A Hopepunk Guide: Interview with Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damien Thomas

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This interview with Uncanny Magazine editors Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damien Thomas was part of my research for “Are You Afraid of the Darkness: A Guide to Hopepunk,” a feature written for Den of Geek’s New York Comic Con print magazine that delved into the hopepunk term. I recommend beginning with that article before diving into this full interview transcript…

Den of Geek: How do you define hopepunk?

The Thomases: We … don’t, really. There have been veins of hope (as opposed to grimdark hopelessness) across literature for hundreds of years, and for decades within the SFF genre. We think it aligns with what Sarah Monette has described as a “clair” universe (as opposed to ”noir”) where the baseline assumption is that people are fundamentally good and will try to do good, rather than assuming that people are fundamentally bad and will try to do bad.

At Uncanny, we tend to think of this as “radical empathy” or “radical kindness”–choosing to do the good, kind thing even when the system doesn’t encourage that, as an act of courage.

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When did you first encounter the term and what was your initial reaction? Has it changed?

We’ve seen it kicking around as a specific term in the last couple of years or so, but the concept behind it isn’t new to us.

Do you consider hopepunk to be a genre or something else?

We think it’s, fundamentally, a marketing term–a tag to describe to readers what they might find within a book.

Are there narrative elements that a work must contain to be considered hopepunk? Are there elements that a story must not contain if it aspires to be hopepunk?

That, we could not say definitively, but we would hazard a guess that main characters acting in accordance with an ethical code that reads as “moral” or “good” (in Dungeons & Dragons alignment terms) as core to the story comes to mind.

The Covers of Four Uncanny Magazine Editions

Do you think of hopepunk as a reactive idea? Does it have to be in relation to grimdark/noblebright or is it something bigger than that?

No, we think of it as a marketing term.

What are your favorite examples of hopepunk in any medium?

One of our favorite examples of a book that would fit the remit (although it came well before the marketing term) is Katherine Addison’s novel The Goblin Emperor. Some runs of any comics/films based on comics featuring a good hero stuck trying to navigate a corrupt system with honor (Captain America, Superman), as well as Doctor Who come to mind.

Do you think there is a need for an idea like hopepunk right now? Is it something you actively seek out at Uncanny and/or as a fan? Do you think culture is becoming more or less hopepunk?

We think that the world can always use more radical empathy and radical kindness. Culture is, fundamentally, a mix of people giving in to their most kind and least kind impulses, and much of our storytelling comes from that inherent conflict. We’d rather encourage the former, personally.

What are the potential uses and limitations of hopepunk as a term?

The same as for any marketing term: does it adequately describe to the consumer what they will receive with their purchase, or will it break that implicit contract with the consumer?

Do you consider any of Uncanny’s issues hopepunk? (I mean… Space Unicorns!) Are there specific stories the magazine has published that particularly fall into this category? 

Given that a lot of what we publish is about the importance of kindness amid tragedy or trauma, absolutely.

Recommendations: “Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse” by S.B. Divya“Sun, Moon, Dust,” by Ursula Vernon, and “Packing” by T. Kingfisher

Do you have anything else to add regarding the hopepunk discussion (i.e. this is the freestyle space!).

The Space Unicorn Ranger Corps ethos tends to fall along these lines, although we describe it a bit differently: making an effort to make the universe a bit more awesome, one day at a time.

Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.

Read and download the Den of Geek NYCC 2019 Special Edition Magazine right here!

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