The Biopunk Reader


What is Biopunk?

You might be wondering what biopunk is. It's kind of obscure--a bit like clockpunk or sandalpunk. A science fiction subgenre with tons of potential, but no visible movement. We're trying to change that.

Biopunk is HUGE--an ocean of unexplored possibilities. Like cyberpunk, it envisions high-tech dsytopias--Better Futures For Mankind (TM) packaged by megacorporations and delivered only to the elite. Like steampunk, its tech is sometimes messy and sometimes smelly--and sometimes just a little mad, too. But biopunk isn't about cybernetics or steam engines. Its technology is built of protein and cellulose, not brass or silicon, and it's programmed with a different sort of code than 1s and 0s--the G, A, T, C, and U of DNA and RNA. Biopunk's technology grows and breeds. It lives inside of us--sometimes, it is us.

Genetic alteration, living machinery, computers that grow--these belong to biopunk. Bioengineering plays a significant part in the biopunk tech landscape, and the genre explores this tech's effect on individuals and the community. Although biopunk often focuses on the genetic alteration of humans, its biotechnology can drive any domain of society: transportation, warfare, computers, medicine, art, information, entertainment.

Biopunk doesn't just live in designer gene studios or well-lit labs. It exploits men as easily as animals or plants, and sometimes blurs the lines between them. In biopunk, mad scientists have a place as prominent as hackers. H. G. Wells, with his Island of Dr. Moreau, can be considered the great granduncle of the genre. Mary Shelly with Frankenstein, the grand matriarch.

As in all good punk genres, societies in biopunk are usually stratified: a wealthy, privileged elite towers over a poor, underserved population, frowning down upon a community of punks who refuse to sit still below them: the hackers, the gangs, the gene runners, the black market clinicians.

Biopunk can be so sleek it looks like cyberpunk, so advanced it acts like fantasy, so dark and large it shudders like horror.

Welcome to biopunk. What worlds will we build?


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Paul Di Filippo on the Steady March of Progress

Hello all, and welcome again to The Biopunk Reader, a small nook of the internet with big plans for mankind. About a year ago, I called out to cyberspace in an attempt to find a few like-minded writers who might be interested in a biopunk/biotech collaboration of some sort. Aside from a few answering emails I received which involved Transformers, I got mostly questions back. What exactly is biopunk? Can it take place in the past and present, or only the future?

Generally, I tried to answer those questions as best I could, but it became clear to me as a result of this experiment that biopunk is a subgenre still deep in the midst of being created. Biopunk is what we shape it to be, as is biotechnology itself.  Paul Di Filippo, author of Ribofunk and The Steampunk Trilogy, was among the first to explore the fictional capabilities of biotechnology, and has generously offered a few thoughts on the subgenre's evolution for our blog.



Over twenty years ago, I coined the term "ribofunk," to designate a kind of future, both real and fictional, that would revolve around advancements in biotech, which would dominate the twenty-first-century landscape just as computers dominated the late twentieth century.  The later term "biopunk" has come to be synonymous, although it stupidly and boringly uses the suffix "punk," which I found inappropriate for my coinage.  Biotech should be all about James Brown and Prince, not Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious.  But I don't mind too much which term is employed, and in fact this morning's Google tells me that ribofunk gets 32,000 hits, while biopunk gets only 22,000, so there!

I wrote a passel of ribofunk stories in which the characters modified their somatypes and psyches limitlessly; in which artificial life resulted in macroscopic organisms, not just cells; and in which animals were uplifted to be a new sapient slave class.  It all hung together, I thought, as quite a plausible extrapolation of the next few decades.

So why aren't we there yet?  Instead of asking, "Where's my flying car?", we could ask, "Where's my squirrel tail and giraffe skin?".

I can only counsel patience.  I still believe we're getting to my vision, just slower.  As the Magic Eightball might say, "Signs point to yes."  SF writers are always optimistic about timeframes--we need the dramatic potential of fast changes--whereas real scientists know the actual slow march of progress.  So I heartily applaud the launch of this new site as a means of accelerating change even slightly.  You won't get your owl-vision upgrades unless you demand them!

And remember--not only is change exponential, but the rate of change is too.  One day soon, you'll wake up after a night of heavy drinking and the lovely creature in bed next to you might say, "That was great, but you wore me out.  I could really go for a raw steak for breakfast!"

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