Books

So You Want to Read Cyberpunk: Here’s Where to Start

 

Cover detail from Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan/Penguin Random House ©

After publishing the feature “Cyberpunk’s Not Dead“, we received an email from a reader asking for reading cyberpunk book suggestions. We’re happy to oblige.

Science-fiction is a predictive genre, with a sometimes wary eye always cast toward the future and what it may bring, both good and bad. Cyberpunk is perhaps one of the most cynical of the bunch. Having risen in the eighties, cyberpunk’s message is more relevant than ever: Our technology is more than a tool, cyberpunk says, in time it will define us, control us, and enable the worst of our impulses.

One thing every reader should consider that as technology has changed, and with it, our definition of cyberpunk. Bitcoin cyberthefts, and the Arab Spring’s use of Twitter to organize and launch a rebellion are both pretty darn cyberpunk, for example. You just don’t notice it because all of this stuff is part of everyday reality.

Here’s a few books suggestions for the new cyberpunk reader, old and new. Some of them are canonical works. Others are cyberpunk-inspired or related, as they play with similar themes: technology’s effect on humanity and society, creeping corporate power, and techno-noir criminal schemes.

alteredcarbon

Altered Carbon
by Richard Morgan

Richard Morgan took cyberpunk’s dystopian noir and transplanted to a post-singularity future where death — at least for the very wealthy — is just another technical problem, thanks to technology that allows them to transfer their consciousness into new, healthy bodies. The story follows former soldier Takeshi Kovacs, who is hired by a man to investigate his own murder: something he has no memory of because his mind is set to backup once every 48 hours. Read this one now: It was opted for series by Netflix.

doandroids

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
by Philip K. Dick

You probably know this one already: It was the basis for the classic science-fiction “Bladerunner”. Rick Deckard is just another working stiff in San Francisco: a bounty hunter who has been hired to kill six renegade androids roaming the streets of post-apocalyptic San Francisco. Deckard is good at his job — suspiciously good. The book is significantly different from the film, and explains some of the more cryptic elements you might remember, like the importance of the robotic animals and why the streets are so dark and dingy.

neuromancer

Neuromancer
by William Gibson

William Gibson’s tale of a burned-out hacker recruited for a high-risk heist in the endless sprawl dystopian Chiba City, Japan is a must-read for any science-fiction fan. Featuring cyber-enhanced “street samurai”, corporate criminals, and adventures in a pre-internet VR network known as “the matrix”, Neuromancer pretty much defined the genre. Consider this one obligatory for your journey into cyberpunk

snowcrash

Snow Crash
by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson’s insanely baroque yet utterly enthralling novel Snow Crash is the story of Hiro Protagonist: a hacker and pizza delivery guy who is drawn into a wild plot involving the mafia, cults, mysterious viruses, and oh-so-much more. Did I mention that it’s set in an anarcho-capitalist hellscape? Imagine a future co-created by Thomas Pynchon and conspiracy monger Alex Jones and you’re halfway there.

water-knife

The Water Knife
by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Water Knife is more biopunk than cyberpunk, but the two are so close that they’re practically twins. The Southwestern United States has been hit by drought, making life there almost completely inhospitable. Water, as you might imagine, has become a hot commodity, and private corporations have taken control of what’s left. They rule the parched Southwest like mafia dons, destroying anyone who threatens their monopoly. Protagonist Angel Velasquez, the titular water knife and foot soldier for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, isn’t a good guy, but cyberpunk “heroes” rarely are.