Cyberpunk is one of my favourite sub-genres of sci-fi and here is my list of must-read cyberpunk novels. If you think I’ve missed any, let me know.
Vurt by Jeff Noon
Vurt is unreliably narrated by Scribble as he drifts in and out of a drug-induced haze. The drug (Vurt) creates a shared reality with other users and is ubiquitous in this alternate version of Manchester. Scribble lost his sister (and lover) Desdemona while on the drug, and the novel follows his attempts to get her back.
What’s striking about Vurt is the prose. Jeff Noon’s writing minimizes exposition and forces the reader to fully engage with the narrative. Like all great cyberpunk novels, Vurt is dystopian, morally challenging, and emotionally affecting. Check out Vurt on Amazon.
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
A story full of rage and revenge, Bester strips away humanity’s civilized face to reveal the urges that drive our progress. The protagonist, Gully Foyle, goes through one of the most interesting character arcs in science fiction. As the novel progresses, Gully changes from an unthinking brute to something more calculated, driven by nothing more than a thirst for revenge.
This is a book to read if you want to confront the reality that some of humankind’s greatest achievements and advances have come from our baser instincts. Buy The Stars My Destination.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
Like all of Philip K. Dick’s best work, Do Androids Dream defies analysis. It’s a seminal work that delves into themes of reality and empathy and refuses to give easy answers, all played out against a beautifully realized cyberpunk background. The plot, where Rick Deckard is tasked with retiring six androids, takes place all in one day, and by the end of the day, Deckard’s fatigue bleeds off the page.
The book that inspired Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream is a must-read for any cyberpunk fan.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Few books are wilder than Snow Crash. Its hero protagonist is called “Hiro Protagonist.” The novel combines sword fighting, cyberspace, and ancient Sumerian legends. Some will love Snow Crash, but others may find it somewhat impenetrable. If you’re willing to sacrifice a little narrative pace for excellent world-building, then this cyberpunk classic is for you.
While The Stars My Destination may be the first cyberpunk novel and Neuromancer the work that codified much of what is synonymous with the genre, Snow Crash is the novel that most epitomizes the spirit of cyberpunk. If you haven’t read it already, and you want to enjoy the madness, read it today.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Neuromancer is the book people think of when they think of cyberpunk. It gives colour to the “hi-tech-low life” cyberpunk credo. The book stars Cage (a drug-addicted console cowboy who’s the king of the matrix) and Molly Millions (an augmented razor girl who kills without remorse).
The reader travels a world that’s both decayed and technologically advanced, a world that’s both completely different yet worryingly similar to our world today. Gibson’s writing style evokes this world so clearly that by the end, you’ll feel like you’re breathing the same air as Cage and Molly Millions.
Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
Like most great cyberpunk, Altered Carbon is hardboiled and dystopian. The novel takes place in a world where human personalities can be digitally downloaded into new bodies. It’s also possible to back up your memories into a ‘stack’, which can then be transferred into a new body on your death.
The plot kicks off when Takeshi Kovacs is asked to investigate a suicide by the man who allegedly committed suicide. The suicide victim is resurrected via a stack, but his memories don’t include the 48 hours leading up to his death, and he believes he was murdered.
Altered Carbon combines cyberpunk with mystery. If you’re a fan of Raymond Chandler novels and want to dip your toe into Cyberpunk then this could be the novel for you.
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson’s second entry on this list, The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer is typical of Stephenson’s work as it is packed with ideas and themes.
In true cyberpunk style, The Diamond age is set in a future where nanotechnology runs rampant and has affected everything from education to class. The protagonist, a young girl, is given a highly advanced interactive book, the Primer, which becomes her guide to the world and shapes her into the person she becomes.
Stephenson rarely writes easy-to-read novels, but he does write compelling ones. This coming-of-age story mashes up a range of themes and ideas to create a unique and challenging science fiction novel. Buy The Diamond Age on Amazon.
These are just a few of our favourite cyberpunk novels, but there are many more out there to explore. From dystopian futures to virtual reality, the cyberpunk genre has something to offer for everyone. If you’re a fan of science fiction, be sure to check out some of these classics and see why the genre continues to captivate readers decades after its inception.