About This Book
I moved to China on a whim to get away from the circus. No one ever wonders where they’re going to run to after they’ve run away to the circus. I did, and for me, at least, it was to China. I had spent the better part of my childhood – which, in Peter Pan fashion, lasted a good thirty years – playing festivals until the faces blurred together, and the sound of excited shouting became the expressionistic Jackson-Pollack patina that formed the bedrock of my daily life.
It may sound awfully exciting. In fact, it had its moments, to be sure, and even now, recalling those days, months, and years with the rose-colored lenses of nostalgia, they were the best of times. They were, however, also the worst of times. A Prince on the weekend, standing atop a million-dollar light and sound rig, blowing fire, playing my newest songs on shrieking speaker stacks while artists and Faeries mixed with Orks and the things that go bump in the night, often turned to dust in my mouth by Monday.
Still, those nights were defining ones for many, a right of passage, and often spent rubbing shoulders with unbelievable characters, both regionally and intergalactically. I mean, we were all a little Peter Pan and certainly no stranger to a bit of magick, but some stories are more unbelievable than others. One night I remember a run-in with that roguish space captain with a killer smile and a huge, shaggy best friend, who at least once stopped down for a drink at a watering hole on a scummy blue planet where I happened to be doing my thing. We tussled a little over a girl, if you can believe it. You probably wouldn’t believe that I won.
I left school to play gigs – and then quit gigs to finish school and always wondered about the roads not taken, when, for example, I supported my best friends, The Root Sellers, to prepare tracks for gigs at the Beijing 2008 and Vancouver 2010 Olympics and Paralympics, but ultimately decided to stay behind and finish a degree in Poetry and Creative writing, while world leaders danced to the beat of our drums without me. If you’re reading this, it’s a fair guess that the writing thing worked out, so that’s always a plus.
Eventually, even having a good time gets tiring, and one can only eat so many excellently prepared cheese plates before we crave a new horizon. Mine was a trip to China, Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing through a college I was hanging out at because it seemed like a good idea; it’s what people do. Often, they hang about at colleges and dream of doing something once they’ve moved on. Chongqing was a very hot and spicy place, full of excellent food and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and when they told me I should stay, I listened, and the rest, they say, is history.
Years went by, I got married, and I had a big loving family here, which is pretty remarkable since I came from a small family and was an only child. Around 2016, we started taking our high school students to the countryside to teach rural primary school students in mountainous villages – like Tongliang – and I got to see the city boys and girls learn all about the rigors of countryside life, even as they taught the very curious young rural children about Canada, English and some other things that I supported them in. At the end of the week, the children all lined up and bawled their eyes out that we were leaving, and it was terribly sad, but we promised to return next year. For a while, we did, and then we didn’t.
In 2020, mere months after an epic European trip with my wife where I promised to kickstart my faltering and fairly shelved writing career – I had several binders and drafts on a shelf, and that was about all I had to show for decades of writing classes and a lifetime of dreams, something big happened. A lockdown, a virus, and a global pandemic had begun. As the first Canadian journalist on the scene for an early lockdown in China before it was rightly recognized as a pandemic, I was a curiosity back in the west, and I had a column on a fairly prominent national news page where millions of people read about my daily escapades making banana bread, gorging on scientific podcasts, and trying to share what I learned with the west so they could be prepared for what was coming. Some listened, many laughed, and quite a few argued with me for having the gall to try to help them at all. That diary became a book, won a few awards, and was considered a humble bestseller for what it was. It showed me that when pressed to the fire, a writer could burn white-hot, and those papers and binders could become a real book. I promised to repeat the process.
After a couple of years of talking about viruses and parents feeling sad for children at home without friends and school, I thought of Amos again, the composite of myself and all those children learning about the countryside. I had tried to write his story in 2018 but realized he’d been too old and too mid-journey, and I went back and imagined how it all really began. We got a call one day, and I was asked to meet some university students in Tongliang, a place I knew, sign some books and read a poem, and generally just be there, being me. I drafted an outline for the first “origin” of Amos’ book and then drafted a chapter that seemed like one they would enjoy, and then I read it to them. They loved it. They wanted to know more. They wanted to hold my story in their hands and savor every word. I met Dr. Gao then. She told me I had done a little bit of magick (yes, real magick, not the rabbit-out-of-hat-on stage fluff), and she and her daughter promised to help me bring this cross-cultural Western and Chinese fairytale to the world. It was June, and I was told if I had a book done by September, her students would read it as part of their literature class. So I worked all summer and had a messy, leaky draft by the first day of September.
