Cyperpunk. A sub-genre of science fiction that takes information technology to its limits. Dystopian worlds where cybernetics are the norm and technology has forever altered the social order. Invasive integration of computers into everyday life has drawn people away from the very things that make us human.
Some say that cyberpunk is a genre of the past. With today’s technologies, cyberpunk is no longer serves as a warning about a potential future, but a worst-case assessment of our present. That said, cyberpunk has and still does permeate pop culture in a powerful way.
Here are 7 books that define the “high tech and low life” genre.
1. Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson
Considered by many to be the Bible of Cyberpunk, Neuromancer follows a computer hacker as he plans the ultimate hack. The fact that the book was written before hackers were even a thing just goes to show how much Gibson had his finger on the pulse of our technological future.
Neuromancer was the first story of its kind to feature a dystopian society where the social order has deteriorated due to technology’s dominance in everyday life. This concept is the foundation of the cyberpunk genre.
2. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Phillip K. Dick
This novel served as the basis for the 1982 film Blade Runner. The story follows a bounty hunter living in a post-apocalyptic future ravaged by nuclear war. Dickered’s mission is to “retire” six defunct androids. The story probes into what defines a human versus a machine, in a world where they have become so similar. The question is a defining backdrop of many cyberpunk stories to come.
3. Islands in the Net (1988) by Bruce Sterling
Set in 2023, Islands in the Net takes readers to a word where data pirates hold power in the deregulated Global Communications Network. A few families are protected by the Net, but most face a high-stakes world where information and technology are commodities and corruption runs rampant. Sterling captivates readers with complex tales of nanotechnology, murder and post-millennial voodoo, and makes the point that no one is truly safe from the ugly underbelly the Net. Islands in the Net is a classic demonstration of a high tech/low humanity world characteristic of the best cyberpunk.
4. Snow Crash (1992) by Neal Stephenson
In a future America, Hiro Protagonist is a simple pizza delivery body, but in the Metaverse, he’s a royal warrior, on a mission to search and destroy hackers. Readers follow Hiro in his wild attempt to stop a super villain hell bent on causing an infocalypse. Some consider Snow Crash to be postcyberpunk or even a parody of the genre, because it takes the consequences of information technology to their absolute fathomable limits.
5. Virtual Light (1993) by William Gibson
Virtual Light follows Chevette Washington, an off-the-grid bicycle messenger in a dystopian future, as she gains possession of a pair of glasses that contain a corporate plan to rebuild San Francisco using nanotechnology. The cops, their Russian employees and a powerful corporation are suddenly after her. She ends up on the run with a former cop named Berry Rydell, who realizes the information in the glasses poses an ultimate danger. Virtual Light gives readers a world where wealth and technology are power, and people will do anything to get information.
6. The Diamond Age (1995) by Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age is set in an age where nanotechnology has reached great heights, and now serves as the basis for society to function. Rather than offering an anarchist near future, The Diamond Age world has an intense social order where people are divided into cultural or political groups that can’t exist together. The story follows Nell, a street urchin who gets her hands on an interactive book that teaches her how to lead an interesting life and subvert the status quo. The Diamond Age serves as a commentary on the power of access to technology for education, as well as the limitations of living by cultural divides.
7. Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986) edited by Bruce Sterling
If you still have difficulty understanding what makes cyberpunk cyberpunk, then read the Mirrorshades short story collection. With contributions by William Gibson, Tom Maddox and Sterling himself, the anthology offers 12 unique scenarios of a future adversely dominated by technology. As today’s world becomes more reminiscent of the cyberpunk message, these stories will be seen as subtle warnings of what happens when information and technical tools become more valuable than people.
Did you agree with our list of books that defined cyberpunk? Can you think of something we missed? Tell us in the comments and well add your suggestions.