It’s now been over three decades since cyberpunk first exploded, and in that time we’ve seen gorgeous movies, read fascinating books, and seen dozens of offshoots like steampunk (and my new favorite, deco punk) develop. This is the essential cyberpunk reading list…
The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
This 1956 novel, originally serialized in four parts in Galaxy magazine, predates the cyberpunk movement by more than twenty years, but nonetheless serves as one of its more important ancestors. With its bleak future, cybernetic body modification and evil megacorporations, The Stars My Destination set up a number of themes that became central to later cyberpunk works.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
The source material for Blade Runner, which has been inspiring cyberpunk movies and visuals for more than three decades, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is set in a near future (a near future that’s changed, actually, since the book’s publication: originally 1992, later editions set it in 2021) where bounty hunter Rick Deckard hunts fugitive androids. Although it’s less cyberpunk than Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is still an important forerunner.
The Girl Who Was Plugged In, by James Tiptree, Jr.
In this Hugo-award winning 1973 novella, corporations are king and computers allow people to control artificially grown bodies. When deformed seventeen-year-old Philadelphia Burke is chosen to be a “Remote,” she’s given control of a perfect, beautiful fifteen-year-old body named Delphi, and, as Delphi, immediately becomes a celebrity. The Girl Who Was Plugged In is essential reading, both for people interested in cyberpunk and for those interested in discussions about gender and the female body (relevant: James Tiptree, Jr. is the pen name of Alice Sheldon).
Software, by Rudy Rucker
The first book in the Ware Tetralogy, this 1982 novel is part of the first wave of the actual cyberpunk movement. Cobb Anderson is a poor, aging, ex-computer scientist who, many years ago, tried to give robots free will. Now they’ve offered to give him immortality, but, of course, how robots view immortality is a little different than what we may be used to.
Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo
This hugely influential manga is set in post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, where gangs fight for power, terrorists attack the government, and some people possess psychic abilities. Akira was also adapted into a cyberpunky and much beloved animated film version, and a live action version has been percolating in Hollywood for over a decade (the latest news is that Marco J. Ramirez, who will be the co-showrunner of Daredevil season 2, is writing the script.)
Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Henry Dorsett Case used to be a hacker, before his employer caught him stealing and he was dosed with a drug that made him incapable of accessing the global computer network. Now a mysterious person needs his hacking skills, and promises him a cure in return. The book that defined the sub-genre, this 1984 novel is likely the most essential of the books on this list (it was also the first winner of the science fiction triple crown, taking the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Philip K. Dick Award).
Gibson is, of course, responsible for any number of influential cyberpunk novels, including the rest of the Sprawl Trilogy (of which Neuromancer is the first), the Bridge Trilogy, and the short story collection Burning Chrome.
Frontera, by Lewis Shiner
Also written in 1984, this debut novel from Lewis Shiner is set in a world controlled by corporations, one of which decides to send an expedition to a lost Martian colony to discover and gain ownership of a crucial secret. Corporate control, body augmentation, and other cyberpunk themes blend with golden age elements.
Eclipse, by John Shirley
John Shirley is another writer usually grouped with foundational cyberpunk authors like Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Rucker, and Shiner. Eclipse, the first book in the A Song Called Youth trilogy, is set in a dystopian near future, but with an extra-punky twist. After the Third World War, a multinational police force has taken control, leaving only rock classicist Rick Rickenharp and the rebel group New Resistance to fight back.
The Glass Hammer, by K. W. Jeter
Following a “sprinter” who runs computer chips to the black market and becomes the focus of a new religion, The Glass Hammer is perhaps slightly less famous than many of its cyberpunk comrades. Nonetheless, it’s an early and important work from Jeter, who also includes writing three Blade Runner sequels and coining the phrase “Steampunk”among his accomplishments.
