Book Review: The Weight of Light
The Weight of Light: A Collection of Solar Futures is an innovative collection of short stories and essays that explore four different takes on what a solar-powered future will look like.
The basic premise of the collection is simple. In each of these four short stories, the world has transitioned away from fossil fuels, replacing them with 100% clean energy. However, each of these “solar futures” is based on different design choices that create vastly different types of energy infrastructures and human communities.
Are the solar systems big and centralized, or small and decentralized? Are they built in big cities or smaller towns and rural areas? Who controls the systems, and what principles guide their creation and maintenance? Who gets the profits? What aesthetic sensibilities and cultural considerations inform the design of these systems?
This concept for a collection would be interesting enough on its own. However, The Weight of Light takes the concept to the next level by incorporating the input of experts in climate policy, climate science, and other technical fields into the writing process. These experts worked with the authors to explore the underlying concepts, discuss technical details, and develop four distinct visions for what the future design of solar power might look like.
The resulting short stories are engaging reads and thought-provoking examinations of the role of design in determining how exactly the future of solar power will play out.
Some readers who are purely interested in reading good fiction may be tempted to skip the essays and just read the four short stories. The stories do work as stand-alone narratives, and some readers might benefit from reading the stories in full prior to reading any of the essays, which do contain spoilers. Even so, I would still really recommend reading the essays, even if you wait until after reading the fiction. They offer excellent insight into both the way these stories were crafted and the complex design questions our society faces as we transition away from fossil fuels and toward a solar-powered and clean-energy-powered society.
The people who organized and published this collection have created a remarkable interdisciplinary resource that raises and responds to many of the key questions about design and solar power that will shape how the transition to cleaner energy unfolds. To some extent, which of these stories the reader likes or dislikes may come down to differences in taste or personal preference. I personally enjoyed them all, and suspect most readers will too. Even those who don’t feel as drawn in by these particular stories, though, will hopefully benefit from the thought-provoking questions they raise and the imaginative portrayals of solar futures that they offer.