Cyberpunk is a niche science fiction sub-genre that every so often jumps into the mainstream. Perhaps the most prominent example of is, of course, The Matrix, but now the upcoming Ghost in the Shell movie starring Scarlett Johansson will once again bring it into the spotlight. The pillars of the sub-genre are urban settings, social upheaval, dystopian futures with advanced technology and powerful corporations, and gritty underworlds filled with illicit trade. Hacker characters and shadowy corporations abound.
The popular HBO show Westworld can’t be called cyberpunk because Season 1 didn’t present enough information about the world outside the park to discern if it fits that structure, but the more niche Syfy show Incorporated is. The genre is always kicking; it’s simply a matter of how many people are paying attention to it at any given moment.
Even though the new Ghost in the Shell movie has its problems, if it can bring renewed attention to this intriguing strand of science fiction, that might be its greatest success. If its trailers have made you curious about the genre as a whole, here are some novels to start with, aside from the Ghost in the Shell manga, of course.
##. 1. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash is a modern classic set in a future version of Los Angeles in which private organizations hold most of the government power, mercenary armies compete for control, and of course, the protagonist is a hacker with access to all the underground facets of this world. It’s a must-read if you’re exploring the genre.
2. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Another classic, this was the novel that spawned the film Blade Runner. As the book has several key differences, even if you’ve seen the movie many times, it’s worth a read.
3. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
This sprawling, ambitious novel is set in a 23rd century in which megacorporations dominate, plagues are frequent, and people are engineered to satisfy the whims of the rich.
4. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
This is a Young Adult book, which goes to show how the cyberpunk sub-genre transcends categories. The protagonist is a cyborg living in a dystopian version of Beijing.
5. Neuromancer by William Gibson
You can’t dive into cyberpunk without taking a spin in the world of Neuromancer, the father of the genre. The Matrix would not exist if Neuromancer had not established a world with hacker characters and a virtual reality space called “The Matrix.” Like most of the other works in the genre, it’s set in the East, specifically Japan. If you read just one cyberpunk novel in your curiosity, read this one.
Ghost in the Shell hits theaters on February 28, 2017.