Sterling, Bruce. Schizmatrix Plus. (N.Y.: Ace, 1985, rpt. 1996). ISBN 0441003702 (paperback, available used in various earlier printings)
Sterling's characters were imagined in the early 1980s when biomedical engineering (the Mechanists) and genetic engineering (the Shapers) were just being developed. Given the way his stories' plots develop, think about how he created a possible future for the human species, and the rules he operates by as an author. Does he treat his characters ironically as a satirist, like Voltaire, might, or is he deeply sympathetic with them, like Barrett?
How "true" is his fictional vision of the future now that we are decades into the world he was imagining? How would you test his predictions? Note that Goucher's biology department faculty members are available during office hours for interviews if you favor a more personal style of research. You also might want to search OLLI and the listings of journals available from JSTOR, WilsonWeb, and EbscoHost, to see what kinds of new fields of robotics and genetic medicine now have their own publications.
When Sterling imagines human contact with other species, we sometimes find ourselves oddly transported back to Barrett's world in which microbes and humans interact in ways that neither seems to fully understand. Sometimes Sterling allows humans to manipulate their worlds' creatures with seemingly absolute power, but usually the complexity of the systems they are dealing with will have to be dealt with, sooner or later. In "The Swarm," humans are the predatory parasites and an entirely different ecosystem must react to the threat they constitute. How does this change your thinking about humanity's place in the ecosystem of Earth? How might it affect, if it happens, our first encounters with species not of this planet? Would we necessarily be the first choice of species to make contact with, or might some other species be more desirable for first contact?
One of Sterling's most troubling (for me, anyway) views of the future has to do with the way both Mechanists and Shapers use drugs to manipulate their bodies' responses to emotions, including grief, loneliness, fear, and sexual attraction. To what degree is modern American culture already approaching this level of drug-mediated existence? Was this species ever really "drug free," or does the urge to manipulate our sensory experience arise in or even before our earliest ancestors? What kind of future do you imagine for a species so willing to alter its modes of perception on a routine basis?