The work is never finished. The work will never be finished.
December 5, 2018 12:11 AM   Subscribe

Alexandra Rowland writes about Hopepunk “But once in a while, the people toward the middle of the heap manage to look down and see the mass of wretched bodies below, the base of the pyramid that’s supporting them, and for a moment, they see the instability of their own position, that their pyramid isn’t built on solid ground but on human flesh and human pain. For a moment, they see, and the illusion of niceness is wrenched away from them, and they weep, but still, still not for the people below them whose suffering has gone on so long. They weep like children over the teddy bear that’s been snatched out of their hands. They weep only because the world suddenly isn’t as nice as they thought, and it’s hard to deal with that.“
posted by Gilgongo (19 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
If you are unfamiliar with Alexandra Rowland or hopepunk, please read to the end even if you initially disagree with what she seems to say.
posted by hat_eater at 2:35 AM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

bright punks on hope
posted by otherchaz at 4:36 AM on December 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Thank you for this! I was just enjoying Rowland's novel on my bus commute and was sad I got to work and have to stop novel-reading, but now I can read this instead and enjoy a little more time with her voice.
posted by Stacey at 5:22 AM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

This post is exactly what I needed to read right now. Gilgongo, that is a fantastic piece of writing. I am completely new to Alexandra Rowland and hopepunk. Thank you so much for posting it!
posted by Bella Donna at 5:28 AM on December 5, 2018

But when you stop believing that there is even an atom of justice in the world? What’s the point then? How do you go on without that?

I find it sincerely and truly very weird how often real people almost reinvent MacLeod's "True Knowledge," a nihilistic-materialist fictional philosophy built up by North Korean prisoners out of the few philosophy and related works that they happened to have available to them as the Singularity happens around them.
Life is a process of breaking down and using other matter, and if need be, other life. Therefore, life is aggression, and successful life is successful aggression. Life is the scum of matter, and people are the scum of life. There is nothing but matter, forces, space and time, which together make power. Nothing matters, except what matters to you. Might makes right, and power makes freedom. You are free to do whatever is in your power, and if you want to survive and thrive you had better do whatever is in your interests. If your interests conflict with those of others, let the others pit their power against yours, everyone for theirselves. If your interests coincide with those of others, let them work together with you, and against the rest. We are what we eat, and we eat everything.
All that you really value, and the goodness and truth and beauty of life, have their roots in this apparently barren soil.

This is the true knowledge.

We had founded our idealism on the most nihilistic implications of science, our socialism on crass self-interest, our peace on our capacity for mutual destruction, and our liberty on determinism. We had replaced morality with convention, bravery with safety, frugality with plenty, philosophy with science, stoicism with anaesthetics and piety with immortality. The universal acid of the true knowledge had burned away a world of words, and exposed a universe of things.

Things we could use.
(Note that the utopian discussion at the end might not be true as the novel this appears in is explicitly a piece of propaganda for her unborn child, and that the narrator is a war criminal unknown times over)
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:02 AM on December 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

MacLeod is one of these writers whose work I haven't delved into yet, but this excerpt sparked something. Should I start at the beginning of the series (Star Fraction) or go straight to The Cassini Division?
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:25 AM on December 5, 2018

Halloween Jack: start at the beginning is my advice, but be warned that Star Fraction is a first novel with first novel flaws.

The Fall Revolution books are a thematic tetralogy, or alternatively a trilogy with two alternate third books (The Cassini Division and The Sky Road show alternate parallel futures from the perspective of The Stone Canal and The Star Fraction). The theme is probably of interest to, oh, about 90% of MeFites, insofar as it's political SF exploring different threads of Anarchist philosophy and politics—The Star Fraction explores Left Anarchism in a messy evolved future evolved from our own, The Stone Canal explores libertarianism in a post-singularity world, The Cassini Division is about, um … the True Knowledge as a wellspring for a quasi-utopian future (except that it's built atop a foundation of genocide—see also LeGuin's Those Who Walk Away from Omelas), and The Sky Road is a future in which the deep green anarcho-hippies prevail (and still end up colonizing space).

Very chewy, increasingly good as Ken mastered his tools during the writing process. Possibly too chewy for the US market at first; they were eventually acquired by Tor, but published in a weird-ass order because editorial didn't want to throw the American readers in at the deep end with the Fourth International anarcho-Trots and Bad Guy Imperialist USA of The Star Fraction.

(If you're in the USA, the best format to read them is probably to get the two omnibus editions, Fractions and Divisions.
posted by cstross at 6:37 AM on December 5, 2018 [10 favorites]

I ran across this idea in a Bruce Sterling novel - Vaclav Havel's concept of hope: hope is not the belief that things will turn out well, hope is the conviction that what you are doing is right. This concept, plus both of Nic Cage's portrayals of dads from the movies "The Weather Man", and "The Croods" give me something to shoot for.
posted by turkeybrain at 6:43 AM on December 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

MacLeod's North Korea as major post-singularity power is from "Newton's Wake: A Space Opera" which is a standalone. I like KM's series, but like NW better.
posted by jclarkin at 7:09 AM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like that she used grimdark and its polar opposite, noblebright, as ways of bracketing the concept of hopepunk. Both are too easy; they're lazy ways to wipe out contradictions and difficulty by turning the contrast too far in one direction. The whole Aragorn is noblebright/ Frodo and Sam are hopepunk example really brought it home to me. Aragorn does the big battle thing, gets his kingdom, the elf maiden, and many fruitful years of peace. Frodo and Sam eventually stagger home with titanic cases of PTSD. They've done their part to turn the tide against evil, and then they come home to confront every-day injustices and petty tyranny in the Shire.

