The Biopunk Reader


Human+ Exhibit in Dublin Explores the Future(s) of Humanity

Do biopunk or cyberpunk catch your fancy? If you live near Dublin, Ireland, you're in for a treat. The Science Gallery at Trinity College is hosting Human+ The Future of Our Species, a thought-provoking (and at times downright chilling) exhibit exploring future visions of humanity. It mixes art, speculation, and cutting edge science. You will find curiosities like an interactive virtual head, a statue of Gluttony (seriously, the thing looks like it walked out of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman), and bioart like the "Edunia," a petunia sporting the DNA of Eduardo Kac, the artist.

Don't live near Dublin? No worries. You're still in for a treat, because you can now explore highlights from the exhibits on-line.

"Song of the Machine" is my favorite exhibit, although calling a "favorite" is hard, because all of the exhibits are so intriguing. But "Song"--which is about augmenting vision--holds a special personal significance for me, since I have limited sight in one of my eyes. Superflux, which is a London-based team of scientists, designers, and ethicists, is designing a unique technology for the visually impaired that couples genetic manipulation with an external optical prosthetic. The idea is to prep the nerve cells to receive input from an external device. I'm getting that this technology would be applicable to the military and to the general public, as well as those with impaired vision, because augmented individuals would be able to see into the UV and infrared ranges. My only question: Why did the team use a "song" analogy...for a visual technology?

Here is possibly the coolest bio/cyber hybrid at Human+, "Aphasia Mechanica":

And the most bone-chilling exhibit, "Euthenasia Coaster." Yes, a euthenasia machine in the form of a roller-coaster. Spiral off into euphoria, unconsciousness, and the uknown. What a way to go.

(Did the man actually say "dealing with overpopulation"? ::shivers::)

Human+ runs until June 24, 2011.



Top Universities Offer Free On-line Courses

I realize the title sounds a bit spammy. Apologies for that. But it's true: Some of the premiere universities in the United States (and abroad?) are offering coursework for free. You won't get a grade or a degree, but you'll get an education! And you don't have to pay!

I was thinking about brushing up on the sciences and ethics. Mostly, you know, so I can write more believable biopunk. Here are a few that caught my attention:

Foundations of American Cyberculture (Berkeley). Since biopunk is often packaged together with cyberpunk, I thought this was relevant. And it looks interesting. (Cyberpunk was my first love, for anyone who's questioned my allegiances. ^_~)

Medical Ethics (Notre Dame).

The Nature of Mind (Berkeley).

Animal Behavior (Berkeley and MIT).

Behavioral Endocrinology (Johns Hopkins).

Biochemistry (Carnegie Mellon).

Bioscience in the 21st Century (Lehigh).

Brain Structure and Its Origins (MIT).

Darwin's Legacy (Stanford).

Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior (Yale).

Frontiers in Biomedical Engineering (Yale).

General Biology 1 (John Hopkins and Berkeley).

General Biology 2 (Berkeley).

Molecular and Cell Biology (Berkeley).

General Human Anatomy (Berkeley).

Genetic Engineering in Medicine, Agriculture, and Law (UCLA).

Genetics (UCLA and Berkeley).

Genomes and Diversity (New York University).

Global Problems of Population Growth (Yale).

Human Behavioral Biology (Stanford).

Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering (Stanford).

Straight Talk About Stem Cells (Stanford).

The Future of Human Health (Stanford).

Full list of all free courses is here. Happy studies!



The Punk Suffix; An Etymology And Beyond

It's a word that has been tossed around a lot in the past several years, tacked onto the end of innumerable subgenres and their derivatives; cyberpunk, steampunk, biopunk, clockpunk, atompunk, splatterpunk, elfpunk.  The 'p' word is everywhere, that much is indisputable, but what exactly does it mean? The most literal answer to that question can be easily located in the Online Etymology Dictionary:

punk Look up punk at"worthless person" (especially a young hoodlum), 1917, probably from punk kid "criminal's apprentice," underworld slang first attested 1904 (with overtones of "catamite"). Ultimately from punk "prostitute, harlot, strumpet," first recorded 1590s, of unknown origin. For sense shift from "harlot" to "homosexual," cf. gay. By 1923 used generally for "young boy, inexperienced person" (originally in show business, e.g. punk day, circus slang from 1930, "day when children are admitted free")...The "young criminal" sense is no doubt the inspiration in punk rock first attested 1971 (in a Dave Marsh article in "Creem"), popularized 1976."

From the above information we take some of the most widely accepted attributes of punk; it invariably involves civil dissent or criminal behavior, often amongst the youth population. It may also refer to individuals who live on the barriers of society, or who champion unpopular causes. Punk is a lifestyle choice. Yes, you say, that's all well and good, but what in Gandalf's gray pajama bottoms does any of this have to do with science fiction literature? How can bio-androids and mohawked hooligans hold hands? Why not simply call this blog The Biotech Reader, or something of the sort?

I pondered on this myself when I first published a short story with Steampunk Magazine, and the debate regarding the punk attachment continues to pop up quite regularly in forums across the net. Of late I have been thinking on it again ever since Mr. Di Phillipo mentioned the use of the suffix in the statement he kindly wrote for our blog. Since then I've  basically embarked on a quest for the true meaning of punk, and found it to be elusive at best. Like any widespread dogma, it means something different to each individual.

However, the eventual conclusion I personally came to was that when you remove any associations with The Cure, ripped jeans, and teenagers sporting cheap hair dye, punk is about backbone. It's about finding the strength to stand against what you believe is unethical, even if the whole world is against you. My favorite amongst all the explanations I found online was, "An old granny Not mowing her front lawn when the council told her to is punk" ( George Orwell's 1984 was as punk as it gets. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was punk. If science fiction isn't about examining what's wrong with mainstream society, then I don't know what is.

But this is by no means a closed topic. There is no solid answer, and this post is meant to inspire debate. Please, by all means, submit your own ideas on the subject in the comments box below. Let us know what you think!



A #biopunk #cyberpunkchat

Last Saturday (last last Saturday), I had the pleasure of participating in Twitter's weekly #cyberpunkchat, hosted by @JoshKEvans and @NateCrowder (did I miss anyone?). The theme was...*drumroll*...biopunk! Had a boatload of fun, despite the sometimes-difficulty of following the waterfall of tweets. Brings me back to my days of AOL chats--but with better dialogue. ^_~

Happily, my biopunk reading (and watching) list is now a little longer. But when will I find time to read all of these books? ::headdesk::

Interested in reading the chat transcript for yourself? Visit here. The date was January 15, 2011.


Filed under: Community No Comments