Cyberpunk literature lit up sci-fi in the early 80s, promising a glowing future of virtual realities and Singularities. From Vernor Vinge and William Gibson’s early foundational forays through recent offerings from Hannu Rajaniemi, James Cambias, and G. Willow Wilson, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite stories.
Forget those losers who still live in meatspace! Come with us and jack into the glorious world of the Net/Matrix/Metaverse/Other Plane…
All of these titles can be found in the Tor Store on iBooks!
The tale of a group of computer hackers (“warlocks”) who dive into a new kind of full-immersion virtual reality technology called the “Other Plane”. They call each other by handles like “Mr. Slippery” and Erythrina because if their True Names become public, real world forces could force them to use their hacking for evil. But how long can even the canniest among them stay secret?
Vinge’s novella kicked off the cyberpunk subgenre, and was rereleased in 2007 as part of True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier. This volume includes essays from Danny Hillis, the founder of Thinking Machines and the first Disney Fellow; Timothy C. May, former chief scientist at Intel; Marvin Minsky, co-founder of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab; and Richard Stallman, founder of the project to develop the free/libre GNU operating system; and many more!
Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.
Trouble and her Friends—Melissa Scott
India Carless, alias Trouble, managed to stay one step ahead of the feds until she retired from life as a hacker and settled down to run a small network for an artist’s co-op. Now someone has stolen her pseudonym and begun to use it for criminal hacking. So Trouble returns. Once the fastest gun on the electronic frontier, she has been called out of retirement for one last fight. And it’s a killer.
Less than a hundred years from now, the forces of law and order crack down on the world of the Internet. It is the closing of the frontier. The hip, noir adventurers who got by on wit, bravado, and drugs, who haunt the virtual worlds of the shadows of cyberspace are up against the edges of civilization. It’s time to adapt or die.
Snow Crash—Neal Stephenson
In regular reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s Cosa Nostra Inc., but in the virtual reality of the Metaverse, he’s a warrior prince and master swordsman. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous… you’ll recognize it immediately.
Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash weaves virtual reality, Sumerian myth, and just about everything in between with a cool, hip, cyber-sensibility to bring us the gigantic thriller of the information age.
Halting State—Charles Stross
In the year 2018, a daring bank robbery has taken place at Hayek Associates. The suspects are a band of marauding orcs, with a dragon in tow for fire support, and the bank is located within the virtual reality land of a MMORPG called Avalon Four. But Sergeant Sue Smith discovers that this virtual world robbery may be linked to some real world devastation. To foil the crime, she’ll need to team with an intrepid insurance fraud investigator named Elaine Barnaby, and hapless, recently laid-off programmer and MMORPG expert, Jack Reed. Will they learn the truth, or are the orcs going to win this one?
The Quantum Thief—Hannu Rajaniemi
Jean le Flambeur is a post-human criminal, mind burglar, confidence artist, and trickster. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his exploits are known throughout the Heterarchy—from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of Mars. Now he’s confined inside the Dilemma Prison, where every day he has to get up and kill himself before his other self can kill him.
Rescued by the mysterious Mieli and her flirtatious spacecraft, Jean is taken to the Oubliette, the Moving City of Mars, where time is currency, memories are treasures, and a moon-turned singularity lights the night. What Mieli offers is the chance to win back his freedom and the powers of his old self-in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed.
As Jean undertakes a series of capers on behalf of Mieli and her mysterious masters, elsewhere in the Oubliette investigator Isidore Beautrelet is called in to investigate the murder of a chocolatier, and finds himself on the trail of an arch-criminal, a man named le Flambeur….
Schismatrix Plus—Bruce Sterling
In the generations since humanity first began to spread itself throughout the universe, schisms have torn the race asunder. In the future, as in the past, extreme ideological differences have set man against man, causing serious tensions and violence, particularly between the Mechanist and Shaper sects. For the Mechanists, who believe in high-tech prosthetics as the only means of advancing human development, the Shaper belief in the use of genetic improvement is anathema and therefore must be eradicated, while the rebel Shapers likewise strive for the ultimate destruction of their cybernetic rivals.
Between the two camps travels Abelard Lindsay—a betrayed and exiled Shaper diplomat, well trained in the art of lies and subterfuge—who, over the course of a lifetime of centuries, comes to embrace piracy and revolution en route to quite possibly ushering a shattered humankind toward its bold new destiny.
The Shockwave Rider—John Brunner
In a world drowning in data and information and choking on novelty and innovation, Nickie Haflinger, a most dangerous fugitive who doesn’t even appear to exist, provides a window onto a global society falling apart in all directions, with madness run amok and personal freedom surrendered to computers and bureaucrats. Caught and about to be re-programmed, can he escape once again, defy the government and turn the tide of organizational destruction?