To expand on her other examples, if the Star Wars OT is noblebright, does that make the PT kind of grimdark (except for the characters of Obi-Wan, Padme, and Bail Organa), and by extension, the ST hopepunk? The ST shows what happens after the noblebright narrative plays out and the complexities of human nature flood back in to the story. Our noblebright heroes are still fighting the same fight, and confronting [or running from] their failures. But then there are the new characters who still try to make a difference and are pretty hopepunk. (Leia is always hopepunk in every timeline. She's the Goddess of Hopepunk). Mostly mistreated, abandoned children who would have every reason to see their world as grimdark, they nonetheless do what they can for others, even when the odds against them are great and the victory will be short-lived.

I think Rogue One is like, the most hopepunk Star Wars universe film there is. Doing the right thing, against all odds and at great personal cost, even though the characters know it won't be enough to save everyone they want to save? That final scene where Jyn and Cassian embrace on the beach, their task complete, as a wave of total annihilation rolls toward them? Hopepunk as fuck!
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:15 AM on December 5, 2018 [19 favorites]

Nice is a terrible thing. A few friends and I have vowed never to describe ourselves as nice, because we're not, as a whole. We're kind, dammit.
posted by wellred at 8:41 AM on December 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

The position of the hope / despair dichotomy in Christianity is one of the major reasons I could never be Christian.

People do atrocious things while full of hope, it's an emotion, not a moral value.
posted by idiopath at 8:42 AM on December 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

I really liked that poem she put in the opening. Who is this Astolat? I wondered. Perhaps a Classical Greek poet?

Nope, it’s from a Optimus Prime/Megatron slashfic.
posted by joedan at 10:04 AM on December 5, 2018 [15 favorites]

People do atrocious things while full of hope, it's an emotion, not a moral value.

I think the author would agree with this. It's not enough to hope for things to get better. She calls out the kind of complacency that can come from hope:
"We want the world to be better—kinder, more just, more merciful. We still yearn toward noblebright, toward an honest and desperate belief that love conquers all. Except, when the other guy has more guns and fewer moral objections than we do, it doesn’t. We forget, sometimes, that we have knives too in this empire. That we can unsheathe them, that we can turn our blades to the defense of an atom of justice and a molecule of mercy that might not even exist—except . . . except for where we make them exist, in the hands we hold out to each other, and in the shelter we offer even when we ourselves are exhausted, footsore, and filthy, with the wolves at our doors."
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:33 AM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Astolat is not just any fanfic author; she’s legendary in fandom.

Thank you for posting this. I had heard of hopepunk what feels like a long time ago on Tumblr. It’s blowing my mind right now that Alexandra Rowland just coined the term last year. I’m excited to go find her novel.
posted by beandip at 11:06 AM on December 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

I really liked that poem she put in the opening. Who is this Astolat? I wondered. Perhaps a Classical Greek poet?

Nope, it’s from a Optimus Prime/Megatron slashfic.

I cannot even begin to describe how completely unsurprised I am.
posted by Soi-hah at 11:20 AM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I always liked Terry Pratchett's character of Death from his Discworld series on this point. "There is no justice. There is just us," which I've always read as saying the universe has no corrective force; it is just an unthinking mechanism. There is no hope, no justice, no love, no peace. For that reason it is your job to make your own.
posted by Scattercat at 12:22 PM on December 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

Remember you can't save everyone.

Remember you have to try.

This is also a good reminder of of the punk suffix that seems to have been forgotten from a lot of the Xpunks, including cyberpunk.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:25 PM on December 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

Sidenote: Rowland stacks "Arthurian legends" in the noblebright category, while I think of Sir Thomas Mallory as unbelievably hopepunk.

Mallory was writing during the Wars of the Roses, in which he served as a knight. Lousy as our times are, most of us are not currently in the middle of a massive, bloody, dirty civil war on our own soil. Mallory was. He wasn't a chivalric hero; he was a professional soldier who saw, and did, things we would find unspeakable. He fought, at different times, on both sides; when that went wrong, he landed in prison.

In prison-- where he was personally excluded from two general pardons-- he wrote his Morte d'Arthur, a story about what knighthood and kingship might have been, or should be. But the Morte isn't pure noblebright escapism. The "heroes" are flawed: they make wrong choices, they sleep with the wrong people, they cause death and harm by negligence and error and they are not forgiven. Many of them *try* to do the right thing; often they'll find themselves in a situation with the best of intentions and no right choice.

And yet: are good intentions not worth having? Love has a tendency to wreck things; but should we not love? If our sins are going to destroy us anyway, should we not bother to try and help anyone?

Arthur and his knights aren't fighting to save the world. They're fighting to make one corner of it relatively safe to live in for as long as they can. And in the end, it all comes apart and they lose. But they tried, and they did their best, and the result is that we live in a world in which that attempt happened. And if something like that happened once, it can happen again.

I think that's why it's important that Arthur and Guenevere and Lancelot and Tristram and Palomides and Ysolde and the rest aren't shown as pure-hearted heroes or paragons of virtue. They made the same mistakes we all make, but they tried. We live in a fucked-up world and we are often complicit in its fucked-upness, but we don't need to be superhuman to start changing it. We just need to be human and do our best.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:26 PM on December 8, 2018 [9 favorites]

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