Friday, February 22, 2013

Introduction to Biopunk

As a subgenre of Cyberpunk, it shares the common totalitarian and dystopian backdrop but instead of the perversion and control of computer and cybernetics, biopunk pushes the envelop of biotechnology and recombinant DNA (think cloning.) Biopunk characters have traded the cybernetic alterations for genetic enhancement through chromosomal manipulation. Hackers have been traded for lab geeks who love to study DNA, dissect it and twist it back together to create something new.

While biopunk has only been defined as a genre relatively recently, some hints of the genre, though less modern, can be attributed to H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896.)

More recent novels include "The Windup Girl" by   where food is a weapon. This novel is outstanding because of how close to home it hits. It extrapolates from the current state of affairs but not so far that the political direction is completely far-fetched. With Emiko, a genetically engineered character, Bacigalupi brings to the table the essential question, echo of Cyberpunk, that is what is it exactly to be human.

Biopunk has developed beyond a literature genre, growing into a movement of thinkers, artists, scientists who wish to spread biotechnology knowledge. They believe in freedom to do research and seek biotechnology research beyond million dollar corporations. Meredith Patterson's "Biopunk Manifesto" from the 2010 UCLA Center for Society and Genetics' symposium.

Read it below or watch it here, regardless, some good points are made and are definitely worth a couple of minutes of your time.


The Biopunk Manifesto -- Meredith Patterson

" Scientific literacy is necessary for a functioning society in the modern age. Scientific literacy is not science education. A person educated in science can understand science; a scientifically literate person can *do* science. Scientific literacy empowers everyone who possesses it to be active contributors to their own health care, the quality of their food, water, and air, their very interactions with their own bodies and the complex world around them.

Society has made dramatic progress in the last hundred years toward the promotion of education, but at the same time, the prevalence of citizen science has fallen. Who are the twentieth-century equivalents of Benjamin Franklin, Edward Jenner, Marie Curie or Thomas Edison? Perhaps Steve Wozniak, Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard or Linus Torvalds — but the scope of their work is far narrower than that of the natural philosophers who preceded them. Citizen science has suffered from a troubling decline in diversity, and it is this diversity that biohackers seek to reclaim. We reject the popular perception that science is only done in million-dollar university, government, or corporate labs; we assert that the right of freedom of inquiry, to do research and pursue understanding under one’s own direction, is as fundamental a right as that of free speech or freedom of religion. We have no quarrel with Big Science; we merely recall that Small Science has always been just as critical to the development of the body of human knowledge, and we refuse to see it extinguished.

Research requires tools, and free inquiry requires that access to tools be unfettered. As engineers, we are developing low-cost laboratory equipment and off-the-shelf protocols that are accessible to the average citizen. As political actors, we support open journals, open collaboration, and free access to publicly-funded research, and we oppose laws that would criminalize the possession of research equipment or the private pursuit of inquiry.

Perhaps it seems strange that scientists and engineers would seek to involve themselves in the political world — but biohackers have, by necessity, committed themselves to doing so. The lawmakers who wish to curtail individual freedom of inquiry do so out of ignorance and its evil twin, fear — the natural prey and the natural predator of scientific investigation, respectively. If we can prevail against the former, we will dispel the latter. As biohackers it is our responsibility to act as emissaries of science, creating new scientists out of everyone we meet. We must communicate not only the value of our research, but the value of our methodology and motivation, if we are to drive ignorance and fear back into the darkness once and for all.

We the biopunks are dedicated to putting the tools of scientific investigation into the hands of anyone who wants them. We are building an infrastructure of methodology, of communication, of automation, and of publicly available knowledge.

Biopunks experiment. We have questions, and we don’t see the point in waiting around for someone else to answer them. Armed with curiosity and the scientific method, we formulate and test hypotheses in order to find answers to the questions that keep us awake at night. We publish our protocols and equipment designs, and share our bench experience, so that our fellow biopunks may learn from and expand on our methods, as well as reproducing one another’s experiments to confirm validity. To paraphrase Eric Hughes, “Our work is free for all to use, worldwide. We don’t much care if you don’t approve of our research topics.” We are building on the work of the Cypherpunks who came before us to ensure that a widely dispersed research community cannot be shut down.

