Lecture 20: Cyberpunk and Biopunk
9 September 2013
If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity's displayed:
I'm looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.
— W.B. Yeats, “Before the World Was Made” (ca. 1933)
● People are working steadily on the study guide.
● Remember that I need to approve you as an editor
before you can edit.
● There's still some low-hanging fruit to be picked.
● In addition to getting an additional quiz score for
completing this assignment, either contributing to the
guide or using it as a study tool will make you eligible to
pick up a few extra-credit points after the final exam.
– Unless you've already picked up extra credit for doing an
● Questions about the final exam?
● Other matters?
Final exam format
● Two parts.
● First part: identifications (pick six from four categories, no
more than two from any category). Total: 36 points.
● Second part: short essay/long short answer (pick two
from approximately five). Total: 64 points.
● Bonus questions:
– will not have their format discussed in advance.
– will be hard.
– Will give the lowest payoff for effort of any questions on the
● There will be anti-cheating measures in place.
Paolo Bacigalupi (1972–)
● Best known for his short
stories and The Windup
● Windup Girl won the Hugo
and Nebula awards for
best novel in 2009; was
also selected by Time as
one of the Top Ten Books
● Two other novels
published, three apparently
forthcoming soon.Bacigalupi in 2012; photo
by Larry D. Moore
Is The Windup Girl an SF novel?
… according to these definitions:
● Hard/Soft SF?
● Dystopian? (Utopian?)
● Does it fit into any of these periodic divisions (aside
from the date of publication)?
– “Adventure” period (pre-1920)
– “Modern” science fiction (1920–1935)
– “Golden Age” science fiction (1935–1950)
– “Classic Period” science fiction (1950–1965)
● What other definitions of SF might it fit under?
In what ways does the novel …
● … explore the consequences of some transformation to the
basic parameters of existence?
● … function as an exploration of a “mythology of power”?
● … seem to partake of the “literature of ideas” idea of SF?
● … exhibit a concern with Enlightenment-derived scientific
● … as “scientific thought” is understood at the time it was written?
● … respond to or encode traditionally “liberal” values?
Again, some characteristics of
dystopian fiction …
● Characterized by a society suffused with mass
poverty, oppression, or other suffering.
● Often extrapolative, based on contemporary
● Often provides explicit explanations for “how
things came to be this way” within the fictional
● Often positions itself explicitly as warning about
how contemporary trends may turn out.
● Often intends to provide a critique of (Utopian-
intended) totalizing solutions to social problems.
“Cyberpunk” (1984? –)
● A postmodern-influenced SF sub-genre that
focuses on advanced technology (especially
information technology and cybernetics).
● A common theme is the adaptation of technology to
ends its inventors never intended.
– “The street finds its own uses for things.” – William Gibson,
“Burning Chrome” (1981)
● Generally set in the near future on earth, rather
than in distant times and places.
● Often, the setting is characterized by social breakdown,
frequently to the point of being a (usually post-industrial)
● Many cyberpunk novels are also set largely online.
● “high tech, low life”*
“Classic cyberpunk characters were
marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the
edge of society in generally dystopic futures
where daily life was impacted by rapid
technological change, an ubiquitous
datasphere of computerized information, and
invasive modification of the human body.”
— Lawrence Person, “Notes Toward a
(“Seph” on the Collective Cyberpunk Community Forums)
● Major practitioners:
● Philip K. Dick (A Scanner Darkly, Ubik)
● Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, The Diamond Age)
● William Gibson (Neuromancer)
● Pat Cadigan (Deadpan Allie trilogy)
● Film examples you likely know:
● Blade Runner (1982; more clearly cyberpunk than
the Philip K. Dick novel on which it is based)
● The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003)
● Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
● Hackers (1995)
Yates: “I’ve got kink-springs the size of my fist
that hold a gigajoule of power. Quadruple the
capacity-weight ration of any other spring on
the market. I’m sitting on a revolution in energy
storage, and you’re throwing it away. […] We
haven’t had power this portable since gasoline.”
“These genehacked animals comprise the living
heart of the factory’s drive system, providing
energy for conveyor lines and venting fans and
manufacturing machinery.” (9)
“No graffiti of genehack weevil engraves its [the
ngaw's] skin.” (Bacigalupi 2)
“Most likely, she bribed the white shirts for stamps
rather than going through the full inspection process
that would have guaranteed immunity to eight-
generation blister rust along with resistance to
cibiscosis 111.mt7 and mt8.” (3)
“The boy said the man Gi Bu Sen gives them
blueprints, but he betrays them more often than not.
But his aunt discovered a trickery. And then they
made the successful rip of the ngaw. Gi Bu Sen did
hardly anything for them with the ngaw.” (43)
“Pollen wafts down the peninsula in steady
surges, bearing AgriGen and PurCal’s latest
genetic rewrites, while cheshires molt through
the garbage of the sois and jinjok2 lizards
vandalize the eggs of nightjars and peafowl.
Ivory beetles bore through the forests of Khao
Yai even as cibiscosis sugars, blister rust, and
fa’gan fringe bore through the vegetables and
huddled humanity of Krung Thep.” (47-48)
“Somewhere in this city a generipper is busily
toying with the building blocks of life.
Reengineering long-extinct DNA to fit post-
Contraction circumstances, to survive despite
the assaults of blister rust, Nippon genehack
weevil and cibiscosis.” (64)
“By then, they were only mopping up. AgriGen
and PurCal and the rest were shipping their
plague-resistant seeds and demanding
exorbitant profits, and patriotic generippers
were already working to crack the code of the
calorie companies’ products, fighting to keep
the Kingdom fed as Burma and the Vietnamese
and the Khmers all fell. AgriGen and its ilk were
threatening embargo over intellectual property
infringement, but the Thai Kingdom was still
alive. Against all odds, they were alive. As
others were crushed under the calorie
companies’ heels, the Kingdom stood strong.”
The calorie corporations
[Anderson:] “Blister rust is mutating every three
seasons now. Recreational generippers are hacking
into our designs for TotalNutrient Wheat and SoyPRO.
Our last strain of HiGro Corn only beat weevil
predation by sixty percent, and now we suddenly hear
you’re sitting on top of a genetic gold mine. People are
Yates laughed. “Don’t talk to me about saving lives.
I saw what happened to the seedbank in Finland.”
“We weren’t the ones who blew the vaults. No one
knew the Finns were such fanatics.”
“Any fool on the street could have anticipated.
Calorie companies do have a certain reputation.” (6)
● The photo of Paolo Bacigalupi (slide 4) is by
Larry D. Moore and has been released under a
Creative Commons-Sharealike license. Original