Biopunk: Rage Against Biotech

What is Biopunk?

CD album cover from Koronar’s Biopunk Romantica

Biopunk is a subgenre of science fiction which deals with the dark side of biotechnology.

What can be so dark about genetic modification, you ask. Turns out plenty. And we are not even touching on the whole designing babies controversy.

Biopunk is closely related to cyberpunk. If cyberpunk is about a computerized world of cybernetics and computer hackers, biopunk is about bio-hackers and synthetic biology.

DNA helix image: Istock

This is literature that proposes near futures that explore the implications of biotechnology in our lives. Those implications tend to be negative. Modifying our DNA can be as dangerous as using cyber-implants.

Biopunk does not paint a future in which these breakout technologies will make our lives better. These are dystopias, full of mega-corporations, and governmental agencies seeking to profit from genetic engineering. Hence furthering the cyberpunk comparisons.

Due to the themes it explores, biopunk is perhaps as counter-culture and necessary now as it was when it first appeared around the 1980s. Let’s see why.

Possible Implications of Biotech

Biopunk city art by Evgeni Mahnyov

Biotech may be the next big breakout in our world after the creation of the internet and all its disruptions.

However, humans have manipulated biology for industrial purposes since the beginning of civilization. After all, that’s what farming and brewing are, genetic manipulation.

Indeed, we are constantly manipulating genetics to serve our purposes. But it was not until the modern world and discovery of DNA that a whole world of possibilities did not open up.

Today we talk about bioinformatics, biorobotics, and bioengineering, fields that did not exist centuries ago.

Koukaku Kidoutai from Ghost in the Shell

More troublesome due to the ethical implications is the CRISPR technology debate. Should we play God by manipulating human embryos for cosmetic purposes? (Okay, I went there. Sorry. And let’s be fair, I am not buying the medical-only argument. Once you open that door, people would cross it).

Furthermore, physics, chemistry, engineering, and astrophysics seem to dominate sci-fi. It is good to see a subgenre that gives the biological sciences its due.

Granted, the medical, industrial, agricultural, and environmental possibilities are exciting. But every scientific revolution also brings new dangers as well as possibilities.

As a matter of fact, we could argue we are living in a sci-fi world.

Better Living Through Biotechnology?

Numenera monster image from

Science fiction is a literature of change and ideas. Sometimes it predicts a better living through science. Then again, science fiction also warns about the perils of science gone wrong.

Both visions of the future are valid and useful. The best science fiction makes you think while entertaining you.

Cyberpunk sounded the alarm about a world dominated by computers, a world in which humans lived most of the time inside cyberspace.

Biopunk, on the other hand, is raising the alarm when it comes to genetic manipulation and body modification at the genetic level.

Science fiction is not only about aliens and space colonization. Science fiction is about the big questions. About our future. About us.

At what point do we stop being humans? Do we have the right to give Mother Nature a push and circumvent natural selection and evolution by manipulating our DNA at the cellular level?

Biopunk lab concept art, Pinterest

Biopunk may not answer those questions but it can get the debate started.

Finally, do you like biopunk? Which book and series do you recommend?

I personally loved Paolo Bacigalupi 2009’s The Windup Girl and Greg Bear Darwin’s Radio series (1999 and up). Nevertheless, I feel we haven’t got the breakout biopunk novel to bring the genre to the masses.

As usual, share your reading recommendations in the comments section.

In the meantime, step into the black clinic, if you dare…

Reader, are you a fan of biopunk? Do you fear biotechnology? Or does it excite you?

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March 2023