Biopunks deplore restrictions on independent research, for the right to arrive independently at an understanding of the world around oneself is a fundamental human right. Curiosity knows no ethnic, gender, age, or socioeconomic boundaries, but the opportunity to satisfy that curiosity all too often turns on economic opportunity, and we aim to break down that barrier. A thirteen-year-old kid in South Central Los Angeles has just as much of a right to investigate the world as does a university professor. If thermocyclers are too expensive to give one to every interested person, then we’ll design cheaper ones and teach people how to build them.

Biopunks take responsibility for their research. We keep in mind that our subjects of interest are living organisms worthy of respect and good treatment, and we are acutely aware that our research has the potential to affect those around us. But we reject outright the admonishments of the precautionary principle, which is nothing more than a paternalistic attempt to silence researchers by inspiring fear of the unknown. When we work, it is with the betterment of the community in mind — and that includes our community, your community, and the communities of people that we may never meet. We welcome your questions, and we desire nothing more than to empower you to discover the answers to them yourselves.

The biopunks are actively engaged in making the world a place that everyone can understand. Come, let us research together."

What do you think of Biopunk? Is it a genre you would enjoy reading?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cyberpunk music - UK Garage, Dubstep & Co.

"A tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples, and occasional vocals" -- Allmusic website.

If you ask any writers about their writing inspiration, they'll name music as being one of their primary fuels, right along with coffee and snacks. Dubstep (and the other genres in this post), to me, is one the music best fitting to the Cyberpunk genre. Most of you have already been exposed to Dubstep without necessarily knowing it:

--IE9 Commercial--


--Weetabix (UK)-- (that kid can dance and so can the bears!)
Unless you're a die-hard music expert, you probably won't know or care to know the rhythm, beat, drum pattern... differences between all the precursors and offsprings of Dubstep. Just know this, one of the main difference is their beats per minute.  


UK garage:

UK Garage first started to be produced in the late 1990's in the UK. Descendant of House music, it is considered the ancestor of all other dance music subgenres. It gave rise to 2-step, bassline, grime and yes, Dubstep. Pitch and timing distortions were at the core of the genre, but were then traded for bass distortions, one of the biggest characteristic of Dubstep music.

Todd Edwards, originator of the genre, became famous for introducing vocal sampling instead of instrumental sampling to his tracks. Edwards co-produced and performed vocals on the Daft Punk song "Face to Face" from the album Discovery.



The "old-school" genre that rose from the ashes of UK garage. Current 2-step artists have been driving their music away for the famous wobble bass and back to an uptempo pacing and syncopated breakbeats. If you think of electronic music, you will probably think about the booming bass drumming in the background -- well, 2-step tries to stay away from that.

William Bevan (Burial), with this debut album Burial, is considered by many as a major player in the 2-step field.




It differentiates itself within the electronic music field by the distortions of the wobble bass, the "wub"; the dissonance and harmonies contributing to the dark feel of its tonalities; the bass drops common to the drum & bass genre, all tropes I could imagine any cyberpunk character blaring in their eardrum implants.

Dubstep originated from "dark garage music" and the actual term Dubstep was not used until 2002 when labels started adopting the genre as a producible venture. The tracks began with elements of breakbeat (syncopation and polyrhythm often used in hiphop) and the non-linear use of drums and bass. Later on, some tracks started experiencing by adding vocals but did not start becoming mainstream until 2005. The popularity spread as more people starting experiencing with the genre created more subgenres.



Post-Dubstep artists have incorporated ambient and R&B elements to the original genres. Mount Kimbie (Crooks & Lovers) & James Blake (Stop What You Doing remix) have been recognized for birthing the genre. It seems this genre is a free for all, with mix and matching elements based on each artist's style creating a myriad of variants and precluding "this pseudo-genre" from being clearly identified.




