own garden plots, green walls, etc. with solar and wind being used to power the buildings. The raised rail system would allow for unhindered animal traffic and permeable sidewalks could be used in addition to rain collection systems to reduce runoff and be reused for gardening. Sewage could be transformed via bacteria to another form of energy for the city. In this way several of the main issues with cities are solved. Population density is high, while not destroying the environment but conserving it. Social issues, on the other hand, can be solved easily by adopting the village’s cooperative ideals. Give everyone a home, allow everyone a place in society as equals, give everyone the right to food, to medical care, to education, to design, vote, and federate laws etc. regardless of ability. These are irrevocable rights of the people.


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HELP SUPPORT OPTOPIA! Hi, I’m Rosie, and I’m the editor in chief of Optopia – and, at the moment, our only staff member! Optopia is a massive labor of love. I spent months putting this zine together and paid for all the costs of production out of pocket. I’m happy to distribute the zine online for free, but if you want to support the zine and help me fund future issues, you can make a donation by clicking on the PayPal donate button on our tumblr: https://optopia-zine.tumblr.com Every donation goes towards the cost of creating the zine, and every little bit helps!





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