as sci-fi? Lots of picks for your cyberpunk library!
The internet of things can be a boon or a bane. If you don't know how bad it can be if you had all of your gadgets and gear accesible via the internet, it might be time to catch up on your reading and know how shady and even dangerous the world can be if people realized that privacy, your data and personal information is a commodity more precious than you think it is.
Cyberpunk is actually a crime noir themed genre of science fiction that takes into account how cyberspace is actually a battlefield, for both money and power as well as the hearts and minds of everyone. It's also that place where really bad people lurk and they can rob you, rape you, kill you, or erase your very existence. The novel 1984 by sci-fi writer George Orwell predicted a surveillance state coming into being with electronics playing a huge part in its being a pervading end-of-the-world fascist future.
The Internet-of-Things becoming part of everyone's gear and gadgets these days comes with a caveat. When you make your balls-out Cyber Monday shopping spree for the latest bells and whistles, it might interest you to note that Big Brother is watching you. Conversely, enjoy the following list of Cyberpunk novels as pulp adventures into both a retro-near future (1980s) and the apocalyptic future of any-moment-now, with heroes or heroines and unusual villains, who risk life and limb to safekeep data, steal data or extend consciousness into cold, emotionless A.I. shells. Enjoy the hardwired future.
by William Gibson
The groundbreaking novel of crime noir set in a future where the web is a realm of its own called cyberspace, as coined by the author himself. William Gibson's Neuromancer remains the standard for how Cyberpunk as essentially a crime-noir genre with plenty of advanced technology gadgets and a connect into that realm where data and media are commodities or loot as precious as real life objects.
Image Credit: Ace
His hero in this adventure is a maverick, tech cowboy hacker who can interface with cyberspace and navigate its traps and maps to find data to copy or steal because certain characters will pay a bounty for. In the course of stealing data from a mega-corporate mafia family, the hero has help from both goons and femme-fatales, who are bodily enhanced with cyber-mechanical props that help them function like superhuman assassins.
Voice of the Whirlwind
by Walter Jon Williams
Following William Gibson's lead about secret agents stealing data from big business, Walter Jon Williams novel, Voice of the Whirlwind has a super soldier with enhanced physical and cyberspace interfacing skills that make him the ultimate spy in an 80s futurethink of a cyberpunk space-exploring America. The soldier gets to become the Whirlwind that changes the face of the world after accomplishing his mission. Gibson played his cyberspace cowboy as a hacker kid who oversteps his bounds and gets into all sorts of hairy cloak and dagger situations, stealing and trading data as hot commodity. Williams goes straightforward soldier mercenary with his hijacking hero and it reads as an unrelenting men's adventure hero in a future world that has advanced weps and data smuggling and corporate espionage.
Image Credit: Tor Books
by Richard K. Morgan
Altered Carbon builds on the cyberpunk conceit that souls and personalities as data can be downloaded onto a storage entity: a physical mind and body for mission impossible style, soldier-spy noir. Takeshi Kovacs is an ex-convict and mercenary who is downloaded into a new body with a limited expiration date, so that he can assassinate or rob someone or some organization. Altered Carbon is a first person narrative noir cyberpunk, a hard boiled crime story about the future where soldier assassins get rebooted or "re-sleeved" into another body if they die elsewhere. The setting is Bay City (future San Francisco) and it is a drug infested, red light district where the rich can get "re-sleeved" almost indefinitely, while the rest of humanity languishes. It is a fast paced story with the usual "Blade Runner" tropes and detective mystery vibe as well as the tight and satisfying finish that leaves reader fans instant converts to any other Takeshi Kovacs adventures to come.
