Updated: Nov 17, 2021
I don't pretend to be the most well-read cyberpunk enthusiast, but the genre has been incredibly influential in my own writing. The following books and short stories are those that have been impactful in some way, shape, or form. The stories are listed chronologically in order of original publication date, with the exception of Minority Report and Other Stories, Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, and Heavy Metal Magazine due to them being collections of short stories spanning several years.
Included on this list are books that fall into the very basic definition of cyberpunk, which is High Tech, Low Life. There are also a couple books not included on this list that you may see pop up on other cyberpunk lists. They were excluded because I feel they fit better in other categories. For instance, I consider Daemon by Daniel Suarez to be more of a techno thriller, rather than cyberpunk. Daemon is high tech, to be sure, but doesn't really encapsulate the dystopian, low-life feel of cyberpunk. Nicholas Sansbury-Smith's Hell Divers series is another that is both high-tech and low-life, but feels more post-apocalyptic than cyberpunk. While I would encourage fans of cyberpunk to check out both series since they are fun reads, neither has that true cyberpunk feel, which is why they are not included on this list. These are just two examples. I'm sure there are many more excellent books that have elements of cyberpunk, but these are the ones that have most impacted my own writing. Also, I will update this list as I continue to read more cyberpunk stories. So, without further ado, here we go!
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Philip K. Dick has been one of the mos influential figures in Cyberpunk, although his writings predated what we now know of cyberpunk by a couple/few decades. This collection of short stories includes five stories but I won't really be touching on The Eyes Have It (a fun and humorous read, but not cyberpunk) and Paycheck, which is not really cyberpunk and my least favorite story in this collection. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I won't be describing these stories too deeply since it's difficult to discuss a short story without giving anything away.
Second Variety (1953)
This is probably my favorite story in this collection, by far, and the story that would later inspire the movie, Screamers, which you can find in my discussion on cyberpunk movies. It's a very cool story about technology and artificial intelligence and well worth the read.
The Minority Report (1956)
The story that inspired Minority Report is actually much different from the movie. The basic premise is the same, but the story's tone varies drastically from the movie. It's a cool story and definitely worth a read.
We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (1966)
This is the story that later inspired the two Total Recall movies. To be perfectly honest, this book confused the hell out of me, but I should have expected as much considering the stories' main theme involves memory manipulation. Still, definitely worth read and a better use of your time than the 2012 adaptation.
There is a reason this book is considered a science fiction classic; it's fantastic. It's also one of the few books I really enjoy even though I didn't care much for the protagonist, which is a credit to the exceptional storytelling. A terrific book from beginning to end!
The book responsible for the definitive cyberpunk movie, is actually a great deal different from Blade Runner. While the central theme is present, and the book features much or what is great about the movie, it's look at what it means to be human is largely dependent on a side character not even present in the movie. I'm being purposefully obscure here, to avoid spoilers, but I'd love to hear what you had to think of the book. This is one of the few examples where I enjoy the movie more. That being said, the movie wouldn't have been made without this book so credit where credit is due.
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is a collection of stories but I'm focusing only on the short story, The Girl Who Was Plugged In. Thematically, this story was way ahead of its times. That being said, I did struggle a bit with the unique style in which it was written. It's definitely an essential cyberpunk read, as it was one of the first to view consumerism, identity, entertainment, and technology through a cyberpunk lens, but don't go in expecting a straightforward narrative style as I was going in. If you expect the narrative to be a little more complex, you'll probably get more out of it.
Just as Blade Runner sparked an interest in cyberpunk in cinemas, Neuromancer is the definitive cyberpunk book. Much has been said about Gibson's impact on cyberpunk and all of it is well deserved. I'm not going to spend any more time talking about this book because it's impact on the cyberpunk genre is well documented and you'll find the book on any list discussing cyberpunk, or at least any list worth it's cybersalt. That being said, one note to potential readers: This book is not the easiest read. The narrative can be confusing at times, but stick with it; you'll thank yourself later.
