Hopepunk is a term that emerged from this tumblr post by Alexandra Rowland. It from the start was positioned as something opposed to grimdark, saying that if grimdark is all about pessimism and that the world is awful/bad in many ways then hopepunk is all about optimism. It’s about how being kind can be a political act of rebellion.
From there the term seems to have bubbled along for a bit, Alexandra Rowland elaborated more in this piece on festive.ninja and panels talking about hope and science fiction & fantasy started to appear at some conventions.
Then late last year it sort of sprung into a much wider debate, sparked by a piece on Vox. Rather than have me talk about it, I’d point to this excellent piece by Cora Buhlert, the Hopepunk Debate, that nicely covers the article and the debate that came out of it.
Whilst the term may only have been coined recently, there has to me been a trend of more hopeful works recently. From the list she includes I’ve read the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie, The Wayfarer books by Beck Chambers, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, and the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (along with her Inheritance trilogy that wasn’t on the list).
Whilst all of the above have an optimistic tone, they all approach it in different ways. The Wayfarer series is all comfy books that are so warm and lovely and awesome, but the Broken Earth trilogy is hard and harsh and all about oppression and breaking the world to fix it. But both have hope.
One of the main criticism’s thrown at hopepunk is that it’s too ill-defined, that hope alone isn’t enough. But I’d argue back that none of the examples I can think of are just about hope. All of them have change happen, have characters and the worlds they live in grow and evolve over the course of them. Hope alone is not enough, but I can’t think of stories that are like that. The criticism feels like it’s aimed at a version of hopepunk that isn’t there.
Hopepunk is a term I’d agree with, that I feel describes what I’m aiming for in my writing as well. I want to tell stories of a world, a galaxy that is to a large extent broken in many ways, and how hope is turned into a dream, an idea, a weapon if you will to fix the future. That’s my hope at least.