“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
“Hopepunk” is a term coined in a 2017 Tumblr post by author Alexandra Rowland (author of A Conspiracy of Truths and A Choir of Lies). She described it as the opposite of “grimdark” — it’s the defiant optimism to grimdark’s overwhelming pessimism. In Rowland’s 2019 article she wrote: “There are no heroes and no villains. There are just people. That’s hopepunk: Whether the glass is half full or half empty, what matters is that there’s water in that glass. And that’s something worth defending.” It is the genre of radical kindness.
In the past two years the world has been through a pandemic, a multitude of natural disasters, and an overwhelming amount of injustice. Couldn’t we all use a little more defiant optimism in our lives? Here’s eight of my top picks in the hopepunk genre, covering both fantasy and science fiction.
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A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
“It is enough to just exist in this world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live.”
This novella is about an unlikely friendship between Sibling Dex, a tea monk seeking purpose in life, and Mosscap, a robot determined to answer the question “what do people need?” Chambers dedicated this book to “anybody who could use a break” — an apt dedication, as reading it feels like sharing a cup of tea and a deep conversation with a friend. It’s a lovely reminder that you don’t have to save the world, it is enough to simply find joy in existing.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune
“Change often starts with the smallest of whispers. Like-minded people building it up to a roar.”
Linus Baker, a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, is lonely. When he is sent to assess the Marsyas Island Orphanage housing six dangerous children he finds far more than he bargained for — he finds a family. The novel’s quirky tone belies serious topics, questioning our tendencies toward stereotype and prejudice, and encourages change.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
“If most of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
The Hobbit is a classic example of hopepunk. Bilbo Baggins, the reluctant protagonist, joins a quest to defeat a powerful dragon not because it would be a heroic gesture, but because it is the only way to bring the dwarves home. He doesn’t have any great power to offer their quest, and he’s not motivated by any desire for glory. He simply recognizes that it’s the right thing to do so he does it.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
“As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.”
A secretly self-aware security android just wants to be left alone to watch TV and figure out who it is. Despite its best misanthropic efforts it finds itself growing attached to the human scientists it was hired to protect. This (and the other novellas in the Murderbot Diaries) is hopepunk written for every introvert who would rather live in fictional worlds than socialize with the people around them.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
“Books are letters in bottles, cast into the waves of time, from one person trying to save the world to another.”
Told in letters by two spies on opposite sides of the Time War, this book is an enemies-to-lovers story that will make you believe in soulmates. The beauty of it is not just the story but the writing style, which reads almost like poetry. It asks the question, “when you’ve dedicated your whole life to fighting, how do you stop?”
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
“Better to build new bridges, he thought, than to pine after what’s been washed away.”
Maia, the formerly-exiled half-goblin son of the Emperor, must take the throne of a land that has always been hostile to him. His father ruled through fear but from the very beginning of his reign Maia rejects that and instead practices compassion, no matter how badly he was treated because of his heritage. It’s a book about the power of stubborn idealism.
Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
“I don’t want power. I just object to idiots having power over me.”
Really the whole Vorkosigan Saga could be classified as hopepunk, but it is 16 books long and ongoing so Barrayar is a great place to start. In Barrayar, Cordelia and Arol Vorkosigan’s attempt to lead a happy married life is thrown into chaos by a political coup. While Arol deals with the politics, Cordelia attempts to rescue their baby — born premature and placed in an artificial womb until he is ready to enter the world. Cordelia sets out to save her son, but she might find herself saving the world along the way.
A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland
“Who you are is what you do. It’s the actions you take, or that you don’t take. It’s the way that you help people, or don’t.”
Of course, any hopepunk book list wouldn’t be complete without this novel from the author who coined the term. Chant is a storyteller arrested on charges of witchcraft and spycraft and trying to talk his way out of the whole situation. At its core, this book is a love letter to stories and the power they hold, and what reader doesn’t love that message?
That’s the list! Can you think of any to add? Let us know in the comments.