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SF Subgenre Guides
Synthetic Biology SF
What is Synthetic Biology Science Fiction?
Synthetic Biology Science Fiction is a small and still emerging sub-genre. The stories feature artificial life forms and biological engineering. Synthetic Biology Sci Fi stories offer a sense optimism about the possibilities of synthetic biology.
The field of synthetic biology is a creative science. Synthetic biologists are essentially engineers who build biological circuitry and life from the bottom up.
This is not a highly populated science fiction subgenre yet, and some consider it part of the "Biopunk" movement for now. However, we feel it merits its own subgenre because there are some distinct differences between pure Synthetic Biology and Biopunk.
BioPunk vs. Synthetic Biology subgenres
Biopunk is more of an offshoot of Cyberpunk, inheriting the same themes and tropes (brooding lone hero, anti-government/corporation ideas, crime infested slums, body made to spec, corporate control of the government) but instead of the computer interfaces of pure cyberpunk, the interface is with the human body itself; quite often in Biopunk there is the subversion of genetics to serve man's purpose (super-soldiers, detectives with hacked genetics giving them distinct combat advantages, etc). As such, Biopunk may or may not include specific Synthetic Biology technology or themes. You might consider Biopunk as a sort of Synthetic Biology merged with Cyberpunk.
Generally, any sort of Science Fiction that features synthetic life -- i.e. life engineered by hacking genetics -- can fall under the Synthetic Biology movement.
You can view the crowd-ranked Synthetic Biology books list and vote and/submit entries to it.
Other Features of Synthetic Biology Science Fiction
- Level of Real Science
High. Synthetic biology is a very real and growing field of scientific inquiry. Because the Sci Fi that features this science has established research to build on it comes across realistically.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
High. Synthetic Biology Sci Fi deals with ethical ideas primarily, but also the impact of the sciences of synthetic biology on humanity and society. On a grander scale, synthetic biology addresses the question, “What is life?”
- Level of Characterization
Moderate. Protagonists are often biologists with sufficient backstory and motivation for readers to understand their desire to create life or biological engineer an existing life.
- Level of Plot Complexity
Moderate. The plots of Synthetic Biology Sci Fi are often built around cause and effect events.
- Level of Violence
Variable. For example, in some stories humans' violent tendencies have been removed from their genetic makeup. But, in other stories a new engineered life form can rise up against the scientist that created it.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
Biopunk. Synthetic biology and genetic engineering are the sciences featured in Biopunk and so Biopunk falls under the Synthetic Biology sub-genre. However, Biopunk focuses on hacking human DNA or other aspects of genetics and has a subversive message or theme.
Synthetic Biology Science Fiction isn't for you if...
If you think a goat should just be a goat and not an awesome goat-spider who produces spider silk milk.
- 1 Limit of Vision
By Linda Nagata. A new life form is created and then it evolves.
- 2 The Seedling Stars
By James Blish. A collection of stories about humans that have been 'adapted' for life on extraterrestrial worlds.
- 3 Sexual Chemistry and Other Tales of the Biotech Revolution
By Brian M. Stableford. A collection of short stories about the possibilities of biological technology and genetic engineering.
- 4 Masters of Evolution
By Damon Knight. Animals and other uses of genetic engineering are used to replace machines.
- 5 Anvil of the Heart
By Bruce T. Holmes. The story of the last generation of unaltered humans.
- 6 Father to the Man
By John R. Gribbin. A scientist raises an artificial ape-like creature.
- 7 Tuf Voyaging
By George R.R. Martin Tuf is a space trader in possession of the last seed-ship, which is capable of creating life.
- 8 Blood Music
By Greg Bear. A biotechnologist hides his biological computer creation in his body, but then they multiply and evolve. One of the first Sci Fi stories to treat DNA as a computational system that can be modified.
- 9 The Warriors of Dawn
By M.A. Foster. Humans have created the Ler, a brother race of humanoids. The story explores how this new race separates themselves from their makers and create their own society.
- 10 Garden of the Shaped
By Sheila Finch. A look at biological engineering from the perspective of those who have been engineered.
- 11 The Expanse series
By James Cory. For a new space opera series in the tradition of some of the older space opera works, give James Cory's The Expanse series a read. It features a heavy Synthetic Biology concept with an engineered alien life form presenting a huge threat to mankind. A very exciting read for those who like action, adventure, and a dark premise.
- 12 Fallen Dragon
By Peter Hamilton. Peter Hamilton's Works. Read any of Hamilton's epic space operas and there is a heavy emphasis on human-genetic interfaces -- i.e. man merged with nano tech, enhanced by genetic hacking. Hamilton has a certain vision of what the future of mankind holds, and this vision includes a heavy dose of synthetic biology and biopunk themes. Read Fallen Dragon for a standalone. Or if you are in the mood for some grand space opera, give his Commonwealth saga a read, followed by The Dreaming Void trilogy.
- Blood Music (Greg Bear)