Image Credit: Del Rey
by Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash is another crime noir story working off a cyberspace adventure by a young boy who stumbles upon a killer online. The boy is Hiro, a pizza delivery dude for a Mafia-owned chain by day and an all-nighter hacker of sorts who plays online as a different person and owns all sorts of online property--a conceit that has been perpetuated by the entire cyberpunk writer troupe that we may now recognize in stuff like BitCoin, domain names, artifact trading in games that are worth ridiculous amounts of money, etc. A virus akin to a drug is going around online and it does nasty things to people, and Hiro is trying to track down the villain that is making the virus an apocalypse of its own if it ever hits everyone online. The book does try to look cute for its own sake as if it were like a Back to the Future movie or Weird Science movie, and maybe the 80s had a lot to do with how writers did their world building stuff, but Neal Stephenson's novel is good stuff in the sense that it plays around with all the disparate cyberpunk concepts few would boldly offer as the near future of computing and the web, and by itself that keeps it as canon among early cyberpunk stories.
Image Credit: Del Rey
is also very popular among some Pinoy sci-fi fans because he uses Filipino
characters in his stories, having lived for a time in the country.
by Ren Warom Escapology is a highly recommended novel from jaded fans of the genre, a fresh voice who uses all of the homage character and setting tropes then weaves in new weird, bizarro and all sorts of strange a recipes for truly unique new millenium, cyberpunk chunks all its own. Ren Warom is a young, female author who will give you all the fix you want, a sprawl aka cyberspace she coins as The Slip, with its own set of rules that include seamlessly flowing into the real world. Her characters are hackers and assassins and The Slip has oceans and ships and sorts of weird constructs that are so messily put together they're gorgeous. Ren is British and infuses her writing with her coined street slurs as part of her crime noir, hard boiled narrative and dialogue. Go grab Ren's other books too.
Image Credit: Titan Books
Battle Angel Alita
by Yukito Kishiro
Published by Kodansha USA as a graphic novel and as a serialized comic book, Battle Angel Alita is about a battle robot discarded into a junkyard that is repaired and enhanced by a cybermedic engineer to become their world's fiercest fighting gladiator. Situated in a junk city called The Scrapyard, outcasts, both human and android are left to fend for themselves in this ghetto while the elite and other citizens live the life in Tiphares, a city above the ghetto junkyard sprawl. Alita is restored and slowly regains her memories, while she is pitted in death matches similar to 80s roller derby races. The setting is around 2016 and Alita is basically an android or A.I. that is a coming-of-age story of its own. Those learning how to be human stories.
Image Credit: Kodansha Comics USA
TRON movie novelization
by Brian Daley
It might look too archaic for those who grew up with The Matrix, or even Blade Runner, but TRON is the pulp cyberpunk story of all time. Like Ender's Game except the player is inside a virtual video game world instead of outer space fighting aliens. The aliens in this novel are virtual entities trapped in an oppressive hierarchy where useless personifications of programs are killed off in arena combat; they are placed in live video games and those who die are erased from the memory of the system--the virtual world where they exist. Although this is a novelization of the movie, it should still count as one of the venerable translations of cyberpunk stories. The movie was made by Disney, and most kids didn't get it at the time, because the culture of a virtual world inside the web had not yet permeated into society at all levels like it does now, where kids and adults live half their lives glued to their smart phones and their online updates. If you fantasize about being a digitized player in a video game in a life-or-death match like a gladiator show, TRON has plenty for you as adventure and as philosophical and moral conundrums of whether A.I. can be trusted to rule your lives.
Image Credit: Del Rey
Never Deal with a Dragon, 2XS (Shadowrun Novels)
by Robert N. Charette, Nigel Findley
Shadowrun is actually a game system for pen and paper role-playing games and the publisher decided to commission several genre authors to play with their setting and tell stories about a crime noir environment with information pirates and corporate espionage, but with magic interweaved into the cyberpunk. The Shadowrun world has dragons, orcs, elves, and goblins doing the same criminal schtick humans do to beat the system and make a windfall. Fans of this series recommend Nigel Findley's stories like 2XS (he has an omnibus) as the best among the writers who got to play with the Shadowrun universe. Robert Charette has been described as someone who has too many things going on in his story, Never Deal with a Dragon, that it weighs down any payoff, but isn't this the point of a cyberpunk realm--being overwhelmed by multi-threads and tasking that you have to keep up or be shredded or discarded? In a place with dragons and cyberpunk thieves and assassins, both human and Fae, who wouldn't want to read about everything happening at the same time everywhere--tech and data brokering weaved with magic and supernatural characters.
