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Best Cyberpunk Books

The Best 25 Cyberpunk Books Ever Written, From Classics to Modern

So here we have a sub-genre of science fiction that has a cool name, because of which its authors dress in leather jackets and wear mirror shades - at least according to one well known scion of the craft - Neal Stephenson. But what - aside from an excuse to wear cool shades - is Cyberpunk?

Well basically Cyberpunk is all about dystopian, networked, future earth type societies. The technological focus is usually on computing, genetics and artificial or virtual intelligences, primarily. Oh and corporations. Usually big ones. Sub-sub genres (have we all gone mad?) include Steampunk - the same thing with Victorian overtones, and Biopunk - the same thing focused on genetic engineering and such. Additionally, books written after 1993 have a nasty habit of being called Post Cyberpunk.

Cyberpunk Derrivates -- "The Punks"

Post-Cyberpunk - which is cyberpunk, but all grown up, after the teenage hormones and depressions have dissipated some - leaving the genre feeling a little more respectable. Then there's Dieselpunk - sometimes referred to as 'gritty Steampunk'

Decopunk - Dieselpunk made all shiny and modernistic, like the Art Deco art styles of the 1920's to 1950's

Nanopunk - the new kid on the block, still deciding what kind of a creature he's going to be - but focussed on nanotechnology at the expense of biotechnology so far; Stonepunk - sic. The Flintstones (fancy stone age tech)

Clockpunk - concerned with clockwork mechanisms, likes to live in the renaissance period;

Teslapunk - alternate history where we got stuck at electricity, never going so far as to try anything else, and got really good at it (traces family line back to 18th, 19th and early 20th century imaginings of what electricity would do)

Atompunk - which would pretty much be Superman's pre-digital world in DC Comics (think: cold war, Sputnik, Space and arms races, superheroes, Dick Tracy);

Elfpunk - what elves and other folklorish creatures would be like if they managed to survive to inhabit our current or future world

Mythpunk - same as Elfpunk, but rooted in ancient myth (Hercules, the Valkyries - that sort of thing)

Nowpunk - which is a word invented by Bruce Stirling to describe one of his books. I really have no idea why it has stuck around, but you can go look it up for yourself - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nowpunk#Nowpunk.

I think it means Cyberpunk set - well - like now. I guess the movie 'hackers' would be an example here.

It should be noted (for those new to this) that the term 'Cyberpunk' is derivative of the term 'cyberspace', not 'cyborg'. Cyborgs do occasionally appear in cyberpunk novels, as do other forms of synthetic life, and the synthesis of biological life with technology is a recurring theme, but the focus of cyberpunk is more on information technologies: networks, computers, being able to plug oneself directly into virtual environments by whatever means - that sort of thing. An example would be the 'Tron' movies. Both of them. Most of the action is contained within a virtual environment Another popular example of cyberpunk is the 'Matrix' series of movies. Technically most of the movies took place in cyberspace, not out in the 'real' world. I still think that 'the matrix' establishes a great premise for arguing in favour of existentialism - but that's for another time.

Finally: a quote that may help clarify things: "Cyberpunk literature, in general, deals with marginalized people in technologically-enhanced cultural 'systems'. In cyberpunk stories' settings, there is usually a 'system' which dominates the lives of most 'ordinary' people, be it an oppressive government, a group of large, paternalistic corporations, or a fundamentalist religion. These systems are enhanced by certain technologies (today advancing at a rate that is bewildering to most people), particularly 'information technology' (computers, the mass media), making the system better at keeping those within it inside it. Often this technological system extends into its human 'components' as well, via brain implants, prosthetic limbs, cloned or genetically engineered organs, etc. Humans themselves become part of 'the Machine'. This is the 'cyber' aspect of cyberpunk. However, in any cultural system, there are always those who live on its margins, on 'the Edge': criminals, outcasts, visionaries, or those who simply want freedom for its own sake. Cyberpunk literature focuses on these people, and often on how they turn the system's technological tools to their own ends. This is the 'punk' aspect of cyberpunk." Erich Schneider of 'The Cyberpunk Project'.

So without further ado: the top 25 best Cyberpunk (and derivative otherpunk) novels - arranged from best to less so.

