7 Lesser-Known Cyberpunk Novels to Help You Prepare for Our Horrible Future
Sick of rereading "Neuromancer," but addicted to capitalist technodystopia? We got you
You’ve got your mirror shades and your fingerless gloves, but you’ve already worked your way through Neuromancer and Snow Crash and all the other books by white men about electronically-enhanced renegades on the World Wide Web (or whatever they’ve got instead of the Word Wide Web in the cyber-retrofuture). If you haven’t gotten your fill of capitalism-ridden technodystopian hellscapes from those books plus, you know, living in a capitalism-ridden technodystopian hellscape, try moving on to some of these lesser-known cyberpunk novels.
Misha, Red Spider White Web
Misha’s characters live on the fringes of her violent, polluted techno-dystopia. Her main character, Kumo, is a struggling artist, financially tenuous but deeply principled—the enemy here isn’t just corporate interests, as with most cyberpunk, but artistic sellouts. Oh, and there’s also a cult and a serial killer!
James Tiptree, Jr., The Girl Who Was Plugged In
It sounds like a Black Mirror episode: a teenager comes to after a suicide attempt to find that not only is she still alive, but she’s been given cybernetic implants that allow her to remotely control a brainless, beautiful clone. When the clone becomes a celebrity, we’re left wondering: seriously, why hasn’t this been a Black Mirror episode yet?
Madeline Ashby, Company Town
The city-sized oil rig where Company Town takes place is a cyberpunk setting—there’s nanotech, there’s robots, there’s cybernetic implants. But Hwa, the main character, isn’t a cyberpunk hero: she’s actually the last fully-organic person on the rig, having refused all augmentations. So when someone starts murdering people (and targeting Hwa), she only has her own fighting skills and natural toughness to protect her.
Wilhelmina Baird, Crashcourse
A thief, an artist, and a sex worker sign up to act in a “cybercinema” movie where the audience can feel the emotions of the characters on screen. It’s a little queer, a little (okay, a lot) anticapitalist, and a little metafictional—are the intrigues and adventures the trio gets caught up in just part of the plot of the film?
Raphael Carter, The Fortunate Fall
The mysterious Raphael Carter wrote only this one novel, which Bogi Takács described on Tor.com as “a book in which queer post-Soviet women attempt to immigrate to a Wakanda that develops sentient bitcoin. For love.” Do you honestly need to hear more? Okay, well, there’s also a huge Russian conspiracy and echoes of reality TV (the main character has a camera implanted in her head so an audience can tune into her sensorium).
Lisa Mason, Arachne
After the Big One, San Francisco is an island, but it’s still a seat of technological innovation—in this case, mind links that allow transactions to move at the speed of thought. Carly, a tough young lawyer, is thrown into a tailspin when her telelink crashes and she discovers that she’s being targeted by artificial intelligences trying to steal human (sub)consciousness.
Cindy Pon, Want
In a near-future Taipei, wealthy people can afford special suits to protect themselves from the deadly pollution and disease that plagues the underclass. Jason Zhou is determined to expose and destroy the corrupt CEO of the Jin Corporation, which manufactures the suits—but in trying to infiltrate the world of the rich, he falls in love with the CEO’s daughter. This one’s YA, but if a week of watching Greta Thunberg has taught us anything, it’s that young adults have a better grasp of our imminent dystopia than any of us.