Exclusive Interview: “Bioluminescent” Editor Justine Norton-Kertson


Sometimes it can be difficult to keep literary subgenres straight, especially where science fiction, fantasy, and horror are concerned. Dieselpunk, grimdark, silkpunk — you practically need a dictionary to keep them all straight. Or, barring that, a really good genre-specific anthology. Which brings me to the follow email interview with Justine Norton-Kertson, the editor of Bioluminescent: A Lunarpunk Anthology (paperback, eBook), in which they not only explains what “lunarpunk” means, and how it relates to “solarpunk,” but also what went into this collection of short stories and poetry.

Justine Norton-Kertson Bioluminescent A Lunarpunk Anthology

For people unfamiliar with the terms, what does “solarpunk” mean, and more importantly, what does “lunarpunk” mean, and how are the terms connected?

I like Jay Springett’s go-to definition for solarpunk, which is “a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion, technology, and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question: What does a sustainable civilization look like and how can we get there?” So a lot of the stories you find in solarpunk have a focus on solutions to climate change and building a future where humanity, technology, and nature exist together in harmony. There’s a bit of a mantra within solarpunk literary circles that solarpunk stories aren’t necessarily utopian, but they’re absolutely not dystopian. And even though it doesn’t say it outright, Springett’s definition places solarpunk firmly in the realm of hope. In that sense, you find in a lot of solarpunk stories communities that are striving and struggling for a better world than the one we’re living in real life, even if they haven’t reached the end (and perhaps unattainable) goal of utopia.

Lunarpunk is a new subgenre of solarpunk, which means that it’s similar in a lot of ways, but with some key differences. The similarities revolve around the main characteristics of solarpunk. Lunarpunk is also hopeful, utopian, and has a focus on how we get from where we are now in real life to a better and more sustainable future. But lunarpunk has a noticeably different aesthetic than solarpunk. Solarpunk straddles the line between post-apocalyptic green brutalism and a more sleek, high tech art nouveau aesthetic with bright colors. Lunarpunk is darker and more gothic, full of glowing plant life and architecture.

Another key difference is that lunarpunk has a focus on the role spirituality can play in people’s lives and communities in a solarpunk future. And with solarpunk’s heavy emphasis on fostering harmony between humanity, technology, and nature, that spirituality often expresses itself as some kind of paganism or other type of nature based spirituality. That focus on spirituality isn’t at the expense of solarpunk’s focus on science and climate change, it’s simply an exploration of another facet of human life and community that undoubtedly will still exist in whatever future we find ourselves living.

Who came up with the idea for Bioluminescent?

The book was my idea, and the inspiration was actually bioluminescence itself. I think plants and animals that glow are so cool, and I’ve always been fascinated by the glowing tides caused by algae blooms. I like the idea of a future where we illuminate our cities and homes at night with glowing life and nature rather than fossil fuels. And while that particular climate solution concept was a requirement of story submissions, I pretty quickly settled on Bioluminescent as the title for the excellent job it does of using a single word to explain lunarpunk’s aesthetic vibe.

In a similar vein, who thought of including both poems and short stories in Bioluminescent, as opposed to just one or the other?

That was my idea as well. I wouldn’t say I’m really well versed in poetry, but I’m certainly a fan and enjoy reading it. Aside from just liking poetry, I believe speculative poetry has amazing world building potential. That’s the main reason why I decided to include poems.

So aside from having to fit the theme, what other parameters did these stories and poems have to fit? Like, did they have to be above or below a certain word count, did they need to be written for this anthology…?

There’s one solicited story in the book that is about 11,000 words. But the stories submitted through the public submissions process had to be under 7,500 words and that’s about it. Simultaneous submissions were allowed and so the stories didn’t have to be written specifically for the anthology. Most important was that they fit the thematic parameters, which were also very loose themselves.

Lunarpunk is such a new genre. Up until now it’s existed mostly in the realm of visual art. Bioluminescent is actually the first book to come out of the genre. So I didn’t want to restrict authors too much. I wanted them to have room to explore the genre without having too many restrictions and boundaries forced on them.

