Biopunk is an emerging subgenre. Some could even say that it’s not it’s own genre, but a part of part of the Cyberpunk genre. It does indeed take a lot of elements from Cyberpunk, but there are a lot of other aspects as well. Body horror, Thriller elements, and ecology, combine with straight up creativity in this young genre.
It also happens to be one of the most exciting genres for me, and a focus on my writing career. I would categorize my current Malfunction Trilogy as Biopunk/Dystopian, though I often pitch it as Cyberpunk when I don’t want to have to explain myself.
Why do I love Biopunk so much? Here is a list of my top five favorite Biopunk tropes.
5. Designer Diseases
Often seen in “zombie” fiction, such as with Resident Evil, Maze Runner, 28 Days Later, and I Am Legend (I know, there are semantics, but push comes to shove these stories are about some form of zombie). Oftentimes these diseases are proven to be directly or indirectly result of human tampering, or at least to be taken advantage of by humans.
While I’m not always a fan of how the idea of a designer disease is used in fiction, there is great potential for the concept. Some of the best uses I’ve seen just have the designer disease as an imminent threat, where the heroes must rush to produce a cure, or stop an act of bio-terrorism.
In a world where health is a constant battle, the relevant concepts that could be explored through this trope are endless.
4. Designer Monsters
“It’s… ALIVE!” Gasp.
Strange, how Biopunk is considered a new genre, but one of the oldest Science-fiction books we have-- arguably the one that started it all-- could easily be identified as Biopunk.
Frankenstein, of course.
And there are more in the same vein. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for instance.
It might be because I love the “Monster or Man” trope, or maybe it’s because Gothic Horror is one of my favorite things ever, but I love the idea of a man-made monster.
Not just a monster that is made of a man, but of animals as well. The BBC version of The Hound of the Baskervilles in Sherlock plays with this idea. Jurassic Park hits it out of the… well… the park.
It’s often used in horror movies, but that’s because it’s so horrifying: the idea that we are not just the victims, but the villains in our own stories. And the question: who is the real monster.
3. Parasitic monsters
The cliche sci-fi horror film that is depicted in so many films as the quintessential “Scary movie they aren’t allowed to watch” is the whole Invasion of the Body Snatchers concept.
Yes, I totally played around with this for The Malfunction Trilogy, on multiple layers.
We’ve seen depictions of this in the real world. Maybe it’s hypnosis, or brainwashing, or cordyceps (The Last of Us) In the real world, we have learned how to mess around with the brain in so many ways. A fun thing to play with in Cyberpunk.
But Biopunk offers a version of this that these other versions don’t have: symbiosis.
One of the most recognizable versions of this is Venom and Eddie Brock. In fact, Spiderman likes this concept a lot.
It may come in the form of a possession by another human or human-like intelligence, or from an alien or animal, or even from a sort of soul-splice through a chemical or drug (I totally count drugs in the Biopunk genre, just FYI) but the idea of two consciousnesses fighting for control is thrilling to me.
It depicts, in a way, our own duality and the good-or-evil battle we fight every day. And the best part is, you never know who will win.
2. Corporation/government Overreach
This is where the “punk” comes in, so this is arguably a necessity of the genre. But when I sit down and try to decide which of my favorite elements deserve this place, I really can’t pull them away from this one overarching theme.
Cloning, human experimentation, copyrights on genes, brain-hacking, overpriced drugs, selling eternal life; I’ve seen so many different ways this trope is used.
In the Biopunk thriller Orphan Black, the concept of body autonomy is brilliantly explored in a near future setting with cloning, and a company who is putting copyrights directly into people’s DNA
In the Borne Trilogy and Conspiracy Theory, the government is brainwashing soldiers and turning them into spies and assassins.
In Ender’s Shadow, we learn how Bean is the product of human experimentation.
All of these stories show us how corporations and the government have to walk a very careful line and how easily they can fall over. It’s a very real issue in the world. We have governments in the modern world that are killing off populations and selling their body parts. We have Planned Parenthood selling intact human children for experimentation. Stem cell research. And none of us would be being honest if we said that we got all the medical understanding we have today without any over-reach. I can list a couple horrifying experiments off the top of my head.
In fact, I would say we wouldn’t have the capabilities we have in science, medicine, and psychology if not for the suffering of many innocents.
These are very real questions we face every day, and we can learn a lot by seeing things from the other side.
1 Genetic Mutation
It’s the foundation of Biopunk. The thing on which everything else is built. The center of it all. And yes, my favorite element.
Give me superheros, give me mutants, give me human-animal hybrids, give me monsters and give me heros. I want it all.
My obsession with Genetic mutation started young. I remember thinking how much I disliked how Science-fiction focused on AI and Clones and how I wish there was more genetic mutation. I even had a story that I started a few times. I took elements of it for Malfunction, and I doubt the childish YA story will ever see the light of day. But, it still pops up in my memory banks occasionally.
One of my favorite movies was Gattaca. I remember watching it with my parents and falling in love with the idea. And, as was the case with several movies that really sparked my imagination, I wasn’t able to sleep for several nights because my brain was spinning with all the possibilities.
As a writer and a Christian I am so interested with this idea of identity. What makes us who we are? What happens if we are not born but created? How many genes can be tampered with before we become something other than human?
And at the same time, we could end so many afflictions with technology we already possess.
Bio-ethics is already a field that is much needed. It’s not science fiction anymore, it very real and very present. We could do worse than to put it into a safer container to play with it a bit.
It may not be safe to mess around with a child’s DNA, but in fiction we can ask ourselves some of these questions, and start to get a grasp on what is a future inevitability.
What do you think about these tropes and the Biopunk Genre? Do any of these tropes grab your attention? I’d love to hear your thoughts.