You can view the crowd-ranked version of this list and vote on the entries at the bottom of this page.

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Award Nominations:1993 BSFA, 1994 CLARKE

Hiro Protagonist likes to call himself 'the Last of the Freelance Hackers and the Greatest Swordfighter in the World'. It's on his business cards, and to give him some credit - he really is good. He meets a 15 year old skateboard Kourier named Y.T. - which is short for Yours Truly - and together he and the kid are drawn into the shady and dangerous world surrounding the new drug Snow Crash, which is also a computer virus. Turns out there's far more to Snow Crash than just some pretty hallucinations, and the unravelling of it all takes them to some very odd places...Politics, history, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, computer science, memetics, cryptography and philosophy (and I hope I haven't left anything out) are the themes. This was Neal's third book, and a nominee for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Award. His networks resemble fully immersive MMO's, megacorporations own large chunks of what used to be the United States, the dollar is seriously de-valued (a quadrillion Dollar note is counted as small change), there are swords and sword fights, big and interesting guns, many varieties of cybernetic organism, and a protagonist named Hiro Protagonist. And the gods all inhabit cyberspace. Neal Stephenson has occasionally been accused of parodying cyberpunk with this novel - and to be honest his humour does lean toward the satirical, with a good sense for the absurd, but I personally feel that's a bit too purist a point of view for my taste. This is Cyberpunk through and through - and one of the better examples of the genre at that. And honestly: a little humour never hurts. We sci-fi types tend to take ourselves too seriously anyway. It is generally considered as a classic, and I rate it as 'required reading' - preferably early in your walk through Cyberpunk.

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Brilliant on just about every level, Hyperion IS the quintessential space opera series. Simmons puts everything you'd ever want in a Space Opera (breathtaking action, military engagments in and out of space, faster than light travel, AI, etc), but what sets this series apart from the rest is the deep human themes explored, the cast of emotionally tortured (yet all the while compelling characters), the beautiful prose, and Simmons' ability to seamlessly structure the narrative in homage to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as a series of interrelated tales told by each character as they march to their doom on a desolate planet to seek answers from a god.

If you have not read Hyperion, stop everything and make sure you do. The 'series' is divided into two series -- each having two books. Both are brilliant and both are completely different sorts of stories.

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Award Nominations:1968 NEBULA

It is 1992, and the world has been devastated by nuclear war - called the World War Terminus. Wildlife is almost non-existent, and owning an animal is a sign of Status - though most people fake it with synthetic or electronic animals. There is a stigma attached to not owning an animal. We Follow the stories of Rick Deckard (who does indeed own an electrical sheep), as he tracks and attempts to 'retire' six Nexus 6 Brain Model androids of the latest design, who have gone rogue; and the story of John Isidore, who attempts to aid the androids. 

This is made more complex by the fact that most androids are indistinguishable from normal humanity, and the only real way to tell is a bone marrow sample - since these androids are crafted biologically. Other tests do exist - most notably a test designed to measure the ability to empathise - which ability androids lack. Worse: his wife is depressive, and fond of abusing her mood enhancement machinery. Then things start to get even more complex and interesting with the introduction of Rachael, as he continues to investigate the case of a lifetime...Anyone familiar with the movie 'Bladerunner'? Well this was the book on which it was based. It is also noteworthy in that Phillip K proposed a 'future' world which is now in our past, and we get to compare his notes with reality and see how close he came. It seems our Mr Dick was a bit pre-emptive when it came to figuring how far along we'd be by now. - though his vision of human culture is not too far off.

 If we look at ourselves closely in the mirror we find a disturbing number of the attitudes and ideals from this book staring back at us. We're only a couple of short steps from the kind of society he envisions - and I fear we may yet see it in our lifetimes. I reckon we need at least another 200 years to catch up with some of the tech he pre-supposed, but the point is debatable. This falls into a sort of 'Proto-Cyberpunk' category.

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Gully Foyle is just a little bit annoyed. Well actually it's not really annoyance, and it's not really little either. In point of fact he's murderously maddened with rage, and seeks nothing more than to kill the ones responsible for leaving him stuck in the derelict spaceship out in the middle of absolutely nowhere. He'd already been on the ship - the sole survivor of a battle - for six months when this starship passed him by, and ignored his hails, leaving him there to die alone. So he plots revenge. 