Of course, the stories needed to be set within a solarpunk, climate solutions context, and they needed to lean into lunarpunk’s darker, glowy, gothic aesthetic. But other than that I gave authors a lot of room. So there are stories of all kinds in the book. Some authors interpreted lunarpunk to be akin to solarpunk in space or solarpunk on the moon. Others highlight solarpunk community nightlife or spirituality. Some of the stories even have a noticeable horror influence. So for this first lunarpunk anthology, I very purposefully picked stories that represent a variety of lunarpunk interpretations rather than sticking to a more narrow thematic direction.

Starhawk, Sarena Ulibarri


I understand that you also reached out to certain writers about possibly contributing. How did you decide what writers to approach?

There are a few stories that were written specifically for this collection. I approached Starhawk about including her novelette “The Timid Librarian” in the anthology because she’s well known for, and does a great job of writing, climate fiction with strong spiritual themes. I reached out to Sarena Ulibarri [“Seashells And Soda Cans”] because she’s such a giant within solarpunk literature. And of course Neil Gaiman’s story was one I actively sought and pursued, but I’m sure we’ll talk more about that later.

As we’ve been discussing, Bioluminescent is full of lunarpunk sci-fi stories and poems. But are there any other genres at work in these stories and poems? Like did anyone write a lunarpunk cyberpunk sci-fi story? Or did you want the contributions to just be lunarpunk?

Naturally, with the focus solarpunk and lunarpunk have on climate solutions and building a sustainable world, climate fiction is a genre that runs through most if not all of the work in the book. Aside from that there are a few examples that jump out at me. Wendy N. Wagner’s story, “Message From The Moonlight,” is very influenced by horror. Pedro Iniguez’s poem, “Moon Bubbles” is a kind of dystopian hopepunk with a lunarpunk aesthetic. And a last example is “A Stranger’s Voice” by Diane Morrison, which is influenced by hard sci-fi and space opera.

As you mentioned, one of Bioluminescent‘s contributors is Neil Gaiman, who contributed his short story “October In The Chair.” When he agreed to let you reprint “October” in Bioluminescent, did you hurt your throat from screaming so loud in glee or were you able to maintain your composure?

I definitely had a fangirl moment! But that moment came early in what ended up being a fairly long acquisition process. Once the deal was done, it was more a heavy sense of happy relief because the process of acquiring the story turned out to be such a long one and I never felt like it was on lockdown until the day it finally happened.

The whole thing actually started with a different book. One of the first ideas I had for an Android Press anthology was a collection of cyberpunk and solarpunk stories called Fighting For The Future: Cyberpunk And Solarpunk Tales, which publishes in summer 2023, and is being edited by Phoebe Wagner, who co-edited Sunvault: Stories Of Solarpunk And Eco-Speculation, the first ever English language anthology. I knew that Neil Gaiman had written one of the first Matrix stories back in the late ’80s or early ’90s. That’s really what I was going for when I reached out to his agent.

My fangirl moment came when it became clear that Gaiman was willing to sell me a story, month’s before a final deal was reached. We would have gotten the comic book version of his Matrix story, “Goliath,” which would have sent me over the moon (sorry, pun intended). That didn’t happen though because as it turned out, he doesn’t own the rights to that work. It was disappointing, but not surprising considering the success of The Matrix franchise.

I pivoted pretty quickly. I had Neil Gaiman’s agent’s attention, he was willing to sell me a story, and I didn’t want to let that opportunity slip away just because the first pass didn’t take. At first I was hoping to find another story in his repertoire that would fit the cyberpunk genre. That story may exist out there somewhere, but I didn’t find it at the time when I was actively looking. But I did find one that I wanted for Bioluminescent.

Justine Norton-Kertson Bioluminescent A Lunarpunk Anthology

Neil Gaiman


I would also think, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that having a story by Gaiman in Bioluminescent made it easier to get other people to sign on.

Actually, no. Because the process of finding the story and getting an agreement was so long, I had already secured all other stories by the time the deal for Gaiman’s story happened. So I never had the opportunity to use it as a selling point when reaching out to other authors.

So what was it about “October In The Chair” that made you think it would fit really well into Bioluminescent?