Starting in 2011 and influenced by electro house and heavy metal, Brostep spread the UK popularity of Dubstep music to the US. Skrillex remains the main player and precursor of the genre with its "robotic fluctuations and metal-esque aggression' (Wikipedia) - Doesn't that sound perfect for Cyberpunk????



Now, some Favorites!

Oh My I love Blackmill!!!
The Glitch Mob has so many awesome tracks!

 So what do you think of this type of Music? What is your fuel?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's! Hearts and Hysteria

Valentine's Day dates from the Roman Empire, marking the martyrdom of Saint Valentinus, executed for performing Christian wedding ceremonies for Roman soldiers. It became a date for lovers in the 13th Century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished, and gifts were traditionally flowers and confectionery accompanied by a handmade card.

However, it wasn't until the Victorian period - and the development of the printing press - that mass-produced cards became norm and spread the holiday across the country. Lovers took an example from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who openly displayed affection.

Cards routinely featured hearts, often elaborately embossed and decorated - cut-outs to emulate lace were popular - as well as roses and plump cherubim. Themes were incredibly pure, despite the fact a Valentine's card professed affection and love. Maintaining discretion and propriety was very important.

At the same time, women were often accused of having "vapours" or "hysterics". I would imagine most readers have heard of smelling salts, used to rouse ladies whose corsets had overcome them, but there were other... methods of treating hysteria that aren't as widely known.

Women considered to be suffering from hysteria exhibited a wide array of symptoms including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, and "a tendency to cause trouble". The standard treatment, believe it or not, was "pelvic massage" by a doctor until the patient experienced "hysterical paroxysm". Or, to put it bluntly, manual stimulation of the genitals until orgasm.

No, really. Hydrotherapy devices, which squirted water onto the woman's lower body, were available at Bath. In 1870, the first clockwork-driven vibrator was available for physicians, with a general market version following closely. The official standpoint was the equipment was purely medical, "healing" women of nervous tension and relieving hysteria. Unofficially... well.

Still from British comedy Hysteria, a fictionalised version of the
events that resulted in the invention of the vibrator

Nefertiti's Heart - February Book Feature

Cara Devon has always suffered curiosity and impetuousness, but
tangling with a serial killer might cure that. Permanently.

London, 1861. Impoverished noble Cara has a simple mission after the
strange death of her father - sell off his damned collection of
priceless artifacts. Her plan goes awry when aristocratic beauties
start dying of broken hearts, an eight inch long brass key hammered
through their chests. A killer hunts amongst the nobility, searching
for a regal beauty and an ancient Egyptian relic rumored to hold the
key to immortality.

Her Majesty’s Enforcers are in pursuit of the murderer and they see a
connection between the gruesome deaths and Cara. So does she,
somewhere in London her father hid Nefertiti’s Heart, a fist sized
diamond with strange mechanical workings. Adding further complication
to her life, notorious crime lord, Viscount Nathaniel Lyons is
relentless in his desire to lay his hands on Cara and the priceless
artifact. If only she could figure out his motive.

Self-preservation fuels Cara's search for the gem. In a society where
everyone wears a mask to hide their true intent, she needs to figure
out who to trust, before she makes a fatal mistake.

I am a writer living in rural New Zealand, surrounded by horses and homicidal chickens.

I am a bona fide corset wearing, sidesaddle riding freak. Which probably explains my fascination for historical novels :)

I love to blend steampunk adventures with an Egyptian twist and turn up the heat. My debut novel NEFERTITI'S HEART will be published by Curiosity Quills in 2013.


Thanks for taking the time to hang out with us today, Anita! Can you tell us and the viewers at home a little bit about yourself?

I live in rural New Zealand, home is a small block of land with horses, a mad boxer, cats and homicidal chickens. I ride sidesaddle, wear corsets, the zombie apocalypse is a regular dinner topic and I spend large parts of my day creating new ways to freak out my children :)

You said you’re a repressed Egyptologist. What is it about Egypt that fascinates you so much?

I honestly don't know! Maybe it's all that history wrapped up in mystery, like *how* did they build the pyramid of Giza and why? The objects unearthed are so haunting and beautiful and my mind loved tackling hieroglyphics.

