Biopunk is an epic form of science fiction, containing some of the finest stories the genre has ever witnessed.
For many sci-fi fans, the best biopunk stories are an effective mix of engaging scientific concepts with thrilling plots and epic protagonists.
Some biopunk goes heavily into the biology side of things, while some is more story focused, using the science as background aspect. No matter which type of biopunk you enjoy, or if you're a newcomer to the genre, you're sure to find something to love here.
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Brave New World
'Brave New World' is a seminal sci fi story which shows a future version of humanity in which people are preoccupied with numbing themselves to reality. The story shows a so called utopia in which science has reached a very advanced stage and people are able to carry out feats of genetic modification in order to benefit themselves and grant an advantage. The society is based on intelligence and shows a plausible glimpse into a future that our technology dependent society could well find itself in.
Cloud Atlas is a complex series of stories which features incredible interlinking narratives and characters across different time periods. Without spoiling anything, your perception of what you have read will be severely challenged by the end of the book. The series has been described as a puzzle to be solved by the reader, but it’s sure to be worth your effort if you’re willing to put the time in.
Altered Carbon is the inspiration behind the Netflix series of the same name, and it features a gripping plot that is well worth the attention of any biopunk fan reading this. The story is set in a world where humans are able to download and upload their souls via a sort of cloud system. This means that people can come back if they are killed. However, some people with certain religious beliefs don’t engage in this practice as they believe their souls go to heaven. This means people are able to kill them without the fear of repercussion.
Ibil manages to mix together elements taken from various genres of science fiction. These include classic themes and tropes from biopunk, cyberpunk, action thrillers and even modern social commentary. The biopunk element of the story comes into play thanks to a virus which has spread and had a serious impact on the world. The story deals with the ensuing spree of attacks and disruptions that occur and explores the reasons why these happen on a deeper level.
If you’re into crazily conceptual, biopunk sci fi, which mixes together aspects taken from cyberpunk, you’ll definitely enjoy ‘Nexus’ by Ramez Naam. It is the first of the series by the same name and is set in a world where humans are able to take a drug which links their minds together in a type of network. As you’d expect from a biopunk thriller, this doesn’t run smoothly, and plenty of problems occur thanks to the malicious intentions of some people in the story.
Although it is an incredibly popular and well known story, thanks to the movie adaptation of the same name, ‘Jurassic Park’ by Michael Crichton is well worthy of attention by biopunk fans. This is due to the fact that it features everything biopunk is known for. Bioengineering, a fantastical setting, and a group of humans forced to deal with the aftermath of biology gone wrong. Well worth reading, especially for people who are fans of the movie version but haven’t yet read the book it was based on.
Paul Di Filippo
‘Ribofunk’ takes biopunk and pushes it to its extreme and bizzare limits, featuring a mindblowing array of scenarios and characters that is sure to shock, challenge, and amuse any reader who dares to take the time to engage with the stories. This is a collection of tales set in a world centered around biology. The concepts featured are fairly elaborate and it may help if you have a little bit of scientific knowledge before delving deep into this collection of far out tales.
The Glass Bees
‘The Glass Bees’ is one of the most profound tales on this list of biopunk books, and is sure to please fans of the genre due to its mix of in-depth technology and relatable characters that the reader can’t help but root for. As well as featuring a gripping storyline, ‘The Glass Bees’ has an empathetic main character and deep meditations on subjects including technology, nature, and the interactions between mankind and both of those. Many critics have offered the opinion that ‘The Glass Bees’ made many relevant predictions about the present day which ended up coming true.
‘Unwind’ by Neal Shusterman is perhaps one of the most unsettling and disturbing books on this list of biopunk stories worth reading. It features a world in which the pro-life debate has been taken to its most extreme conclusion imaginable, and people are able to get rid of their children as they come teenagers. This is done through a process of organ donation. ‘Unwind’ is genuinely scary and makes you think about whether our own world could one day turn out that way.
If you’re a fan of character-driven biopunk stories then you should definitely check out ‘Autonomous’ by Annalee Newitz. It features a strong female lead character, a shameful rarity in the genre. It is good to see some strong female representation, and the story doesn’t let the character down. It is set in a version of America where the scarcity of healthcare has been taken to its logical conclusion, and almost no one is able to obtain the medication they need. It is is therefore down to people like the main character to act as pirates and get the people the things they need to survive.