The story was something of a dry run for Gaiman’s 2008 novel, The Graveyard Book. And while the story doesn’t hit the lunarpunk aesthetic, it was a fantasy story that had the light horror vibe. That combination struck me for two reasons.

First, I think of lunarpunk as a kind of fantasy version of the solarpunk genre. With the subgenre’s focus on spirituality, and particularly paganism and witchcraft, it has always felt to me like a genre that lends itself to magic and fantasy. Second, I knew that one of the directions I was looking for from authors was a kind of solarpunk horror exploration.

So while “October In The Chair” isn’t full climate fiction, and isn’t filled with scenes of bioluminescence, I think the story serves an important purpose in the anthology. It’s the first story in the book not because Gaiman is the most famous author of the bunch, but because it’s a story that helps frame the rest of the book. It’s a story that tells the reader, “Hey, you’re used to the more science fiction oriented solarpunk stories, and you’re going to get that here, but don’t be surprised when magic and dreams, surrealism, and horror poke their heads out and make themselves known.”

Another contributor of note is Wendy N. Wagner, who is the editor of Nightmare, an online magazine of horror and dark fantasy. What is her contribution called and what is it about?

Wendy’s story is called “Message From The Moonlight,” and is a great example of the kind of solarpunk horror mentioned earlier. It’s not horror, but leans that way and has more of that light horror brand of tension than readers of solarpunk are used to seeing in the genre. I don’t want to give away the plot, but it’s a really fun story that on the more meta level is about exploring aspects of the horror genre within the context of utopian worlds and communities.

Wendy N. Wagner


So when you talked to Wendy about contributing to Bioluminescent, did she offer any suggestions based on stories she’s gotten as Nightmare‘s editor?

No. I’m sure she would have offered suggestions if I’d ask. But I know Wendy is a very busy person, and I just felt really grateful she was willing to give such an unorthodox story a try (she did a fabulous job too by the way). So I didn’t ask. I guess I didn’t want to jinx it by asking too much from her and her time.

Bioluminescent also features something by you. What is your story about?

Yeah, I wasn’t sure I was going to include one of my own stories. But ultimately it was too hard for me to pass up on the opportunity to have one of my own stories in a book alongside work by Neil, Starhawk, Sarena, and Wendy.

The story is called “The Memory Shop,” and is an exploration of sadness, loss, and regret within a high tech, utopian context. It’s about a person who works in a shop selling memories harvested from memory donors. The shopkeeper — who doesn’t particularly like her job, and is constantly frustrated by customers interrupting her attempts to sink into a good book — finds herself touched by and immersed in one particular customer’s request.

I find anthologies to be a great way to discover new writers. In assembling Bioluminescent, did you discover any writers and then go out and buy all their books?

Wendy N. Wagner is actually a good example. I knew of her as the editor of Nightmare Magazine, but hadn’t read her work until I had the idea to ask her to write a story for this book. I was particularly struck by a short story of Wendy’s that appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies back in 2011, “Cold Iron And Green Vines.”

Hollywood loves making sci-fi movies based on short stories. Do you think any of the stories in Bioluminescent would work particularly well as a movie?

Yeah definitely. I think Starhawk’s novelette, “The Timid Librarian,” creates a magical world that would make for a fun young adult fantasy. Sarena Ulibarri’s story, “Seashells And Soda Cans,” is a ghost story with a well crafted and compelling plot that would make a great solarpunk movie. Another is “A Chant For Circularity,” by Aaron Willmott. That story has some great lunarpunk imagery that I’d love to see brought to a big film screen.

Justine Norton-Kertson Bioluminescent A Lunarpunk Anthology

Finally, if someone enjoys Bioluminescent, what genre-specific sci-fi anthology that someone else edited would you suggest they read next?

World Weaver Press has a fairly recent anthology called Multispecies Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures that I’d highly recommend. It’s full of wonderful stories that emphasize cities as homes for more than just humans, and explore the value of decentering human needs and concerns when thinking about how we build a better future. There’s not a story in the book that I didn’t enjoy, and the editorial team that put the book together is currently producing a follow up called Solarpunk Creatures that I’m really looking forward to reading.



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