Your book is called Nefertiti’s Heart. Can you tell those of us who don’t know a lot about Egypt who Nefertiti was?
Nefertiti was the queen of Akhenaten, who was Pharaoh of Egypt around 1350 BC. They are a really interesting couple, as Akhenaten preached there was only one god, the Aten, which was quite a heretical belief at the time. The bust of Nefertiti held in the Berlin museum is probably one of the most famous images of ancient Egypt, along with King Tut's death mask.

You’ve described Nefertiti’s Heart as “steampunk lite.” What can readers expect from your novel?
If you like hardcore steampunk, with everyone running around wearing goggles and shooting Tesla weapons this probably isn't the book for you.I would call it more of a gentle twist to Victorian England, rather than a radical shake down. My gadgets have to earn their place, and my mind has to understand how they work. They are there, but they are more backdrop to the story, rather than a story element in themselves. And my book still has airships! Cause, really, who can resist a rakish airship pirate? ;)

(Good question. Cause I can't.)

Can you tell us a little bit about your heroine, Cara? She sounds awesome.

Cara was written off by high society as "damaged goods" after something that happened when she was 14 yrs old. The situation was never her fault, but she is deemed tainted by it anyway, which releases her from the strict controls which other young noble girls had to live under. She roams the world, learning to fight, vowing she will never be vulnerable again. She returns to London after her father dies, wearing her trusty Smith & Wesson pistols, but discovers she never learned how to protect her heart.
What inspired you to write Nefertiti’s Heart?
I wrote a YA steampunk story and my friends complained it wasn't dark & twisted enough. I'm not sure what that says about me...? lol So that got me thinking. On my library shelf, the Egyptology books sit on a shelf next to all the forensic science books. That led me to thinking about a serial killer, searching for his Nefertiti among the debutantes of Victorian London, and from that point, the story took on a life of its own. It's still not as dark as I can go, but I'm working on that.

What would you do if you lived in the world you created?

I'd live in the coffee shop I created. The idea of being surrounded by fresh brewed coffee, warm croissants and playing backgammon all day sounds appealing. Either that or I would be the eccentric scientist shut in the basement, playing with electricity to reanimate dogs run over by the steam powered carriages above ground. Or maybe I could do both, and look for road kill to experiment with, on my way back from the bakery....

Do you have an all-time favorite steampunk or Egypt-related story? What is it and why do you love it so much?
Can I have both? I love Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, her heroine really knows how to deliver the biting one liner.
And for fictionalised Egypt, I devour anything by Christian Jacq - he sends you back there in such vivid and visceral detail.

Did any of your research surprise you? Were you able to incorporate that into your book?
I discovered the first luminescent light bulb was invented in 1835, which really excited me. And in the 1840s a French noble rigged up his entire estate with electric lights. I wanted to use electricity, but my time period is way too early for any inventions of Tesla. Finding out a Scottish inventor created the light bulb so early allowed me to develop my own way to have electric lighting, and a grumpy house that likes to send the surplus charge back through the switches. It allowed me to show the division in society in another way. The wealthy can afford electric lights and battery charged carriages, while the lower classes have to stick to noisy and noxious steam power.

What other projects are you working on now?
A sequel - called Hatshepshut's Collar. Hatshepsut was a queen who took control and became pharaoh, right down to wearing the ceremonial beard. My premise is her lust for power became embedded in a necklace. Alexander the Great and Genghis Kahn both succumbed to the lure of the necklace and rampaged across the continents. Then it is gifted to Queen Victoria, and it sends her spiraling into a world domination madness. And that's not the worse of Cara's problems that she needs to sort!

I am also kicking around a prequel idea, based on Inspector Fraser's case with the killer called The Grinder. I allude to it in Nefertiti's Heart. The Grinder is the reason Fraser can never eat a sausage from a street vendor again....

Anubis vs. Hades. Who wins?
Oh tough question! The underworld smack down... I'm going to have to go Team Anubis, cause he would have more bite... lol
 Thanks for joining us, A.W. This was a fun interview, and I am SUPER-STOKED to get my hands on Nefertiti's Heart!