‘Fluorescent Black’ is an unapologetic biopunk tale, pulling no punches as it presents familiar tropes of the genre in a new and exciting way. The story imagines a world in which the wealth gap is taken to the most disparate level possible, literally causing humanity to fragment into two distinct groups. Naturally, one group is above the other in status, and they are separated by a literal wall. This story earns its spot due to the dark vision of bio-engineering and genetic technology taken to its maximum possible point.
This might seem like a strange choice, but in many ways ‘Frankenstein’ helped to establish the conventions of the biopunk genre. It mixes elements of horror with elements of science fiction to present one of the first examples of a creature created through elements of biology and science. This story plays on humanities fear of science and the widely held belief that humanity should not play God.
‘Borne’ by Jeff Vandermeer is one of the most recent biopunk books to be found on this list, having originally been released in 2017. It mixes elements of biopunk and biotech to create a gripping story that is sure to please fans of either genre. The story is set in a world where an evil biotech corporation has created many misfit creatures, one of which is adopted by the main character of the story. The main character is a scavenger, and is a relatable way for the reader to relate to the world created by Vandermeer.
‘Leviathan’ by Scott Westerfeld may be a young adult tale but it is one which is well worth reading by biopunk fans of any age. This is due to the fact is masterfully mixes elements of steampunk and biopunk to create a gripping narrative ride. It presents an alternate world version of a very real war, showing two fantasy powers going up against each other in conflict. It explores the question of how mechanically engineered machines of war would fare against biologically engineered options, a classic biopunk premise.
Edelson's gripping tale 'Seed' mixes together elements from biopunk and survival fiction to create an enthralling tale. Imagine a mixture of the best elements of biological sci-fi with the psychology of human survival, discovery, and mystery, and you have a mere taste of the biopunk bonanza that rests within these pages.
What Makes a Biopunk Science Fiction Book?
Biopunk is a subgenre of science fiction which is sure to appeal to both of the major groups of fans found within the science fiction community - more casual fans who read the books mainly for the action, and more hardcore fans who choose stories based on their attention to science.
Biopunk manages to mix together elements of the more action oriented parts of science fiction, such as cyberpunk, thus earning the latter half of its name, while also mixing together serious scientific aspects from the world of biology, earning the first half of its name.
By mixing together both action and science, biopunk manages to satisfy everyone. Some of the most common elements found in biopunk stories include:
Extreme biology. Often, the dramatic tension found within the biopunk genre is created by a biological theory taken to its extreme conclusion with unintended consequences. This can be the case either for an existing idea taken from real biology, or an invented biological theory, perhaps found in the future or an alternative reality. Both forms of biology are commonly found within the biopunk genre.
Evil corporations. A large part of the punk aspect of biopunk comes from the rebellious nature of its characters. For rebellious characters to be effective they need to have something to rebel against. This often takes the form of a large corporation. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, no readers are likely to find a large corporation to be sympathetic. Secondly, large corporations are a great excuse to introduce extreme biology into the story naturally.
Future technology. Often, some of the best biopunk stories mix together aspects of cyberpunk, such as extreme technologies having unintended consequences for humanity. Sometimes this has similarities to existing sci fi artforms readers might be familiar with, such as Blade Runner or even Black Mirror. If you’re a lover of the darkside of technology, many biopunk stories will be exactly what you are looking for.
Although biopunk books vary the themes they feature, the above aspects are commonly found and are a good indication a given story is biopunk.
What type of Science Fiction Characters are Found In Biopunk?
The typical biopunk protagonist is a rebellious, gritty hero who is fighting back against an injustice, often one caused by a giant corporation.
Often, a biopunk hero will be forced to work with others to survive some kind of biological disaster which has either affected a single nature, or the whole world in some cases. Often, the group will be misfits, or somehow otherwise a collection of people who the reader would not assume to know each other. Often, the dramatic tension and friction is ramped up by the personality conflicts that occur.
In recent years, there has been a move to include more diverse lead characters in biopunk stories. This has taken the form of featuring lead female characters in a whole bunch of stories. They often have all of the same heroic traits a male hero would have, proving that female characters have far more than a token role to play within the genre.
Biopunk book main characters need to have a resilient personality in order to overcome the odds put before them. They often find themselves in a David vs Goliath situation, going up entirely or largely alone across a big, evil, well-funded corporation. This naturally causes the reader to feel a degree of sympathy for the lead character as they are more inclined to root for them than for the corporation.
Another feature of biopunk characters aside from the lead is the prevalence of biologically modified side characters. These can take the form of humans who have enhanced abilities or powers, or can be more fantastical types of creatures. As the biopunk genre is so reliant on concepts like genetic modification and biological modification, it gives authors a large amount of freedom to play with the roles and create the type of characters they truly wish to.
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