Please welcome Anderson O'Donnell, author of the biopunk dystopian novel Kingdom, the first in his Tiber City series. He was kind enough to give me two dates on his tour this month, so return tomorrow to read my review of Kingdom. In the meantime, you can follow Anderson on Twitter at @TiberCityNoir or visit his website at TiberCityNoir.com.
Biopunk: A Crash Course
Since I’ve started promoting Kingdom, I’ve had the good fortune to be asked—and the pleasure of answering—a slew of fascinating questions. There have also been some rather strange inquires, but I’m told that goes with the territory. But more than any other topic, my description of Kingdom as being a “biopunk” thriller has raised the most eyebrows (virtually speaking, of course).
Fortunately, Leslie has been kind enough to offer me an opportunity to resolve the one question on everyone’s mind: “What the hell is biopunk?”
As the name implies, “biopunk” has a great deal in common with “cyberpunk”— the dystopian future; the overreliance on technology; mega-corporations, constant and overwhelming flow of data; anti-heroes: these elements are integral parts of both genres. And both genres are fueled, to some extent, by a sense of rebellion and freedom, by a need to escape the claustrophobia of not only the city, but of a system that demands conformity and assimilation—the same dissatisfaction expressed by the original punk rock revolution. But the main difference—the most important difference—is that while cyberpunk focuses on invasive technological modification of the human body, biopunk explores the dehumanizing consequences of biological modification, of re-arranging our DNA in the pursuit of perfection.
I learned how to write by studying the cyberpunk masters. Sure, I mixed in a healthy dose of Stephen King and James Ellroy, but when I was 14 years old, William Gibson was the Alpha and the Omega of my fiction universe. Its funny how little things change sometimes—Gibson not only still dominates my bookshelves, but his impact on my writing is obvious: Tiber City is, in many respects, my love letter to the Sprawl. And until I began my Tiber City Trilogy, I imagined I’d churn out a cyberpunk novel (or, at least, a post-cyberpunk novel).
But when I began to write, the future imagined by Gibson’s early work didn’t seem as immediate. The Sprawl still felt vital and terrifying, but the “cyber” aspect of the “punk” felt like fantasy: projecting our consciousness through massive fields of data still feels even farther way today than it did in the seventies. And while Gibson’s “cyberspace” has, to some extent, been realized by the advent of the Internet, its not the same—Facebook isn’t as sexy as black ICE.
At its heart, however, the vision of the future advanced by Gibson and his cyberpunk brethren was absolutely correct: mankind is hell-bent on using technology to re-define what it means to be human. Such transformation, however, won’t be restricted to augmenting our bodies with technological enhancements; man won’t be satisfied, it seems, until we’ve re-written our very genetic code. We’re still intent on destroying ourselves; we’ve just moved onto a more lethal poison.
The Coming Biopunk Revolution
I’m still in love with the cyberpunk genre and its archetypes, and I think there are still “cyber” stories to be told. But the future isn’t what it used to be; “bio” augmentation—not “cyber”—is the greatest threat to our humanity. Never mind virtual reality: the coming biotech revolution will transform the most fundamental building blocks of life. For example, in my new novel, Kingdom, I imagine the consequences of mankind discovering the gene for the human soul, a concept that has its roots in the cyberpunk movement, but looks toward our biopunk future.
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on the nascent “biopunk” genre. I hope you enjoyed the read, and please check out some of the works that influenced Kingdom. I remain forever in debt to those incredible writers.
Essential Cyberpunk/Biopunk Reading:
William Gibson: The Sprawl Trilogy
William Gibson: The Bridge Trilogy
Richard Morgan: Altered Carbon
Bruce Sterling: Holy Fire
Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash
John Shirley: Eclipse Trilogy
Paolo Bacigalupi: The Windup Girl
Jack O’Connell: Box Nine