David Forbes looks at the history of the grinder/DIY transhumanist movement, tracing its origins from the experiments of Kevin Warwick and Lepht Anonym to Warren Ellis’ Doktor Sleepless comic to the Grinding.be website to Grindhouse Wetware:
Usually, a subculture starts in a particular societal splinter just far enough off the beaten path to find breathing room. Its members begin talking to one another, and eventually someone puts a name on it that sticks. The group hits a nerve or a style, and in time a journalist tells a bit of their story. Often, the writers who deal with subcultures act more as archaeologists than engineers, dredging up what’s already been rather than creating what is to be.
Grinders — who are dedicated to bringing a cyberpunk tomorrow into reality today through DIY body modification — are different. They started with a name in the literary world and migrated seemingly backwards into reality. In 2007, comic writer Warren Ellis launched Doktor Sleepless, a series about the eponymous mad scientist and his apocalyptic plots. It’s a stew of wild ideas — occult magic, implants, urban breakdown — set in a just-past-tomorrow era. The series, which lasted more than a year, is a bit hit or miss but with some truly fascinating moments and a heaping hodgepodge of speculative ideas. Central to Doktor Sleepless are grinders — the term originating from video games, where players “grind” their character through repetitive actions to reach a higher level of power. While identity overhaul has been a selling point of alternative cultures back to prehistory, Ellis’s grinders emphasized identity as a character sheet, with each capability up for modification, for upgrade.