Cyberpunk, like all genres, has gone through a variety of stages in its life cycle. The Western, for example, went through a period which celebrated the Black and White morality of heroic cowboys against savage natives before revising itself to realize it was a time of murderous outlaws stealing the land of locals before becoming the home of many fantastical stories which paper over any semblance of history.
In cyberpunk's case, it first started in the 1980s as the successor of the dystopian science fiction genre that predicted the computer revolution as well as conservative economic model would lead to a highly-technological future where the gap between the rich as well as the poor was hyper-exaggerated. Works like Blade Runner and the Sprawl trilogy set the ground work.
|My first cyberpunk novel.|
The 1990s saw cyberpunk co-opted to an extent with big commercial projects with the Matrix and animated series like Ghost in the Shell were accompanied by the idea transhumanism would combine with spirituality to make a new humanity. The hackers of sci-fi became protagonists as everyone got their own personal computer and many took to fighting for "justice" in their own way.
The 21st century has become a sort of real life cyberpunk era (see The Top Signs We're Living in a Cyberpunk Future) with games like Watch_Dogs and television series like Mr. Robot or Person of Interest showing cyberpunk stories in the present day. It has also shown a decentralizing of fiction due to the creation of Ebooks and mass publishing houses that mean anyone can become a hyper-successful cyberpunk author. You just aren't likely to be.
Speaking as the author of Neo-Cyberpunk (see my AGENT G novels), I've decided to share a list of books which have come out in the past few years and have shown how the cyberpunk genre has changed for the New Teens. These are the books which Gibson, Scott, Stephenson, and the Wachowskis have laid the groundwork for.
Some of these books I've loved, some of these books I just enjoyed, but I think all of them brought something interesting to the genre. They're the third generation of writers who have tried their hand at rainy technologically enhanced dystopias and are all worth checking out. Here are thirteen of the ones I recommend for those who want to see what the genre is producing this time.
Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs #1) by Richard K. Morgan
There's no better place to start with arguably one of the best cyberpunk novels not just of the past two decades but possibly ever. Altered Carbon is going to be a Netflix television program and it will possibly be the most Blade Runner-esque thing released this year, including Blade Runner 2049. What is it about? In the future, consciousness is stored on little cybernetic implants called "stacks" and people have taken to using bodies like suits of clothes.
The ultra-rich finally have immortality as long as they can pay for it and the poor have nothing to sell them but their very flesh and blood. In this environment, Takeshi Kovacs is a UN Envoy (basically a dual negotiator/assassin) who finds himself blackmailed by one of the mega-rich to solve the man's "suicide" that he believes is grossly out of character. Truly a spectacular blend of noir and science fiction.
Altered States by Roy C. Booth (Editor)
Altered States is an anthology containing a number of excellent science fiction stories. I was recommended this anthology by the good folks at the Cyberpunk Science Fiction and Culture. There's a number of great stories in this book with my favorite being "Meegra" while others aren't really great. Even so, it's good to have fiction which falls squarely into the genre. Too often, people try to write outside of the genre and attempt to pass themselves off as cyberpunk just because there's a bad corporation or cybernetics.
Here, it's more thematic cyberpunk with the stories following people having technology having ruined their lives in various ways they are trapped by. It's less Gibson criminals and more Brazil with people struggling in Kafka-esque dystopias with Asimov-like technology but I think that's spiritually cybernetic rather than trappings-wise.
Exploded View by Sam McPheeters
Exploded View by Sam McPheeters is one of the best novels on this list. It is the story of a jaded television-obsessed future where advances in photo-optics means everything is recorded. Furthermore, CGI is available to the public who constantly alter and distort footage of their programs to do whatever they want (mostly porn). The protagonist is an LAPD police officer and single mother who is struggling to find meaning in her life. I found it quirky, socially relevant, and very authentic feeling from beginning to end. I also felt the protagonist was a great character to get a feel for the dystopian but (barely) functional world.
Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher
This is, without a doubt, the best novel in my recommendations and I say that including Altered Carbon. Ghosts of Tomorrow is a high octane cyberpunk story about how "scans" have become an integral part of the economy but can only be done once. This has resulted in a despicable human trafficking industry where unwanted children are marketed to the depraved or transhumanist. The protagonists believe they can do some good in the world by stopping a super-rich customer and a powerful trafficking ring. Michael R. Fletcher did an amazing job with this book and I'm anxious to see a sequel. What else can you say about a book which includes a fourteen year old cyborg gunslinger who thinks he's a samurai yet it is played for horror rather than laughs?
Hard Luck Hank: Screw the Galaxy (Hard Luck Hank #1) by Steve Campbell
Hard Luck Hank is something of a borderline example but something I can't leave off the list anyway. On a space station in the far future, Hank is a loutish mutant who lives in a place that makes Mos Eisley look positively cuddly. The future is ugly, grim, and full of people looking out for number one. The series gets a bit repetitive after the third or fourth book but I still think of it as a great source of humor.
This is a short little novel that mostly depends on Hank's low stakes, low effort view of the world. He couldn't care less about the world, its people, or doing the right thing. All he wants to do is get his job done and get paid. The fact the world continues to move around him is part of the books charm as this attitude proves justified time and time again.
