As one of the coolest subgenres of science fiction, cyberpunk taps into a dark future bound by technological advancements and questioning of humanity for such progress. There’s as much slickness to these high-tech stories as there is a commentary on the speculative dystopias we may be headed towards. This mixture of futuristic wonder and dark storytelling has made cyberpunk an incredibly exciting subgenre all its own. It can also be rather telling of the times to read some of the more classic of these novels to get an idea of how society viewed what lies ahead for the 21st century and beyond. So inspiring has been the writings on the subject that it has led into other cyberpunk media that spans movies (Blade Runner, The Matrix), anime (AKIRA, Ghost in the Shell), and video games (Final Fantasy VII, Deus Ex, Cyberpunk 2077). Here are some of the best books to read in the cyberpunk genre.
Written by Richard K. Morgan
Published in 2002
It has been 400 years since Earth had discovered the mysterious tech on Mars that allowed them to explore the galaxy. Interstellar travel is now no big deal thanks to wild new advancements in transferring human consciousness across the stars rather than the old fashioned way of shuffling bodies around on rockets. There’s a danger to this advancement, however, as criminal Takeshi Kovacs is thrown into a decaying body and tasked by a rich man to discover who murdered his body. This is the first entry in the Takeshi Kovacs book series and would also be developed into a Netflix series in 2018 starring Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, and Martha Higareda.
The Shockwave Rider
Written by John Brunner
Published in 1975
The 21st-century America has now become a mental prison political order. Smart children are tapped for all their brilliance in the Tarnover, their minds imprisoned against their will. Nickie Halflinger manages to be one of the lucky ones who escape this prison and goes on the run to avoid capture again. He constantly changes his identity and keeps on the move while trying to find a way to strike back and restore freedom to the country. He may find allies for his cause in the small town of Precipice. But it may not be enough to prevent the Tarnover from getting their hooks back in Nickie.
Written by Thomas Pynchon
Published in 2013
Pynchon’s novels always tend to be a bit mind-bending and surreal. Bleeding Edge is no exception as a cyberpunk tale that takes us backward in time. The story is set in 2001, soon after the dot-com bubble burst and very recently after the September 11th attacks. New Yorker Maxine Tarnow runs her own fraud investigation firm where she tracks down con artists swindling to make a few dollars. Armed with a gun and her expert coding skills, she pursues all sorts of cases. But everything starts to snowball in her life when she starts looking into a mysterious case involving a geeky CEO and a shady computer-security firm, sending Maxine into a mind-bending world of the DeepWeb.
Future Home of the Living God
Written by Louise Erdrich
Published in 2017
Cedar Hawk Songmaker is a 26-year-old woman living in dystopian Minnesota with oppressive forces at play. Concerned and frightened at the authoritative society America has become, her life is complicated when she soon learns that she’s pregnant. Being adopted, Cedar seeks to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, and figure out her true origin which is Ojibwe in nature. But she may have chosen the wrong time to make this trek as society begins to crumble around her, signaling the end times are coming and a very uncertain future for her unborn child.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Written by Philip K. Dick
Published in 1968
Set in the future of 2021, Rick Deckard is a futuristic detective tasked with tracking down androids gone rogue and killing them. Of course, since androids aren’t considered as equal as humans, he uses the nicer term of “retire.” But such a task is not so easy to complete when the androids look so human that it can be tough to tell who is an android. Could Deckard himself be an android? In classic Phillip K. Dick fashion, Deckard’s investigation leads him down a twisty and mind-bending road of questioning humanity. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep would later be developed into the iconic 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Edward James Olmos. The cult success of the movie also led to the development of a sequel novel, a side story PC game, and the 2017 sequel movie, Blade Runner 2049, which was directed by Denis Villeneuve and starred Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.
Islands in the Net
Written by Bruce Sterling
Published in 1988
Laura Webster is the rising star of a high-level conglomerate and things are looking up for her during a futuristic age of great peace and massive profit. And information is the key to success in this advanced society of astounding technological progress. But access to this global communications network that houses is exclusive and not open to all. Laura probes into this network to find more than she bargained for when encountering data-pirates, mercenaries, and murderers. It’s an adventure that speculates just how far the internet can go when data is the richest of resources and it’s surprising how close this resembles the 21st century.