"Subliminals. The son-of-a-bitch was putting subliminals in the broadcast." This simple quote is the one that sticks with me most when I think of this book, probably because it perfectly captures the paranoid feel of a story. I'd like to have seen a little more of Shiner's near-future earth run by giant corporations, but I'll have to settle for his near-future Mars since it is the setting for most of the story. Not that I'm complaining, Shiner's vision of a Mars colony is just as dark and gloomy as any cyberpunk city, though it also adds an element of claustrophobia not always found in stories predominantly featuring overpopulated cities. Also, the audiobook version narrated by Stefan Rudnicki and Gabrielle de Cuir is very good and worth a listen.
I happened upon this gem of a book after reading William's disaster/post-apocalyptic book, The Rift. There's a lot going on in Hardwired, from cybernetic prostitutes to political espionage, but the character driven story is what drives the plot. Although some of the story can feel a bit dated at times, in the words of Han Solo, it's "got it where it counts."
This collection of short stories feature some of the biggest names in science fiction and, while this book has doubtlessly influenced (and helped create) the genre of Cyberpunk, not all of the stories hit home, or at least not for me personally. In fact, some of them lack all traces of the cyberpunk aesthetic. That being said, it's sort of a must-read when it comes to cyberpunk in the same way Citizen Kane is a must-see when it comes to movies.
I read every bit of Heavy Metal magazine I could get my hands on in the mid-90s, and it was probably my first exposure to cyberpunk in print. Although I wasn't technically old enough to buy it, I was fortunate enough to live in a small town with a drug store that either didn't know it wasn't supposed to be sold to minors, or didn't care. In addition to some very cool cyberpunk stories, the magazine had some cool cyberpunk art, especially the awesome cover illustrations. If you've never read a copy, I'd recommend you pick one up and give it a try.
This is another hallmark cyberpunk story from the mind of the great sci-fi author, Neal Stephenson. The narrative is very fast paced and Stephenson doesn't waste much time on exposition, which is why the story can be a little hard to follow at times, but that shouldn't dissuade anyone from checking it out. It's considered a cyberpunk classic for a reason and its influences can be seen in many later works from The Matrix to Ready Player One. Plus, you've got to give Stephenson some respect for going so bold as to name the hero of his story, Hiro Protagonist.
Vurt a strange book centered on drug addiction and could very easily be missed in the cyberpunk conversation altogether, since it seems to take place in an alternate reality, rather than a dystopian one. However, I choose to believe the only plausible explanation for some of its science is that it takes place in a virtual environment, in which case it is very much a cyberpunk book. Anyways, fair warning going in, it is a very odd and sometimes perverse book so expect to come away with mixed feelings, as I did upon finishing it.
This book is fantastic! I love noir movies and, although a lot of cyberpunk stories have a noir element, no other book better mixes cyberpunk with noir, and yes, I'm including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The cynical, hard-boiled narrative is the perfect choice for telling the story and it's one of the few books to tackle politics without seeming to push an agenda. Great book with a decent Netflix TV adaptation. Also, I listened to this on audio and Todd McLaren is an excellent reader and perfectly captures the tone of the story.
This sequel to Altered Carbon is much of the same, though this time the story switches from a noirish narrative to one that is more band-of-misfits-in-space. Morgan's protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, is still as cynical as ever, but he's got a larger cast of characters to play off of. Although I didn't enjoy it as much as the original, I still liked it plenty and McLaren's reading on the audio-book is still topnotch.
The third installment in the Takeshi Kovacs series marks a return to the style that made Altered Carbon such a favorite. It has a much more noirish tone and greater personal stakes for Takeshi Kovacs than the second novel, which made it much more enjoyable for my own personal preferences. Also, another shout out to McLaren, who remains one of my favorite audiobook narrators.
