The cyberpunk genre shows the dark side of the utopian visions and optimism sometimes found in science fiction stories. Social disorder, lawlessness through the rise of A.I. and cybernetics, and oppression from the ruling class are many of the themes explored in the genre.
The literary genre has also been inspirational for many television shows, movies, and video games.
Here are a few of the best cyberpunk novels.
The 2002 novel “Altered Carbon,” written by Richard K. Morgan, is set in a future where humans have circumvented death by having a cortical stack implanted in the spinal column at birth. This stack stores each person’s consciousness and can later be transplanted into a new body. However, great inequalities exist in society, and access to cloned bodies is mostly for the wealthy, leaving everyone else to fight for replacement bodies. Murder and theft of bodies are also rampant.
The plot revolves a wealthy man who, after dying and having his consciousness moved into a cloned body, hires a detective to figure out what happened in the missing twenty-four hours before his death. The man claims his death was staged to look like suicide, but he does not believe he had any reason to kill himself. There are many suspects, but only after piecing together this mystery can they find the true killer. The concept of the mind and soul are heavily explored throughout the novel, including whether someone can be forcibly brought back to life to testify at a trial or what happens if you clone your cortical stack and place it in multiple bodies.
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is a 1968 novel written by Philip K. Dick. The 1982 film “Blade Runner” loosely adapted the novel.
The story takes place in post-apocalyptic San Francisco after a global nuclear war and follows the character of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who kills androids that have escaped their life of servitude off-world and escape to Earth with the hopes of remaining undetected. Several themes are explored in the book, including what life might look like without any remaining biodiversity on the planet, whether androids capable of intelligence and empathy deserve the same status as humans, and our relationship with the natural world.
“Neuromancer” is the 1984 debut novel of writer William Gibson. The story follows Henry Dorsett, a once talented computer hacker who, after stealing from his employer, is no longer able to access the virtual reality dataspace known as the matrix. He is also on a hit list of a drug lord. To change his fate, he joins up with a woman to work as a hacker to battle against a powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth.
While Gibson has little faith in the novel before its debut, it would go on to be a major award winner and sales success. Much of the success of the novel came from its exploration of themes, including how humans interact with technology, the concept of identity, and what motivates humans to act.
The “Akira” comic series originally debuted in “Weekly Young Magazine” from 1982 to 1990. Originally published in Japanese, “Akira” is the first mange to ever be completely translated into English. The series also spawned the 1988 anime film of the same name.
The series opens on Tokyo in 1982. A nuclear explosion destroys the city and starts World War III. Nearly four decades later, in 2019, the story begins in Neo-Tokyo and follows several characters as they work to prevent Tetsuo, who has powerful telekinetic abilities, from destroying Neo-Tokyo and awakening a mysterious individual with equivalent abilities that are called Akira. The themes of the comic series include political turmoil, social isolation, corruption, and power.