Schismatrix, by Bruce Sterling
Written in 1985, Schismatrix is set amidst a struggle between the Mechanists, a group who believe in cybernetic body modification, and the Shapers, who believe that modifications should be accomplished through genetics and mental training. A classic and important early work from a foundational author.
Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by Bruce Sterling
Another defining work, Mirrorshades (1986) is a collection of short stories from early and influential cyberpunk authors, including Gibson, Pat Cadigan, Rucker, Greg Bear, Shiner, Shirley, and several more.
Metrophage, by Richard Kadrey
Recently reissued in a deluxe new edition, this dystopian novel by the author of the Sandman Slim series takes place in late 21st-century Los Angeles, where the rich live in unimaginable luxury and everybody else lives in a wasteland of misery. And a small-time drug dealer discovers a strange new plague, and gets drawn into the secret warfare between huge economic blocs.
The Ghost in the Shell, by Masamune Shirow
First published in 1989, The Ghost in the Shell has spawned a ton of iconic cyberpunk artwork, several films (including a live action version scheduled for release in 2017), television shows and even video games. Set in a near future world where people have “cyberbrains” that allow them to interface directly with networks, the manga follows Public Security Section 9, a counter-cyberterrorism organization made up of members specializing in cyber warfare.
Synners, by Pat Cadigan
This book won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and was shortlisted for the Nebula. Cadigan creates a lively, bizarre vision of a world of pervasive brain implants—where the line between the virtual and the “real” is thinner than ever—and populates it with hackers, music-video makers, and rebels. What happens when brain sockets have unexpected consequences?
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
This delightful and hugely influential 1992 novel manages to combine Sumerian mythology with cyberpunk elements to create something new and incredibly fun. Set in the near future, Hiro Protagonist is a pizza delivery guy (in a world where pizza delivery is under Mafia control), but he’s also a hacker and the self-proclaimed greatest swordfighter in the world. When he comes upon a drug, Snow Crash, which is experienced both in the virtual-reality Metaverse and the real world, he decides to investigate and embarks on a truly wild journey.
Trouble and Her Friends, by Melissa Scott
Trouble is semi-retired from being a hacker, in a dystopian future where the frontier of cyberspace is being civilized by the forces of law and order—until someone starts impersonating Trouble online, and she has to take matters into her own hands. This is basically a Wild West thriller, set in cyberspace.
Diaspora, by Greg Egan
Written in 1997, Diaspora is set in 2975, by which time humanity has diverged into three different groups: the fleshers, who are biological, the gleisner robots, who are software-based individuals located in artificial bodies, and the citizens, software without bodies who comprise most of the population. The book follows Yatima, a newborn citizen who meets a flesher colony and, when disaster strikes, must try to rescue the species.
Transmetropolitan, by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
This awesome cyberpunk comic book series (1997-2002) is set sometime in the 23rd century and follows the infamous gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem as he fights corruption, exposes politicians and generally gets into trouble in the filthy, hedonistic City. A must read in cyberpunk and transhumanism.
Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan
The first in the series of Takeshi Kovacs novels, in which cyberpunk’s noir tendencies are taken to their most brutal extreme. In the 25th century, the rich never have to die—they just upload their brains to cyberspace and then download them into a new body. But when someone hires Kovacs to solve a murder, except that he winds up uncovering a huge conspiracy.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow
Most cyberpunk novels feature a nightmarish world of corporate control and extreme wealth disparities—but Doctorow’s groundbreaking book was part of a move to link cyberpunk tropes to a post-scarcity world. So in Doctorow’s future, there’s no more wealth or poverty, and the only scarce resource is social capital, or “whuffie.” Which doesn’t mean you can’t still be broke.
Accelerando, by Charles Stross
This 2005 novel of connected short stories follows three generations of one family as they approach and then pass the technological singularity. Widely praised upon its release, Accelerando won the 2006 Locus (along with the 2010 Estonian SF Award for Best Translated Novel, which I think we can all agree is awesome).