Biopunk Dystopias

Biopunk Dystopias is a book about the stellar rise of genetics as the driving discipline of scientific progress of the 21st century and its possible consequences as imagined by contemporary culture. The book proposes that the contemporary science fiction imagination reflects changes in the make-up of our society – on a political, economical, or inter-personal level – and expresses them through depictions of the consequences of current scientific research in what it terms „biopunk dystopias.“

In its discussion of what comes ‚after the human‘ and the consequences of human genetic engineering for all life on earth, „biopunk“ reveals our anxieties about the recent trends in both technology and sociology.

Synopsis

‚Biopunk Dystopias‘ contends that we find ourselves at a historical nexus, defined by the rise of biology as the driving force of scientific progress, a strongly grown mainstream attention given to genetic engineering in the wake of the Human Genome Project (1990-2003), the changing sociological view of a liquid modern society, and shifting discourses on the posthuman, including a critical posthumanism that decenters the privileged subject of humanism. The book argues that this historical nexus produces a specific cultural formation in the form of „biopunk“, a subgenre evolved from the cyberpunk of the 1980s. The analysis deals with dystopian science fiction artifacts of different media from the year 2000 onwards that project a posthuman intervention into contemporary socio-political discourse based in liquid modernity in the cultural formation of biopunk. Biopunk makes use of current posthumanist conceptions in order to criticize contemporary reality as already dystopian, warning that a future will only get worse, and that society needs to reverse its path, or else destroy all life on this planet. As Rosi Braidotti argues, „there is a posthuman agreement that contemporary science and biotechnologies affect the very fibre and structure of the living and have altered dramatically our understanding of what counts as the basic frame of reference for the human today“. The book analyzes this alteration as directors, creators, authors, and artists from the field of science fiction extrapolate it from current trends.

Reviews

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Dystopia, Science Fiction, Posthumanism and Liquid Modernity
    1. Science Fiction
    2. Posthumanism
    3. Liquid Modernity
    4. Utopian/Dystopian Fiction
  3. The Anthropocene, the Posthuman and the Animal
    1. Eco-Catastrophe, Hypercapitalism and the Inhuman
    2. Interconnectedness, the Animal Other and Genetics
    3. The Better Human: Posthumanity and the Replacement of ‚Us‘
    4. Posthumanism and the Interregnum
  4. Science, Family and the Monstrous Progeny
    1. The Monstrous and the Posthuman
    2. Motherhood, Commitment and Liquidity
    3. Monstrous Sexuality and Incest
  5. Individuality, Choice and Genetic Manipulation
    1. Objectivist Utopia and Posthuman Dystopia
    2. Freedom of Choice, Individuality de jureand Morality
    3. Autonomy and Agency in Video Games
    4. Deep Structures and the Impossibility of Learning
  6. The Utopian, the Dystopian and the Heroic Deeds of One
    1. Superheroes, Posthumanism and the Ordinary
    2. The Utopian Potential and the Dystopian Future
  7. 9/11 and the Wasted Lives of Posthuman Zombies
    1. A New Millennium
    2. Zombie Fiction
    3. A Posthuman Society
  8. Conclusion

These theoretical considerations are important; but the real meat of Biopunk Dystopias comes in the discussions of particular representative works in the remaining chapters. […] All these chapters are dense and rich with insights. All the works discussed within them trace the consequences of Bauman’s liquid modernity on scales both personal and societal, and trace the emergence of political strategies of preemption, exclusion, and sovereign exemption.

Steven Shaviro
Professor of English, Wayne State University

Each discussion engages thoroughly with relevant scholarship, from biopolitics to game studies to creature films and the horror genre. Together, they make a convincing case that biological themes are prominent in contemporary sf across media, appearing in works that are marked by a critically dystopian sensibility.

Rebecca Wilbanks
Hecht-Levi Fellow, Johns Hopkins University

Biopunk Dystopias is a strong contribution to twenty-first-century science fiction studies and studies of dystopian fiction, but also will interest critics invested in studies of literary and filmic representations of late capitalism, biopower, and necropolitics.

Mary Foltz
Associate Professor of English, Lehigh University

An important intervention into the ways sf studies is done – it is no longer even remotely credible to treat sf as just a literary genre – and the strengths of this book makes that argument more effectively than any polemic about the transmediality of sf.

Mark Bould
Reader in Literature and Film, University of the West of England

For Schmeink, biopunk sf holds the promise of utopia by unlocking the doors of posthuman subjectivity and perception not only for humanity but for all varieties of living organisms. This is only the beginning, of course, both for the subgenre and the criticism that will define and refine it. … Biopunk Dystopias erects a solid infrastructure for future scholarship as well as fresh interpretations of recent texts for critics in the field.

D. Harlan Wilson
Writer and Professor of English, Wright State University

A comprehensive, meticulously researched, and wide-ranging intervention in the union between genetic discourse and contemporary science fiction that has the potential to be very influential in the field.

Gerry Canavan
Associate Professor of English, Marquette University

Biopunk Dystopias represents a substantial contribution to the field … . With the commercialisation of the life sciences continuing apace, the insights [of] this book will only become more pertinent over the coming years. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the mutated future rushing straight for us.

Jack Fennell
Lecturer of English, University of Limerick

Biopunk Dystopias [stellt] in vielerlei Hinsicht vor allem eine marxistische Kritik an der Gesellschaft des jungen 21. Jahrhunderts dar. […] Zudem bringt Schmeink Perspektiven verschiedener Fachrichtungen und theoretische Ansätze zusammen, unter anderem aus der Soziologie, den Human-Animal-Studies, den Monster Studies und den Game Studies, was nicht nur zum Erkenntnisgewinn seiner Analyse beiträgt, sondern darüber hinaus den wissenschaftlichen Diskurs für eine Vielzahl weiterer Fachrichtungen öffnet.

Madeline Becker
Madeline Becker
English Literature, University of Magdeburg
Related Items
  • Biopunk 101 – a short student-friendly introduction, originally published in the SFRA Review

  • Relevance of Biopunk Science Fiction – a short blog article on Liverpool University Press 

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