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Let’s talk about biopunk.

Biopunk is fantasy and science fiction that utilizes organic technology to a large degree as opposed to diesel-, steam-, and cyber-punk. But not exclusively so. Often there’s leviathan_by_westerfeldsome degree of crossover, with important biological components (besides human operators) that enhance or even make the steam or cyber elements work, as in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. Jellyfish hot air balloons! Flying whales!

There’s an ambiguity there that works.

It has the -punk element in common, which means there’s something wrong with the world, and the protagonists are dealing with that wrongness.

The organic tech might be something close to magic or closer to current (or near future) biotechnology (gene transfer, cloning, GMOs). But basically, to quote Terry Bisson: “They’re Made Out of Meat.” If it’s meat of one kind or another making the technology go, then you’re in the realm of biopunk.


Biopunk often ties in with the “New Weird”–China Miéville has some freaky organic stuff in Perdido Street Station–one of my current reads. Kameron Hurley also writes in this vein. Her God’s War trilogy features all kinds of organic tech from cars to weaponry to a whole wall made out of meat (which for me beats a wall made of ice). Her other work tends to follow the same theme.

Biopunk isn’t just restricted to fantasy and science fiction novels. Visual media often play with the same idea. Farscape has a definite biopunk feel to it, starting with Moya, the living ship/space whale that is home for the crew and a major setting for the series. Despite its cyberpunk undertones, the “real world” of the Matrix trilogy is pretty darn organic–you can’t get more biopunk than using humans as batteries for your machine empire.

Video games make use of organic tech, too. I owe my fascination with biopunk and FFVI_Esper_Narshesteampunk in no small measure to the Final Fantasy series, especially Final Fantasy 6 (originally released as FF3 in North America). Castles that sink and move under the sand, steal power from magical creatures and enhancing humans, airships, airships, airships! The other installments in the series use similar elements, but for me FF6 is the big jumping off point.

The third Elder Scrolls game, Morrowind, likewise used a lot of organic technology, which was the basis of Dark Elf civilization in that series. One faction lived in grand homes made of specially grown mushrooms, while another made its base in the shell of a gargantuan land crab. Travel was done by manipulating the nerve fibers of giant arthropods, and some of the coolest armor was made from insect shells. The basis of magic in the series is after all capturing the souls of living creatures and holding them captive in “soul gems.” Sounds like we’re in the realm of biopunk there, too.

If you’re writing and organic technology is a significant part of your worldbuilding, then chances are you could be writing biopunk. I hope this post has given you some ideas and places to go for inspiration. I’ve only highlighted some of the ideas that have inspired me. Go out there and let nature influence your fantasy worlds.