Written by Pat Cadigan
Published in 1991
The aspects of humanity and technology have fused together in the futuristic world of Synners that it seems impossible for the two not to be intertwined. This reliance on tech distorts what the mind perceives as reality when cybernetic tech merges with the consciousness of the most important organ of the human body. This leads to forming a dangerous world where everything seems to be moving too fast, including crime which seems to be fully formulated before even occurring. This is a trippy and surreal depiction of how cybernetic technology can change the course of our perceptions and reshape how crime may be committed in a wildly different future, featuring an introduction from Neil Gaiman.
Written by Neil Stephenson
Published in 1992
Hiro Protagonist may seem like just a low-level pizza boy of Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc. However, in the virtual world of the Metaverse, he’s both a prince and a warrior. He’s also on the case of solving a mysterious crime of hackers spawning a new computer virus, leading to him hitting the digital streets for answers in a whole new world of danger and intrigue. Complete with a detective angle and a neo-noir vibe to its atmosphere of dark and neon-lit city streets, Snow Crash has just about everything any reader could want in a cyberpunk novel, making it an easy choice to be the winner of the British Science Fiction Award in 1993 and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1994.
Written by Greg Egan
Published in 1997
Universal travel has finally become attainable to humanity at the tail-end of the 30th century. This advancement in technology has also split humanity into their own groups. There’s the Fleshers who are humans untouched by technology within their bodies. There’s the Gleisner robots, mechanical beings with the minds of humans placed inside their hardened frames. And then there’s the Polises, copies of people who have their essence locked away in a supercomputer that houses humans in a virtual environment. Yatima is one of those people born within the supercomputer, created from a mutation in the copies. The story soon becomes a tangled web of astrophysical events, rapid cloning, alien technology, and questioning our very existence in this trippy tale of what a future will look like when we are entirely a product of our own technology.
Written by William Gibson
Published in 1984
Regarded as one of the most essential of sci-fi novels, Neuromancer has been seen as a fusion of previous dystopia stories that would lead to inspiring future works of cyberpunk tales. It’s the story of Henry Dorsett Case, a thief of data who exists in a world where most of humanity has retreated to the cyberspace world of The Matrix. His career seems cut short when an angry employee seeks revenge on Henry and cripples him. But he may still have a shot at continuing his work when a mysterious employer tasks him with the ultimate mission. Henry is assigned the dangerous task of securing an artificial intelligence in use by the evil Tessier-Ashpool clan as it orbits the planet. Adventure and mystery is afoot as he takes on this heist with the aid of a dead man and a samurai to watch his back. For being such a wild and imaginative vision of the future, Neuromancer has been highly acclaimed for winning the accolades of Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards.
Perdido Street Station
Written by China Mieville
Published in 2000
Within the dark and mysterious city of New Crobuzon resides the talented scientist Isaac. Keeping to himself, he’s been dabbling in some of the most groundbreaking of research. His life is changed, however, when he encounters a half-bird, half-human creature, Garuda. Garuda arrives with a request most unusual and yet scientifically intriguing to Isaac to see if it is indeed a possibility of achieving. However, the experiments that Isaac follows may lead him down a grim and unknown road of metamorphosis that could reshape the entirety of New Crobuzon forever. This is the first entry in the New Crobuzon book series.
Written by Jeff Noon
Published in 1993
The future of intoxication takes a wild turn with the discovery of the Vurt feathers. As one of the most powerful drugs on the streets, it attracts the clientele of troublemakers and hip youth. One such user of Vurt is Scribble. Trying to find his true love, Vurt sets off on a quest to seek the most prized of Vurt feathers known as the Curious Yellow. In order to find Curious Yellow, however, he may need to risk everything to get it, including reality itself and his own sanity. This is the first entry in the Vurt book series and placed Jeff Noon on the map as a breakout writer of the sci-fi genre.
Written by Nick Harkaway
Published in 2017
The near-future of Gnomon is one of increased surveillance and chilling authoritarianism. Everything is now recorded, from the visible actions of the populace to their innermost thoughts, all regulated in the name of transparency. Things only seem to be getting worse for this society as Diana Hunter becomes the first person to ever die in government custody. State inspector Mielikki Neith takes on this case and is finding that there’s so much about it that doesn’t make sense, considering she has complete faith in the system she serves. Her investigation takes her deep within Diana’s neural recordings where she finds far more than Diana residing in these documents. Diana seems to be hiding something within her memories but Neith can’t quite figure out what it is that is buried in her confounding mental mash. What she discovers, however, will shake her very moral core of what she has come to believe about Gnomon.