The Immorality Clause (Easytown #1) by Brian Parker
The Easytown novels by Brian Parker, starting with this volume, are some of the best cyberpunk books out there. In the 2070s, the world has become a much more conservative place but more sleazy behind closed doors. Sex bots have replaced prostitutes, cybernetics have become fashionable, and A.I. are programmed to love being enslaved. Zach Forrest is one of the last honest cops in the city and he's one of the most violent and crude as well--which makes him the perfect man to walk Easytown's beat. There's only one thing which can ruin him and that's having a relationship with a machine.
The Easytown novels are currently three novels out and an anthology which I gleefully admit to writing in. I even wrote the Foreword. The Easytown novels take a different view of the future where the punks have decidedly lost to the social conservatives but that just means there's no future in a different way.
Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1) by James S. Corey
I was back and forth on including this one since it's a fundamentally idealistic bit of fiction which, nevertheless, incorporates a lot of horrific bad guys. Like if Star Wars and Blade Runner had a baby and wasn't my novel Lucifer's Star. Still, the hard sciece fiction elements combined with the focus on poverty as well as class divisions meant I was inclined to incorporate this into my list. I actually prefer the television series to the book for being a good deal more cynical but Leviathan Wakes was still a very fun read. The Expanse tells of a humanity which has spread to the stars and learned absolutely not a damned thing and what could be more punk than that?
Liquid Cool (Cyberpunk Detective #1) by Austin Dragon
The Cyberpunk Detective novels aren't the best of the novels and lean more toward noir than punk but I still enjoy them. The premise is a hovercar mechanic decides he's not getting enough out of his current lifestyle so he becomes an unlicensed detective in the city of Metropolis. This Metropolis is more like Fitz Lang's than Superman's as it's full of 40 million people who hate detectives and each other. The original volume is more of a collection of short stories and vignettes about how Detective Cruz sets up his business but that's fine by me. The main plot is the investigation of a local business owner that ultimately ends up tying together gangs, the police, and even the interplanetary police. It reminded me a bit of Strange Days in places and that's not a bad thing, even if it was going more for Blade Runner.
Mercury's Son by Luke Hindmarsh
Mercury's Son is set after humanity has destroyed the environment completely and now lives in sealed off arcologies. Rather than corporations, humanity has turned to the totalitarian religion of the Great Mother. Its a religion without God as it worships Mother Nature instead, directing all of its ire at humanity and science instead. The protagonist doesn't give a crap about any of this, though, as the cyborg super-soldier leftover from the Bad Old DaysTM just wants to live as comfortable a life as possible--even if it means working for people who hate him. I've read the book twice so you can guess what I think of it. Mind you, I also appreciate the author liked my review enough to put a quote from it on the cover. Remember authors, flattery gets you everywhere with critics.
Necrotech (SINless #1) by K.C. Alexander
Okay, I know some of the readers out there are people who are asking, "Wait, where is the PUNK in all of this?" This is the novel which answers that question. Necrotech is about the incredibly punk Riko who finds herself waking up in a corporate laboratory, her girlfriend diced up, and blackmailed by the police. She is loud, rude, crass, and thoroughly entertaining as she tries to navigate her way through a society of degenerates who all want a piece of her. This is cyberpunk from the streets and the purest example of the genre to be found on my list of recommendations. The sequel just came out and I'm looking forward to reading it.
Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective Mystery by Jim Bernheimer
Free admission that Jim Bernheimer is the publisher of my Supervillainy Saga and Agent G novels so if you feel my opinion of his work is irreversibly tainted, go ahead and ignore it. For those who still want to know what I think of this book, I think this is a short but awesome little work. What's the premise? In the future clones have become the predominant labor force with each taken from the best at their profession. Which is great for the Prime of any line as they get 10% of all their clones' salaries but sucks for the rest of them. Dave Bagini-42 is the latest in his line and has a hell of a mission with his birth: someone has murdered his Prime and the suspect is one of the other 41 clones who all have a motive to kill their creator. It's less than 200 pages but a really effective little bit of fiction with a lot of heart. I also found the resolution to be entirely believable and wanted to see more adventures with the character.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Quite a few readers would throw my list against the wall now if not for the fact it was tied to an expensive computer. Ready Player One is, after all, a very divisive book among geek fandom as well as the lightest most feelgood sort of soda pop cyberpunk you're ever going to find. It's as if someone combined the Metaspace of Snow Crash with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory plus a few thousand 80s pop culture references then decided that was a good idea. Still, I think it has quite a few redeeming qualities. It also represents how ubiquitous the idea of cyberpunk has become that it can even be marketed as a teenage fantasy. You know, teenagers who have nostalgia for things from their parents' childhoods. Take note that the Rifftrax guys did an amazing parody review of this book: http://372pages.com/
Technomancer: To Beat the Devil (Technomancer #1) by Michael Gibson
Another cheat in the fact that I wrote the Foreword for this one. So let the reader beware about my objectivity (I have none--I'm just a cyberpunk fan with a blog). Michael Gibson came to me to ask if I'd read his novel and whether or not I thought it was worth publishing. Being a huge Shadowrun fan, I absolutely loved his combination of fantasy, mythology, and net-running in a post-apocalypse setting. In this case, the Biblical apocalypse has occurred and the good guys forgot to show up. Hell has taken over the world and humanity lives at the bottom of the gutter, surviving in an ultra-high tech world of decadence and sin. Salem is a nano-tech enhanced human mercenary for the demons and doesn't give a crap about who is in charge so long as he's paid. That changes when he's hired by a mysterious stranger to take down one of the largest demon bosses in the world. Basically, the Dresden Files meets Shadowrun in terms of tone.