Monday, February 11, 2013


Did you guys know that elfpunk is a “thing?” Because I didn’t. Nope, no idea, no clue. Just going on about my daily life without the knowledge that this awesome subgenre of a subgenre even existed.

So, what is elfpunk? Admittedly, the first image that comes to my mind is an elf in a ripped leather jacket and Mohawk a la Mad Max.  Really, that’s not too far from the truth. It’s not the dystopia of cyberpunk, and it’s not a steam-powered Victorian setting. Elfpunk takes creatures like elves and faeries, and transplants them to a more modern setting. So yes, we can have the previously-mentioned elf in a ripped leather jacket and Mohawk. Sweet!

Now, you may be thinking, “But Cate, this doesn’t sound much different from urban fantasy.” 

On the surface, it doesn’t. However, there are two major differences that distinguish elfpunk from ye olde urban fantasy.

Major difference between the two is that elfpunk doesn’t use werewolves or vampires, which are major tenants of the urban fantasy world, and it doesn’t use other made-up characters, which are prevalent in the genre. Elfpunk sticks with elves and fae of any background, though it does keep the fae as close to their mythos as possible, and it does use the occasional dragon. This means that research is highly important (it is, anyway). Plus, it gives you a fantastic reason to read mythology and use it to inform  your work.

A second difference is that the stories focus heavily on “punk” themes—rebellion, challenging the status quo, trying to change societal rules. In case you haven't noticed, elves get repressed A LOT. Forced to live separately from other species, killed on sight... Tragic, really. Not everybody gets to frolic around Isengard like Legolas. With such subject matter, you can expect elfpunk stories to be dark and gritty. And probably bad ass, though their accuracy with a bow still remains to be seen (I'm done with Legolas jokes, I swear).

Curious now? Check out Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tales series for a great example of modern elfpunk.

Also, there's a great Tumblr of elfpunk fashion. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Chat With The Captain

Formed in 1997 by "Captain" Robert Brown, Abney Park are one of the biggest names when it comes to Steampunk music. The band was built on a story, with the band members embracing characters and presenting themselves almost as a realised fantasy. The "origins" have been told through songs, and now in a book, penned by Captain Robert.

I caught up with the Captain on Facebook, and he was kind enough to share time for a chat.

I wanted to ask you a little about the music, and about extending Abney Park into other genres. There aren't many artists making the most of the media available and your vision really excites me.
Most artists that I know aren't willing to branch out, and nobody I currently know dedicated themselves full time to it. The fact that most people have "day jobs" greatly decreases the amount they can put into their art. In essence, the desk job keeps them chained to the desk, because it sucks away the time they could be putting into making there art good enough to support them.

The goal of an artist, when it comes to making a living at at, is to make their art so good that so many people can't live without it. Get enough people, and you can be pro. As far as I know, NO art teachers or schools teach that. The deck is REALLY stacked against people in creative careers.

- Abney's backstory
I know there's the novel and now a graphic novel, and saw your post about the role playing card game. Do you plan anything more?
There is a team in Hollywood putting together and shopping a script. And there is a third book to the RPG series being begun. Another album is always in the works, but the band is tired, so I'm not asking them to start recording just yet. I seem to work at a rate that others can't keep up with. I've got 5 or 6 AP projects, and there might be 30 or more people working across the projects, but still people can't keep up. Its gets a little challenging for me, which is why I have begun to favor things like novels, in which I'm completely independent. I don't have to wait for anyone.

For me, the joy is in finishing something to perfection. Wrangling people is not a fun task for anyone. When a project gets this big, you have to have a lot of people to do anything, so that's why I can do so many projects. I get this guy working on something, and while I'm waiting for him, I start something else, and then get other guys working, and while they are working I start another projects, et.

I think when you get to this stage, it's also a case of keeping up with the audience demands - the more that you and AP produce, the more people expect. Do you feel under pressure or do you relish the challenge? 
Fans get excited when they start to heard about what I've got worked up, but they don't pressure me for more. I put stuff out at a pace that startles most people. NO band releases two albums a year, but we do. ...and I do all the other projects in addition to this.