Image Credit: Ace
The Fortunate Fall
by Raphael Carter
Remember the Max Headroom TV movie? A guy with an animatronic presence following him around is a beat reporter trying to find out the lowdown on blipverts, ads that trigger an electric shock that make people explode like flesh bag C4. The Fortunate Fall, the novel isn't like that. But it is about a journalist wired to become A Camera, someone with video recording and broadcasting cyber tech implanted in her brain. This is the first and last novel of the author and has been critically acclaimed by fans as one of the best stories of the genre. And it was written way back in 1997. It's about lesbian love too and about having your own mind being raped by intrusion of the outside world and the network that assigns her to cover that world. The world of today is not much far from that envisioned by the author. There is technology coming around that will enable such bio-implants and even portable gadgets right now allow for the most intimate of surveillance to rape other people's privacy and minds.
Image Credit: Tor Books (out of print)
by Michael Swanwick
Vacuum Flowers is one of Michael Swanwick's earlier sci-fi novels that work off the concept of wetware or the human brain as it mimics functions of a bio-computer. A dead woman's mind and personality are downloaded and recorded as an entertainment fix by some corporation, but the entity escapes and installs itself into the body of a space volunteer, whose work is weeding out bio-engineered flora from the capsules of canister worlds--space stations. This volunteer rents out her mind for testing new wetware, downloaded minds from other people or A.I. as bio-software. The entity falls in love with another rent a mind dude who has four wetware personalities installed in him. Both of them make a deal with The Comprise, a hive mind that controls all Earth holdings and in the process, explore the inhabited Solar System and its Dyson utopias way out in the Oort cloud. Swanwick explained that the novel explores the Solar System worlds as the different kinds of current and projected world governments and cultures holding sway planetside. Although the intro is cyberpunk, it stretches into a space opera world-building where human bodies are the space ships of cybermind wetware.
Image Credit: Arbor House
When Gravity Fails
by George Alec Effinger
In this pioneering effort of George Alec Effinger, When Gravity Fails, a merc for hire, Marid, is commissioned by the 200-year-old, Mafia Godfather of Budayeen, a new Arab state, to take down a vicious serial killer, who uses personality cartridges of every murderous mad man from history--Khan the Mongolian, to James Bond, and what have you. If psychotic personalities were like game cartridges that play out once you "wear them on," the villain of the story is the uber creep of all psychos, and it is up to Marid to complete his mission. Of course, our anti-hero is surgically implanted with advanced wetware and tech to counter the madman of all nightmares. The hard boiled crime adventure gig is pumped to the gills with cyberpunk tech jargon and the ubuiquitous personality upgrade module as a weapon of its own.
Image Credit: Orb Books
by Richard Kadrey
Metrophage is about a secret bio-virus is spread in urban Los Angeles that threatens to destroy all food. The city's unlikely hero is Jonny, a lowlife dealer and hustler in a city gone to seed, with the government seemingly losing the war on drugs and smuggler lords. In L.A., all sorts of local gangs set up shop downtown to offer everything that you might want to sample in a near future just beyond the 80s: Drugs with nanotech that stitch you back together or remove poisons. And drugs that cool the mind if you are depressed or whacko.
