ribofunk – the undeath of cyberpunk
In the mid-90s Paul Di Filippo, writer of the Steampunk trilogy, issued a provocative and funny challenge to the ‘radical technoculture establishment'(????) in the shape of the Ribofunk Manifesto. Some of it is a bit vague or just plain wrong, but 2 aspects have stuck with me – 1) the shift from punk to funk 2) the shift from hardware to wetware (of course this just continues cyberpunk’s critique of classic sf’s hardware fetishism). Its not actually anti-cyberpunk, but rather correctly notes that cyberpunk needed upgrading – an upgrading that was carried out in untimely fashion between 1993-97 by jungle.
In a Wired interview in 1996, Filippo explained “Ribo comes from the word ribosome, which I use as a shorthand for all biology, and funk indicates a stylistic component derived mostly from funk music. . .a hot skittery style in contrast to the more laid back, cerebral style that you might find in some cyberpunk”
RIBOFUNK: The Manifesto
by Paul Di Filippo
Gregor Mendel Died for Your Sins!
Free James Brown!
Listen to Your Mitochondria!
Cybernetics was a dead science when cyberpunk SF was born, a cul-de-sac without living practitioners. Furthermore, the “cyber” prefix has been irreparably debased by overuse, in vehicles ranging from comic books to bad movies. The tag now stands for nothing in the public mind but computer hacking and fanciful cyborgs such as Robocop. And Weiner’s actual texts do not provide enough fruitful metaphors for constructing a systematic worldview.
Punk was a dead music when cyberpunk SF was born, a cul-de-sac albeit with living practitioners who just hadn’t gotten the message yet. The music’s nihilistic, chiliastic worldview had already culminated in its only possible end: self-extinction.
What is Ribofunk then?
Ribofunk is speculative fiction which acknowledges, is informed by and illustrates the tenet that the next revolution–the only one that really matters–will be in the field of biology. To paraphrase Pope, ribofunk holds that: “The proper study of mankind is life.” Forget physics and chemistry; they are only tools to probe living matter. Computers? Merely simulators and modelers for life. The cell is King! Consider the following:
AIDS is causing an intense and unprecedented investigation of cellular mechanics which is bound to have myriad by-products.
The mapping of the human genome is already underway.
Legal obstacles to copyrighting living animals and organic substances are falling daily.
The ecological nightmare unfolding around us–greenhouse effect, oil spills, toxic wastes–can only be solved by biological means. You cannot replace a rain forest with an oxygen-manufacturing factory. You cannot mop up spilled hydrocarbons and PCB’s, but you can degrade them organically.
Humans are greedy for life-extension. Any promising developments in this direction will soon snowball.
One of the prime purposes of nanotechnology is bodily repairs, augmentations and modifications.
There are over a hundred naturally occurring neurotransmitters, and we only have a rudimentary idea of what a few of them do.
Where does the funk come in? In the style. Ribofunk must be as sensual as sex, as unsparing in sweat, cum, bile and lymph as the the body is prolific in these substances. Moreover, it must possess the same blind imperatives as the body. Crushed and crippled, the body persists, while many times the mind succumbs. We have gone as far as intellectuality can take us. We need a fiction as urgent as hunger or a hard-on. Hot, not cool.
Like every kind of SF, ribofunk can be traced back to Wells, specifically The Island of Dr. Moreau. From there we follow it through Huxley’s “The Tissue Culture King,” onward through some of David H. Keller’s stories, into Knight’s biological SF (“Natural State”), and perhaps Pohl and Kornbluth’s “Gravy Planet” (chicken tissue culture). From there it’s a leap to the novels of T.J. Bass and Varley. Finally, a temporary culmination in Bear’s Blood Music and Sterling’s Schismatrix.
This is the barest outline. Once exposed, the vein gleams brightly. Our goal must be to smelt and refine the crude ore, to craft a speculative fiction which does not pretend that homo sapiens will even still look the same fifty years from now.
We must be as widespread as ubiquitin, forging a philosophy that ties all organisms from yeast to man into a renewed great chain of being.
What good is a movement without a slogan?
Here are a few:
* DNA to others as you would have them DNA to you.
* Anatomy is destiny–but anatomy is malleable.
* Gregor Mendel died for your sins.
* Redraw your MAP2
* Strobe your lobes.
* Match it, batch it, latch it.
* Snap the gap.
* Axe your axons.