Cyberpunk culture is enjoying something a mild resurgence in recent years, and we recently wrote about the best cyberpunk video games available right now. The term “cyberpunk” was coined by Bruce Bethke in 1980 after his short story of the same name. The genre revolves around social disorder, low life, conglomerate control and advanced technology.
Aside from the gaming world, the history of cyberpunk literature goes back much further. So, here we look at the 10 best cyberpunk books to read right now.
10. The Shockwave Rider
The Shockwave Rider is seen by many as one of the first instances of cyberpunk literature. This 1975 novel by John Brunner follows a story of a dystopian future, in which corporations rule daily life and humans are slaves to the system.
The protagonist, Nick Haflinger, finds a way to circumnavigate the control of the corporate-government and fight back against the system. The bulk of the novel is set in the weeks that follow Haflinger’s capture, and we began to learn about his life through a series of conversations with his interrogator.
Fans of dystopian, high-tech, and social stratification themes will enjoy this one. The Shockwave Rider is certainly one of the best cyberpunk books to read right now.
9. Altered Carbon
Altered Carbon was recently adapted as a television series for Netflix in 2018. Yet, before that, the book by Richard K. Morgan had already gained a reputation as one of the best cyberpunk books around since its release in 2002.
This cyberpunk book is set in a future where it is possible to digitally downloading human personalities (“stacks”) into a new body, known as “sleeves”. The protagonist and ex-UN elite soldier, Takeshi Kovacs, is hired by the mega-rich Laurens Bancroft, who is convinced he was murdered under suspicious circumstances.
Other themes explored in this book include the place of religion in this cyberpunk world, and the morality of resurrecting yourself into a new body in a society where not all can afford to do so. Altered Carbon was a beautifully stylish TV series, but its true value must be appreciated through reading – this is one that you need to read if you are looking for the best cyberpunk books.
8. Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell is a hugely popular media franchise in Japan. It was created by Masamune Shirow and, although initially released as a manga series, was released as a book in 1991. There have been several sequels and spinoffs from the original.
The manga is set in the middle of the twenty-first century, in the fictional Japanese city of Niihama. The story follows the members of a special operations task force called the Public Security Section 9, who predominantly deal with counter-terrorism, corruption, and cybercriminals.
Cybernetics have advanced to a high level, allowing some citizens to be completely cyberized. Major Motoko, the series’ heroine, is herself a cyborg, after a tragic accident left her with serious injuries. Ghost in the Shell is highly recommended among cyberpunk aficionados and is one to try if you are a fan of the genre.
7. Ready Player One
Released in 2011, Ready Player One is the debut novel of Ernest Cline and follows the story of Wade Watts. The book was brought to mainstream media in 2018, after the release of a film adaptation by director Steven Spielberg.
Set in 2044, this cyberpunk book follows Wade Watts as he searches for an Easter egg in the virtual reality gaming world, OASIS. The creator of the world, James Halliday, left an Easter egg in the game before his death, and Watts makes it his mission to try and solve the mystery of its location.
The book has a load of references to cyberpunk culture, and does a great job of world building and character development that make the book a thoroughly engaging read.
6. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
If you are searching for the best cyberpunk books to read, the chances are pretty high that you’ve already come across Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Most people know the book from the 1982 film Blade Runner and its sequel Blade Runner 2049, but this cyberpunk novel by Philip K. Dick is worthy of the accolades in its own right.
Released in 1968, the book follows the story of Rick Deckard, who is tasked with “retiring” six Nexus-6 androids by using an empathy test to detect their human status. A sub-plot follows the story of John Isidore, a man of low IQ who has been damaged by the radioactive dust prevalent on the earth after World War Terminus. Isidore attempts to help the fugitive androids and aid them to safety.
If you haven’t read any of the cyberpunk books on this list, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a good place to start. It is fairly short and easy to read, and touches on some poignant themes that are certain to resonate with the reader.
5. Snow Crash
You’d think that a book with a hero protagonist called Hiro Protagonist could have a somewhat mild tone to it. Yet, Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cyberpunk book sets out a disconcertingly realistic dystopian future.
Hiro is an expert hacker in a world where conglomerates run society, and the mafia are the good guys. Stephenson’s literature can often be heavy (too heavy, some might say), but Snow Crash is refreshingly light compared to his usual style of copious obscure scientific explanations and information overload.
Snow Crash is a great read for anyone looking for the best cyberpunk books, and features a good blend of humour, religion, history, low life and high tech.
4. The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl was one of the best books to come out of 2009, let alone being one of the best cyberpunk books of all time. This sci-fi novel by Paolo Bacigalupi is often sub-categorised as biopunk, due to the prevalence of advances biotechnology.
The Windup Girl is pertinent in many ways, not least in its portrayal of global warming in the 23rd-century. Ocean levels have dramatically increased, and fuel sources have depleted, leading to the rise of biotechnology conglomerates such as AgriGen and RedStar. The only country to have resisted change is Thailand, but whether it can maintain its stance against bioterrorism is another matter.
This is a must-read for fans of high tech and lowlife literature, and The Windup Girl is fully worthy of its place in this list of the 10 best cyberpunk books to read right now.
Akira is the second Japanese manga series in this list, and this one may be more widely known due to its publication by Marvel Comics in the US. The series was written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo and ran from 1982 to 1990.
Set in a futuristic, dystopian Neo-Tokyo, Akira follows the story of Kaneda, Kei, Colonel Shikishima, and others, as they attempt to curb the attempts of Tetsuo to further ravage the city with his telekinetic abilities. Tetsuo is an estranged childhood friend of Kaneda and wants to awaken a mysterious figure with special psychic abilities called “Akira”.
Akira is a pioneer of the Japanese cyberpunk subgenre and is well worth checking out if you want to dive deeper into the world of low life and high tech.
Infomocracy is the most recent book in this list, having been released in 2016 by author Malka Older, and is perhaps the most worryingly realistic.
The book is set in the mid-to-late 21st century in a world where most countries have joined a world government system. In this regime, countries are divided into centenals – areas of 100,000 residents, who can choose the ideological system by which they are governed. Not all countries decided to join the world government, and not everything is smooth within.
Infomocracy touches upon themes such as the Internet of Things, politics, cybersecurity, and the ethics of information technology. All of this is a recipe for one of the best cyberpunk books to be released in recent times.
Neuromancer is a 1984 cyberpunk novel written by William Gibson. It is a pioneering book in the genre and is the first in Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, followed by Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive.
The book follows the story of Henry Case, a computer hacker in a dystopian future, as he is tasked with bringing down a powerful AI in his one last job in Chiba City, Japan. Case is down and out after being caught stealing by his former employer and is punished by having his central nervous system damaged. Yet, he is saved by “street samurai”, Molly Millions, who cures and augments Case in exchange for his services as a hacker.
Neuromancer was not released to much fanfare, but over the years it has become the epitome of cyberpunk culture. If you are looking to read the best cyberpunk books, then Neuromancer is simply a must.
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