Although the writing isn't as slick as Gibson, or Swanwick, or Walter Jon Williams, you get to see the Los Angeles as Hell of Kadrey that will eventually evolve into a supernatural place with better weird stuff in Sandman Slim, his more accomplished work. In Metrophage, it's just like either Escape from New York (or Escape from L.A. as our poison) or that atrocious gang movie, The Warriors--with the thematic cyberpunk thrown everywhere as fluff. It probably was hot when you read it way back when, but as Sin City Los Angeles-cyberpunk fluff, the narrative may end unsatisfyingly for those who expect the protagonists to have overcome instead of ending with a hollow loss that just says: shit happens, then you die. Metrophage is a cyberpunk story from the late 80s mining the tropes of the period, but coming up with a mixed bag of mixed ups. Not bad if you are a reader (and writer) curating everything for your own fix of what stories sing like Hagar, or why others tend to have less shred as riff blasts.
Image Credit: Harper Voyager
Islands in the Net
by Bruce Sterling
Even though most of the descriptions and atmosphere depicted are now rather trite, Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net is a pioneering book for engaging sci-fi fans in a near-future circa 80s. He describes stealing databases in the most elaborate and atmospheric crime noir context, at a time when PC hardrives barely ran 10MB to 30MB. If you fast forward to today, he's just talking about file sharing and torrent downloads. It is rather mundane when sci-fi writers hype future scenarios and it turns out several notches below people having the "iron gall" to steal databases. Of course this does not mean that the book is without gravity, it foreshadows a future when mega-corporations have a choke hold on world economies, with private information and other sorts of data theft as the most valuable commodity of the 80s' hardwired future. If you want to see our present through the eyes of an 80s sci-fi visionary, read this novel and hope to God, our future isn't as bad as having Big Brother corporations ruling the world.
Image Credit: Ace
The Electric Church by Jeff Somers
The Electric Churchis a cyberpunk, men's action adventure novel with an anti-hero assassin tasked to kill the founder of a fast rising Church. A religion where people exchange their biological lives for a brain transplant into a cyborg body tagged a Cyberg, monks of a new religion that authorities fear because the cult seeks to convert the entire human populace. Some fans of the genre have complained about this book being all pulp and having nothing that reflects the current generation's future expectations of some dystopian world controlled by access to the web or to A.I. hegemonies. So what? Go watch A.I. the movie if you want some cyberpunk artificial intelligence story with feels. For the rest of us looking for exactly this kind of action-adventure hero, since one can't have enough Ghost in the Shell stories, grab anything that is a crime noir thriller and a hard boiled cyberpunk novel so that more guys or ladies write the damn stuff. The 80s near future doesn't have to be everyone's literary dystopia. Every near post-apocalyptic future has a smackdown cyberpunk story in it. This one has Avery Cates as your new, killer-for-hire, cyberpunk bad ass.
Image Credit: Orbut
Moxyland by Laueren Beukes
This South African author has 4 people narrating their lives in a future Cape Town also known as Moxyland. South African communities of the near future is described in this books as an oppressive corporate mafia ruled world where both media and technology are used to restrict freedoms and force feed people doctrines, rules, laws, and lies. One girl, Kendra, an art school dropout, volunteers to be injected by nanotech that enhances her looks, her smarts and keeps her safe and healthy, but at a price, she gets a glowing tattoo on her skin revealing that she is owned by a biotech corporate entity.
Other people in Moxyland are affected by the biotech going around, as well as social stratification based on people's mobile phone ownership--everything people are or can access in Moxyland depends on their connection with technology. No mobile phone, you might as well not exist. They try to change society to break the hold of mega-corporate oppression and even collude with am anonymous entity known as Skyward, an online game environment. Does that sound like anything you read and see around you today? If you are worried about a bleak future of having everything, but are constrained by the power of mega-corporate entitys having a chokehold on your life via your access to tech and cyberspace, then read this book.