Ah, well that's good. And yeah, your output is kind of awe-inspiring.
I think most bands can't do this, because they are always touring. We do two shows a month, and only the very good ones. So I'm always home, and looking for something fun to do. Projects are WAY more fun then say, just playing video games, or watching TV. Reading makes me feel guilty that I'm not writing, since I get the same pleasure from writing that I do from reading. So, basically, the only fun stuff I can find to do is my projects.

And here is another thing: STARTING projects is fun. Finishing them is work.

So I'm always excited to start something new, but I don't get paid until I finish it.

Will you be involved in the movie? Or who gets to play you if not?
Oh, I doubt I'm an actor of the quality I would need to pull it off. its like the graphic novel: I CAN draw, but my taste in drawing is much more sophisticated then my skill, so I let some one more talented then me do it. Honestly, when you've got this much on the table, you've got to let some stuff go. For example: Americas Got Talent keeps calling us. They don't get that we are already successful. They want us to do there thing, because they saw us on YouTube. Well... grand prise is a years contract in Vegas. I don't want a years contract in Vegas. It'd have to pay a good deal more then I make, and even then, I'm not sure I'd be willing to put everything else on hold just to play one venue. I think I'd explode. So you pick your projects, based on what you can allocated, and how much time you are willing to give them.

That sounds terrible, quite frankly. The pages of the graphic novel look fantastic, by the way. Can't wait to see them coloured and printed.
Exactly. They've called a least a half dozen times. Each time I say, "I'm already successful, so I don't need exposure. I don't need money. I don't want a year in Vegas."

Me too. Coloring them is still a matter of checking to see if we like them. But the B&W pages are gorgeous. Jauns work looks more like a da Vinci sketch then a comic. I'm thrilled with his work, and we've done so much together that his art really matches the pictures in my head when I'm writing.

The role playing game
So what other media do you plan to conquer? Podcasts/audio novels? iPhone apps? Something I haven't thought of?
I intend to do an audio book, yes, eventually all the novels as such. Software is a big project. I'd love to have an epic adventure game of the quality of Uncharted. To do that to the same quality as the rest of our stuff would take a large team, and I think that's a ways off, until some already successful company approaches us.

It's very much my wish to do that, but I must wait until the perfect conditions present themselves.

Yes, of course. It's a really fascinating universe that you've created, though. Almost a genre of it's own standing. Other than the obvious, what else inspired it? I've spotted touches of Western, for example.
I don't take inspiration from other peoples art. I take inspiration from my own life. So If I travel through Asia, Asia appears in my work. If I spend time in Texas and Arizona, then cowboys appear. and the characters are all either people in my life, or parts of me. The female characters are either many girls I've known put together, or very specific parts of some women. Both the hero and the villain is me: I am of course Captain Robert in the novels, but I am also very much Victor Hypocrates. I think it adds to the authenticity of your villains if there motives look very obviously un "Villain". Victor was try to save the world, just like Robert was. Neither did a very good job of it.

Oh, I hate villains that are just depicted as bad. No one is all bad or good. And I recognise that blending of people you know into the characters you write - that's exactly what I do! (As well as finding interesting ways to kill off those I don't like much ;)) 

Your songs are stories, aren't they? Does that make you more a storyteller than a musician or is that just as important?
I'm probably more of a story teller then a musician, yes, but I've been a musician for 20 years, so I'm fairly established as that as well.

Will you ever depart from the AP 'verse?
I may explore other worlds. I had a great nightmare last night that I'd love to explore. I also had a great song setting that was obviously not my world that will be on the next album. SO yeah, I will some day travel to other places, but there is still so much exploring to be done in this one, that I doubt I could stay away for long.

I'm also deeply in love with some of my characters. Good guys an bad guys. I'd miss them. I've got a lot of origins I want to tell, which which will be a big part of what the graphic novels do.

Thanks so much for your time.