This is not your typical cyberpunk story but it certainly fits the high tech/low life bill. It's kind of like a cyberpunk book disguised as young adult satire. Although I can see why some might not appreciate the dumbed-down first person narrative, I think it really makes this book stand out from others of its kind.
This book is so chock full of high-concept, high-tech ideas that it needs a mention. Interesting story told through quirky characters. It's actually the third book in the Singularity trilogy, though I didn't know it was the third book in a series until after I'd finished it.
Listening to the audiobook version of the Electric Church is like watching a noir heist movie filled with quirky characters, corrupt cops, and cyborg monks. It's a very cool book and the narration by Todd McLaren perfectly captures the feel of the story. It's definitely worth a read/listen.
The second book in the Avery Cates saga is even darker than the first, which is saying something. The audiobook features more narration by Todd McLaren, which is reason enough alone to give this book a try.
Though the same could be said about a lot of books in the cyberpunk genre, the first half to two-thirds of this book is confusing. At times, I even wondered if there was a problem with the audiobook. The narrative jumps around in time, and it doesn't always seem to make a lot of sense. However, as the story goes on, things begin to gel and there was no confusion by book's end. It's all part of the plot, so if you give this book a try, keep in mind that you aren't the only one confused. Also, McLaren again lends his vocals so the audiobook is worth a listen.
Moxyland is a book set in a futuristic and dystopian Cape Town, South Africa and told from the first person perspective of four different characters, each of whom holds a differing social status. As their lives intermingle, it makes for interesting social commentary on where our current consumerist society might be heading. The characters themselves aren't very likable, but this is perhaps because their flaws seem so real. That being said, it's definitely worth reading.
Reading The Automatic Detective reminded me of playing a side mission in one of the Fallout games. It definitely has an old-fashioned, atomic era feel to it, and the light-heated tone it is told in is also a nice change of pace from some of the darker cyberpunk stories on this list.
This is perhaps the most niche book on this list because it relies so heavily on videogame currency, which probably won't appeal to many non-gamers. I found the story more interesting than entertaining as it weaves a very believable story about how the digital currency of videogames could be exploited.
This is a personal favorite and probably the one that has most influenced my own style of writing. In fact, it was after attending an Ernest Cline book signing as he was promoting the Armada paperback in 2016, when I decided to write about nostalgic stuff I loved as a kid. This would eventually lead to me writing Digital Wasteland. Prior to writing Digital Wasteland, I'd nearly finished a full length post-apocalyptic novel but during the editing process I realized it sucked and was unpublishable. After sinking a couple years into writing the book, I was feeling pretty deflated so Cline's inspirational book signing was just the thing I needed to get back on track.
Although I struggled getting into this book since the story didn't really take off until halfway through, it's got some really cool cyberpunk elements, particularly the stuff with mechs, which left me wanting more. The idea of lower class waste people was interesting as well.
Like Ready Player One, this is geared more towards young adult readers and focuses on a young woman who hacks into Warcoss-an ultra popular VR videogame. It's definitely set in a cyberpunk universe, but it spends the majority of the book focusing on the professional gaming community as the main character attempts to solve a mystery for which she was hired. I enjoyed the read but was definitely left wanting more of the underbelly of the world o display, specifically of the main character's life as a bounty hunter. There is a sequel that I have yet to read so I may very well get my wish. I'll add it to this list as soon as I've read it.
A little shameless self-promotion here, but it's my blog so I'm going to include it even if it only serves to strengthen my imposter syndrome. After all, I haven't spent more time with a book than I have with my own and it definitely meets the standards set forth in my intro of high-tech/low-life. It's also my love letter to the post-apocalyptic genre, so if you like cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic fiction, than this book is right up your alley.
Like most sequels, this book is not as good as its predecessor. It starts off very slow with heaps of exposition before it finally gets into the main story-line. Even then, it doesn't flow as well as the first book, in large part because Wade Watts is not as likable as he was in the first story, nor do you want to root for him as much for the same reasons he isn't as likable. I still enjoyed chunks of this book very much.