It is easy for the casual reader to get lost in the maze of literary movements declaring themselves one flavor of “-punk” or another. Cyberpunk and splatterpunk may have kicked it off back in the 80s, but more recent times have seen the proliferation of mannerpunk, teapunk and magicpunk, not to mention the zeppelin-riding cultural ascension of steampunk. And then there’s biopunk, championed by Paul de FIlippo in Ribofunk and dealing largely with the effects of the use of biotechnology within a speculative fiction context.
Growing Dread, subtitled “Biopunk Visions”, is a slender anthology of stories that more or less fall into the biopunk milieu. Edited by C. Dombrowski, the book has 11 pieces in it, plus a short introduction and a single interior illustration. Both the tone and the quality of the stories vary widely. There’s no underlying manifesto here. Instead, the rough genre outline is used as a broad boundary for the material. As a result, the two best pieces in the book, Christine Danse’s “How to Hack Your Dragon” and Lillian Cohen-Moore’s “Boosting the Signal”, sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. The former is a fun, punchy shaggy-dragon story that wouldn’t have been out of place in an issue of Analog – scrappy smart protagonist creates problem, wacky hijinks ensue, and then problem is solved with application of brainpower, while the later is short and sharp, a pared down tale of where social networking might be going. Angel Leigh McCoy’s “The God Bloom” is also enjoyable, a solid end-of-the-world scenario with metaphysical overtones mixed in. And Jeremy Zimmerman’s “Unchained Melody”, the story of a lab-grown child rescued from a pedophile and given a chance at a life on her own, probably pushes the punk ethos more than any other piece in the book.
Some of the other pieces don’t fare as well. A few – Berit Ellington’s “Necrosis” and Michael Hacker’s “Kundalini Rising” – suffer from too much on-the-nose writing. “Doctor Circe And The Separatist Man-Cheetahs”, from Erik Scott de Bie, has a wonderfully pulp title, but the post-apocalyptic setup feels contrived and the resolution is unsurprising. And Mae Emperson’s “The Aesthetic Engine”, while straddling the borders between biopunk and its steamier cousin, telegraphs its punch far too soon.
On the whole, Growing Dread is an uneven collection with a couple of standout pieces. Fans of the subgenre will most likely find a great deal to enjoy here; those first coming to biopunk might do better to look elsewhere for their first, more concentrated exposure.
(Timid Pirate, 2011)