8 Must-Read Cyberpunk Books, An Introduction to the Genre

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“High tech, low life.” This is Cyberpunk‘s slogan, a genre born in the 1980s and inspired by the works of William S. Burroughs, Alfred Bester, and Philip K. Dick, among others. This countercultural movement saw science fiction writers move away from the liberal human principles of the 1950s in favor of a more gloomy future.

Often reduced to neon-lit streets and a noir atmosphere, Cyberpunk explores the various dystopian future where oppressive societies are ruled by powerful corporations and advanced technology.

If you’re new to these lawless lands, the following is a selection of essential Cyberpunk books to begin your journey into this exciting and sometimes perilous literary world.

Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)

No Cyberpunk list would be complete without Neuromancer. Part of the Sprawl Trilogy, this ground-breaking novel centres on Case, a failing hacker recruited for a high-stakes virtual job. This work incorporates the recurring themes and cliches that are commonly associated with cyberpunk, such as artificial intelligence, cyberspace, and the merging of human and machine.

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger (1987)

The first book in The Marîd Audran series, When Gravity Fails, is a lesser-known gem with a charming street punk hero and cybernetics in a Middle Eastern setting. Audran is a part-time hustler and low-budget private detective who is searching for whatever work he can get. When a possible client, who is looking for his missing son, is killed in front of him, a series of events begins that will change Audran’s life forever.

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology edited by Bruce Sterling (1988)

Bruce Sterling’s goal with Mirrorshades, as stated in the preface, was to “present a full overview of the cyberpunk movement” in order to provide readers with a wide introduction to the genre, its themes, and issues. This short story collection accomplished just that, and it is now widely regarded as an excellent introduction to the earlier Cyberpunk period. Includes pieces by Willaim Gibson, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker, Greg Bear, and Bruce Sterling.

Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams (1988)

A major influence on the Cyberpunk 2077 video game, Hardwired, also part of a series, is a fast-paced novel set in a world where mankind struggles to find its footing in the shadow of a technological elite. Earth, devastated by conflict with its spacefaring colonies, is now ruled by powerful orbiting corporations. Many people turn to smuggling, relying on black-market neural implants to live in this dystopian world. Cowboy, an ex-fighter pilot driven by the desire to escape Earth’s constraints, navigates a world of cyborgs, smugglers, and resistance fighters, all while dealing with the ever-present danger of orbiting corporations.

Synners by Pat Cadigan (1991)

Pat Cadigan’s third novel, Synners, is a late-breaking novel in the cyberpunk genre that transports you to a world where the line between reality and virtuality is blurred. The human mind and the outside world have melded to the point that any interaction with ‘reality’ is coincidental. You may now transform yourself to suit the machines. Enter Lena, a struggling musician navigating the music industry, and Ash, a rogue AI yearning for independence. As their lives overlap, they fight frightening forces attempting to control their minds and identities.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992)

At the start of the 1990s, the cyberpunk genre seems to have already reached its end. Enter Snow Crash, a deconstruction of a stagnant genre that is seen by many as the start of the Post-cyberpunk movement. Simply put, the tale of Hiro Protagonist, a hacker who discovers a horrific conspiracy that threatens both the real and virtual worlds, contributed to broadening the concept of cyberpunk and introducing a tone of self-aware humour that allowed the genre to continue to grow beyond its expiration date.

Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott (1994)

Trouble and Her Friends distinguishes itself with LGBT themes, a more introspective style, and an examination of the political situation in the cyberpunk universe. The story follows Netrunner India Carless, known as Trouble. Someone took her name and is now using it for criminal activities. Accused of cybercrimes she did not commit, she team up with her ex-lover Cerise and a group of hackers to find out the truth.

The Fortunate Fall by Cameron Reed (1996)

As Jo Walton wrote on Tor.com, Cameron Reed’s The Fortunate Fall (writing as Raphael Carter) is a novel about the “possibility of changing human nature” which is “It’s hard to address.” Set in a world where reality and virtuality have combined, with thoughts blasted straight into minds, the story follows Maya, a telepresence journalist thriving in this interconnected society. She has a virtual reality camera implanted in her head, allowing millions of others to see, feel, and hear along with her while she investigates a massacre coverup.