Image Credit: Angry Robot
Ghost in the Shell
by Masamune Shirow
A graphic novel that many American comic book reviewers with a literary bent for looking at story put down in the 80s because of its intentionally being amorphous as a story with characters supposedly not being fleshed out for readers to empathize with, Ghost in the Shell has become a cult-classic and favorite of cyberpunk fans who followed the comic book because of the intense action and tech info-dumpy atmosphere of the entire storyline. The story is about a secret agent, police Major Motoko Kusanagi, assigned as an infiltrator and counter-espionage special forces unit who unravels a plot by several older Japanese corporate gurus to destroy the order of future Mega Tokyo by fomenting chaos with viral programs and stealing vital data used to run the city. Kusanagi also helps stop cyber terrorists from an Arab country from creating havoc in her country with their secret arms shipments and data stealing activities.
Image Credit: Ace
A secret organization was seeking to control the government, and it was up to agent Motoko Kusanagi to find the hacker and put a stop to the terrorists planning to take over Tokyo.
by Jeff Noon
Vurt is a novel that is esteemed in the same vein as Neuromancer by William Gibson, Vurt's version of jacking into a virtual reality is through the use of Vurt, a hallucinogenic drug in the form of colored feathers that enterprising young people from Manchester in England suck on like lollipops to enter "a state of mind," or the virtual world where most of the adventures in this story work their strangeness.
Critics have lauded the novel as making groundbreaking parallels with drug addiction in the modern world as a "transcendence" medium or a mode for accessing a reality via hyper-enhancing one's cerebral faculties. The story has Scribbles and his sister Desdemona, both going under the influence of Vurt and entering the so-called virtual reality realm that only the drug allows users to experience, but when Scribbles comes back, his sister is missing, and the book is about his journey to find his sister, lost in a virtual reality realm.
Some literary critics have said the story is a cyberpunk riff on Orpheus journey to the underworld to find his wife, and be aware that there are heavy taboo themes in this novel such as incest.
Image Credit: Crown Publishers
by Charles Stross
Accelerando is a novel broken into three chapters of novelletes that follow the story of one family, across three generations, as they journey through life changing technological breakthroughs that eventually create a Matrioshka Brain inside the 9 planets of the solar system to control the rest of humankind. The novel is broken down into 3 arcs with each arc being a novellete of one of the family members going through the motions of A.I. and overseer systems domineering all of life, to the point that the final product is called The Vile Offspring, so-called weakling super intelligences.
The novel is hard sci-fi: narrating big concepts about what the future of man would be with evolution of both biology and tech creating intelligent cats, lobster things that control everything and humans uploading themselves to become the virtual crew of starships and living off self-replicating factories. If you like big ideas about the future of A.I. and evolving superhuman intelligence to control society, Accelerando is your book.
Image Credit: Ace
Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
Ready Player One is a video game novel where the scrappy teenager trapped in a rundown world with only an escape world, a virtual realm MMORPG named OASIS is the place where all people live out their miserable lives. An energy crisis has decimated the world into a dystopian society everywhere and people are just getting by on how things used to be. The creator of OASIS, the online game has hidden an easter egg in the virtual world, a puzzle that when unlocked makes the finder the Owner of online virtual economy--unlimited power and resources worth trillions of dollars. Our teen dude and his female co-player teammate go all out, competing with government stooges assigend to play the game too, to unlock those puzzles and adventure in the OASIS world. The novel is a nostalgia trip for 80s kids and all sorts of trivia geekery, romance and some commentary on the life of MMORPG addicts and habitues and 80s nerds in general.
Image Credit: Broadway Books
Cyberpunk is a dodgy world of hitmen, spies, corporate mafias, Big Brother government evolutions, that place where everyone spends too much time surfing for a fix of something, from shopping to porn and the most extreme lowdown on events--weekly updates on Mexican ganglords killing each other's people, to lame short messages of what the celebrity flavor-of-the-month is thinking or doing.
The novels in this list take a look at both the most extreme evolution of a wired world and the evolution of an extremely strange kind of character and mindset among those who can't live without being wired to the web. Enjoy the adventure of the cowboys of the future in all sorts of hard boiled stories.