Corsair—James L. Cambias
In the early 2020s, two young, genius computer hackers, Elizabeth Santiago and David Schwartz, meet at MIT, where Schwartz is sneaking into classes, and have a brief affair. David is amoral and out for himself, and soon disappears. Elizabeth dreams of technology and space travel and takes a military job after graduating. Nearly ten years later, David is setting himself to become a billionaire by working in the shadows under a multiplicity of names for international thieves, and Elizabeth works in intelligence preventing international space piracy. With robotic mining in space becoming a lucrative part of Earth’s economy, shipments from space are dropped down the gravity well into the oceans. David and Elizabeth fight for dominance of the computer systems controlling ore drop placement in international waters. If David can nudge a shipment 500 miles off its target, his employers can get there first and claim it legally in the open sea. Each one intuits that the other is their real competition but can’t prove it. And when Elizabeth loses a major shipment, she leaves government employ to work for a private space company to find a better way to protect shipments. But international piracy has very high stakes and some very evil players. And both Elizabeth and David end up in a world of trouble…
Alif the Unseen—G. Willow Wilson
In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients—dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups—from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif—the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancé is the “Hand of God,” as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.
Cormac is a legendary Earth Central Security agent, the James Bond of a wealthy future where “runcibles” (matter transmitters controlled by AIs) allow interstellar travel in an eye blink throughout the settled worlds of the Polity. Unfortunately Cormac is nearly burnt out, “gridlinked” to the AI net so long that his humanity has begun to drain away. He has to take the cold-turkey cure and shake his addiction to having his brain on the net.
Now he must do without just as he’s sent to investigate the unique runcible disaster that’s wiped out the entire human colony on planet Samarkand in a thirty-megaton explosion. With the runcible out, Cormac must get there by ship, but he has incurred the wrath of a vicious psychopath called Arian Pelter, who now follows him across the galaxy with a terrifying psychotic killer android in tow. And deep beneath Samarkand’s surface there are buried mysteries, fiercely guarded.
Equations of Life: Book 1, Samuil Petrovitch—Simon Morden
He survived the nuclear fallout in St. Petersburg and hid in the London Metrozone—the last city in England. He’s lived this long because he’s a man of rules and logic. For example, getting involved = a bad idea.
But when he stumbles into a kidnapping in progress, he acts without even thinking. Before he can stop himself, he’s saved the daughter of the most dangerous man in London. And clearly saving the girl = getting involved.
Now, the equation of Petrovitch’s life is looking increasingly complex. Russian mobsters + Yakuza + something called the New Machine Jihad = one dead Petrovitch.
But Petrovitch has a plan—he always has a plan—he’s just not sure it’s a good one.
Mindplayers are tomorrow’s psychoanalysts, linked directly to their patients using sophisticated machinery attached to the optic nerve. In one-to-one Mindplay contact, you can be inside someone else’s head, wandering the landscapes of their consciousness. Allie is a sensation-seeking young woman, obtaining illicit thrills from her shady friend Jerry Wirerammer. But Allie goes badly astray when Jerry supplies her with a “madcap”—a device that lets you temporarily and harmlessly experience psychosis. There’s something wrong with Jerry’s madcap, and the psychosis doesn’t go away when it’s disconnected. Allie ends up undergoing treatment at a “dry-cleaner”, and she is faced with a stark choice—jail, for her illegal use of the madcap; or training to become a Mindplayer herself.
During training Allie becomes familiar with the Pool—a cohesive, though shifting mental landscape jointly constructed by a number of minds; and more disturbingly encounters McFlor, who has been mind-wiped, so that his adult body is inhabited by a mind only two hours old. And as a fully-fledged Mindplayer Allie has to choose between the many specialist options open to her—Reality Affixing or Pathosfinding; Thrillseeking or Dreamfeeding.
The Ware Tetralogy—Rudy Rucker
It starts with Software, where rebel robots bring immortality to their human creator by eating his brain. Software won the first Philip K. Dick Award. In Wetware, the robots decide to start building people—and people get strung out on an insane new drug called merge. This cyberpunk classic garnered a second Philip K. Dick Award. By Freeware, the robots have evolved into soft plastic slugs called moldies—and some human “cheeseballs” want to have sex with them. The action redoubles when aliens begin arriving in the form of cosmic rays. And with Realware, the humans and robots reach a higher plateau. Includes an introduction by William Gibson.
Little Brother—Cory Doctorow
Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works-and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.
But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.
When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.