With Abantika, Erin, and Garrett’s help, we got my draft into good shape. The students read weekly sections of it for an entire semester – and all seemed to love it. So I kept working on it, and eventually, we got maps, illustrations, and a beautifully painted cover, and it really became my love letter to all the children’s books and magic and fantasy I read growing up. As it’s come close to publication, and a Chinese version is slated to be released in early 2023 by a big-time Chinese publisher where it will, with a little luck, become a major blockbuster, a lot of people seem excited about it, including some people from Tongliang. I hope those children, now grown up, at least a few years older than the kids who blew bubbles and smiled and cried when we left, will enjoy it and remember a little bit of the magick of their childhood. Really, it’s all about magick, and I hope that’s ok with you.
I set it in the near future because, at this time, much of the world is experiencing record-high temperatures, weird weather, and a slew of other problems I’d rather not dwell on but instead dream that we have already solved. I thought, why not give them something optimistic, encouraging, and SOLAR PUNK to read? Maybe some of these children will become engineers and figure out how to use hydrogen cars, solar power plants, and huge carbon sink forests to save our beautiful world.
It’s a good wish. If you’re reading this in the future, you’ll know whether it worked out or not. I hope it did. If you’re reading it in the near future and we’re still not sure, I would really love it if you could share this book with your friends and leave reviews and comments online and help every young dreamer fall in love with the idea that we are going to save our planet. Our planet would really like that too.
In the end, I would like to say I’m sorry I never had a chance to finish the book. A lot of writers never feel their work is done. We just have to let it go. And then there’s Patrick Rothfuss, but for the rest of us who hope to release more than one book a decade, it is painful to know we could have done more. I hope his fans finally appreciate the loving dedication he puts into the years of revision when that elusive third book comes out. If you are from the future, which you likely must be, I hope it is finally done. Civilizations have risen and fallen in the time it took to get from book two to book three, but many of us know that it will be perfect when it comes out.
For my own story, it’s been incredibly interesting to write and translate simultaneously for the Chinese market, and I am really pleased to see this version, as imperfect as it might be, come out in my own native English while I’m young enough to appreciate it. Writing for the deadlines of a publisher, a translator, and hopefully, a lot of readers of all ages around the world, I did what I could in the limited time I could squeak out of a busy life, but I did my best. As Mildred would have been happy to remind me, it’s the best I could do.
I do want to give a special mention to the true villain of this novel: straight quotations; unlike the curly smart kind that is now in vogue in book publications, they are generally out of fashion for those that don’t type on typewriters. You’d think, then, that it would be easy to set a modern computer to use the modern curly quotes, and that would be that. Not so. It seems straight quotes have got a grandfathered clause into the computer world and the best we can do is have a crack team of fairies sprinkling fairy dust around liberally that at least temporarily tames the old quotes and transforms them into the smart, bouncy, curly kind. But every time I’ve turned around, those blasted quotes have turned back, grown up like weeds, or invaded like a pack of rampaging Vampire Trolls, and I’m sure, despite my best efforts, some of them remain in the book to this day. They really have a zest for life that I can only hope to approximate, but they are a continuing source of stoic inspiration, even as I curse them for all the trouble they make.
A hearty thank you very much goes out to the artists who colored my words, Adrián Ibarra Lugo and Randall Hampton, both of whom I discovered through the really supportive fantasy community around Critical Role, and to Fan Yuelin, a brilliant and hilarious 10-year-old girl who loves to doodle monsters, this book wouldn’t be as visually compelling without you. Also, Midjourney, what a wonderful and all-seeing, all-powerful AI you are. Please be kind to us in the future.
That’s it, and that’s all. In perpetuity, in life, and in the dream, I thank you from the bottom of my heart to the tips of my oft-mad but generally well-meaning toes.