A younger, exciting cousin of the cyberpunk genre, nanopunk combines fascinating ideas from nanotechnology with gripping, gritty science fiction storytelling. The genre is in its infancy compared to many others, making it an exciting time to jump in on a fast-developing area of science fiction.
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Science fiction has long explored questions of morality and temporality, and Tech Heaven by Linda Nagata is one of the finest books to do it. It is a nanopunk novel that makes use of ideas from the world of cryogenics, consciousness, and what it means to be human. The plot focuses on a woman whose true love has been horribly injured. She manages to freeze his body and upload his mind. She then must wait for the technology to reach a point where she can be reunited with her beloved. Can she wait? Will she cope with her own body aging? A fascinating nanopunk tale.
Although nanopunk is a genre very much in its infancy, there have been a range of books which can be seen as its forefathers. Blood Music by Greg Bear is very much one of those books. It features a lead character who defies orders to destroy his groundbreaking nano work, instead choosing to inject it into himself. From there, the nanotech rapidly spreads, changing the nature of society and reality itself. A mind bending work of nanopunk well worth reading.
Queen City Jazz
Kathleen Ann Goonan
Imagine that someone special to you is in a state of near-death, protected only by nanotechnology. That is the situation facing Verity in Queen City Jazz. She is forced to travel across a nano version of America in order to save someone. The implications of nanotech explored by Goonan are sensational. The imaginative portrayal of a transformed America will long live on in the mind of the reader after the story is finished.
The Diamond Age
The Diamond Age is one of the most critically acclaimed novels to deal with nanotech, having won both the Hugo and Locus awards. Stephenson’s book presents a world in which each and every aspect has been utterly transformed by nanotech. The story’s main character, Nell, has to get to grips with the implications of this world as she comes of age. The book is absolutely packed full of allusions to other literature, interweaving storylines, and much more for nanopunk fans to love. Essential.
For a book titled after an entire genre, one could argue that Nanopunk by Nathan mcGrath is a little more like a cyber thriller, but it’s an engaging read nonetheless. If you’re a fan of fast paced plots packed with intrigue, deception, and sinister conspiracies, you’re sure to enjoy this. Protagonist Alister slowly discovers that all is not as it seems in the world, and many shadowy forces are at play to mislead and muddle him. An exciting, conspiratorial nanopunk ride.
The Quantum Thief is the first part of Hannu Rajaniemi’s ‘Jean le Flambeur’ trilogy, and is set in an existence very different to our own. Memory and the nature of thought are not as we typically perceive them to be. The gentleman thief man character is imprisoned in a strange virtual prison, and must recover memories he stored elsewhere. Quantum Thief has been widely praised for the quality of its prose, the depth of its characters, and the seriousness of the scientific concepts with which it deals. Well worth reading for nanopunk fans.
Michael Crichton will always be known for Jurassic Park, but much of his other work is absolutely superb as well. Micro is a posthumous novel, completed, packaged, and released after his death. Its story deals with the battle between technology and nature, with a biotech firm providing much of this central conflict. The story is engaging and the scientific aspect is mature and thought-provoking. A great choice for fans of nanopunk or of Crichton’s work in general.
Idoru by William Gibson is the second part of the ‘Bridge’ trilogy, and merges elements of nanopunk and post-cyberpunk to great effect. Although Idoru draws upon aspects of its prequel, it works very much as a standalone story, and there is no need for readers to check out the trilogy as a whole. The story is set in a technologically advanced world which has to rebuild after a devastating natural event. Science fiction fans have widely praised Idoru for its incredibly imaginative and engaging prose which forces us to contemplate the future we are creating.
Assemblers Of Infinity
Kevin J Anderson and Doug Beason
Kevin J Anderson and Doug Beason laid the ground for much of the nanopunk to follow back in 1993 with the release of Assemblers Of Infinity. The story is fascinating, dealing with nanomachines imbued with real intelligence, able to construct an astonishing structure. When this far side of the moon discovery is made, panic is triggered. What do the machines want? What do they mean? Is Earth safe? An exciting example of the nanopunk genre.
We round out our list of the best nanopunk with a story that mixes in aspects of hard sci-fi, Bloom by Will McCarthy. This is one of the more challenging books on the list, but the story by no means suffers as a result. The central concept is the question of how humanity will cope in a world where technology is self-replicating and out of the control of human beings. In Bloom, self-replicating tech known as Mycora have taken over Earth and are now stealing human genome sequences. Will humanity fight back? Will it be able to survive? Found out in Bloom.
What Makes a Nanopunk Science Fiction Book?
Nanopunk derives its name as a combination of nanotechnology and cyberpunk. So how do these elements combine to make nanopunk the popular sci-fi subgenre it is?
Grit. Naturally, to be worthy of the ‘punk’ part of its name, nanopunk has a lot of grit. If you’re a fan of classic, dark-edged cyberpunk, you’ll probably enjoy this. Many of the protagonists find their nanotechnology to be a double-edged sword, just as the cyberpunk heroes used to.
Cutting-edge. A lot of science fiction deals with areas of science we are fairly familiar with, or at least can easily envision. Nanotechnology is something new for a lot of people. Although almost everyone on Earth has a level of familiarity with spaceships, aliens, and so forth, far fewer people have been exposed to the ideas of nanobots. It is therefore a really exciting subgenre, much in the same way cyberpunk was when it launched.
Story-driven. Just as the best cyberpunk was primarily narrative focussed, using the science to support the story, nanopunk takes a similar path. As the science of nanotechnology itself is fairly young, and still developing, the nanopunk books often focus more on character and plot than on the science itself.
If you’re a fan of stories exploring the undue power of huge, scientifically powerful corporations, you’ll be at home in the nanopunk world. Naturally, the stories explore who will have their hands on this technology, and what the results will be for those who don’t.
How Science-Centric Is Nanopunk?
Nanotechnology is far, far younger than other areas of science such as space travel, or biology.
As a result, nanopunk authors have a couple of different options available to them when crafting their work.
First, many authors choose to take the path of drawing upon the few proven examples of nanotech in the real world, and expanding upon them. Just as classic science fiction authors took established concepts such as space travel, and envisioned how they might develop, many current nanopunk authors imagine a slightly more developed version of current nanotechnology.
Second, some authors really go to town and imagine the most complex possible, out there evolution of nanotech. This is often some of the most fun nanopunk to read, but it can also be the hardest to wrap your mind around as a result of the complexity.
One exciting reason to become a fan of the nanopunk genre is to get ahead of the curve. Just as many science fiction authors of the past predicted the real future to scary levels of precision, it will be fascinating to see if today’s nanopunk tales resemble the reality of tomorrow.
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