Biopunk 101

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Schmeink, Lars. "Biopunk 101." SFRA Review #309 (Summer 2014): pp. 31-36.[1]

Elegant and highly useful addition to the SFRA Review "101" series, giving background on the topic and, certainly in this case, a Works Cited and references passim referring readers to key works in hard copy, drama (primarily film, TV), and games.

To a significant extent Schmeink builds on and disagrees with Brian McHale's Constructing Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 1992), and concludes that

[...] biopunk has become an independent cultural formation of the new millennium. As such, it has its historical origins and generic development in 1980s cyberpunk, but has since grown into an independent array of cultural tropes; it has evolved and been shaped into something quite distinct from being simply the biological version of “cyberpunk proper” (McHale 255). With the rise of biology within the general public debate as the forerunner of scientific progress, and genetics delivering the most radical advances in technoscience, biopunk texts have become inextricably linked with other cultural practices: DIY [Do It Yourself] biology, biohacking, an anti-corporate sentiment in matters of biology, scientific critical concepts such as posthumanism, an awareness of the new geological era of the anthropo- cene. As such, it represents a chance for science fiction [...] to explore the dystopian and the utopian possibilities that these new technologies open up and the theoretical frameworks they bring with them. [...] (p. 35)

See for the intriguing suggestion passed along by Schmeink that biopunk may have unique meaning and significance in formerly Soviet Eastern Europe, and may join robots as the second great Czech contribution to SF (p. 33).

Probably of most interest for users of this wiki, is the clear relationship of biopunk to cyberpunk, whether from growing out of it historically and remaining a kind of subset, to deep-rooted opposition. This is not Schmeink's last word here, but a key paragraph for us would be,

In order to understand the historic debt of biopunk to cyberpunk[...], a closer look at McHale’s differentiation might be warranted. He provides a “convenient taxonomy” (255) of the possible representations of the posthuman within cyberpunk science fiction by using Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix story cycle to map out its extreme positions. In Schismatrix two posthuman factions vie for power, the Shapers and the Mechanists. The Mechanists “use electronic and biomechanical means to augment themselves,” while the Shapers “use bio-engineering techniques — cloning, genetic engineering — to achieve the same ends” (255). This opposition of mechanical versus biological augmentation then prompts McHale to conclude [...] that there are two sets of aesthetic conceits employed by the authors: “[...] corresponding to the Mech option, cyberpunk proper, and the second set, corresponding to the Shaper option, ‘biopunk’” (255). Thus, McHale coins the term to mean a subgenre of “cyberpunk proper” [...], citing Greg Bear’s Blood Music (1985) as another example of biopunk. (p. 33)

Other works relevant for us and for which "Biopunk 101" might be of use — whether or not the works are mentioned in that essay — include Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy (2003-13), Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, A. Huxley's Brave New World, Gibson's Neuromancer series, and such films as THE TERMINATOR and THE MATRIX.

RDE, finishing 1Aug21