His path is not easy, though, and he finds himself variously captured by pirates, the recipient of an unwilling facial tattoo and tortured for information regarding the whereabouts of the ship he was on for so long. Turns out that his lonely, fortuitously temporary home had a cargo that could change the outcome of the war...the outcome of everything!Classic, classy and still mentioned in almost every list that purports to purvey a listing of the best science fiction ever written, and that after more than fifty years! People - there is a reason why anyone who reads a lot of SF will include this in their top ten list: it's an incredible book. After fifty years on the shelves it is still selling. After fifty years people like me are telling people like you that it is worth reading, and people like you who have read it are telling other people like you it is a spectacular book to read! 

Alfred Bester established many of the conventions that later became recurring definitive themes throughout the Cyberpunk world, like the rule of wealth, the bad-boy good guy, the proto-razorgirl, psionics as a scientific system rather than a mystical magic (basically telepathy and teleportation), and a real sense of where mankind was headed. Fifty years down the line and we still can't really fault it. Cyberpunk owes this man a huge debt: he was the dark anti-hero who impregnated the bitch that spawned this dark, ugly, often violent, severely human dystopian genre we all love so very much. Required reading. You can't know cyberpunk till you've read this.

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Comments (4)
Awards Won:2003 PKD

The rich are really the only folk who can re-sleeve themselves regularly. Most folks have to live a full life in a body before they can afford a new one, so most only re-sleeve once or twice. For the rich, however, the same rule doesn't apply, and there are some folks who have lived a long, long time, pretty much in an eternally young and strong body - or rather several of them. One such 'Meth' - very long lived people named for the Biblical Methuselah - is Laurens Bancroft, whose personality storage is updated every 48 hours, and he apparently committed suicide. Naturally he remembers none of this when he gets re-sleeved (due to the missing hours between his updates), and begins to suspect that he was murdered. So he hires Takeshi Kovaks, an ex-Envoy, to find out if his suspicions are true. Finding the answers becomes a very violent exercise for Takeshi...Conspiracy Theorist Alert: this book was written with you folks held warmly and softly in mind. Those of you who are fond of excessively large amounts of blood (as well as body parts, viscera, nameless mulches of tech and brains and so on) spattered across, and dripping from, the inside walls of your imagination - this was also written for you. Takeshi Kovaks is a violent lad, and has a couple of interesting - let's call them 'software upgrades' - that make him particularly lethal. And of course when people can't be killed without destroying the 'cortical stack' that preserves your mind for later re-sleeving into either a new body or a virtual environment, well then the price of life becomes beyond cheap, and the violence against life becomes more than brutal. Quite logical, I thought.He also starts this novel off as a crazed psychotic (for want of a better definition) before he seems to settle down a little and become a well-controlled, brutal psychotic. There really isn't anything new in this: the themes are derivative, and we've seen it all somewhere else before, but this is not necessarily a disadvantage. Richard Morgan flaunts his influences brazenly throughout, and manages to get away with it. Think a cross between Bladerunner (the movie), Gibson, Stephenson and Raymond Chandler, and you have an idea where he was going with this.

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Bobby Newmark, the self-styled 'Count Zero' is just getting started as a hacker, and is still an amateur. There comes a day when he is asked to test some new tech for some of his shadier connections. The tech nearly kills him, and he only survives due to the appearance of a shining girl who unhooks him from the net before his heart stops beating...Turner is a corporate mercenary, and he has been hired to help Mitchell leave his current employ in a most illegal fashion. Unfortunately Turner misses his mark, and ends up with the old guy's daughter, Angie instead. Seems Angie is not all she appears to be, though . . . Marly Krushkova Was a gallery owner until she tried to sell a counterfeit. Now she is infamous, and her infamy brings her to Josef Virek, industrialist and art patron, who seeks the author of several futuristic Joseph Cornell type artworks - much like the one that cost her a job. But Virek is after more than just art, and he means to find what he seeks, regardless of cost, or care...The second of the 'Sprawl' trilogy, and the second of William Gibson's books on this list, this counts as a classic of the genre. The world is rich and colourful - sometimes a bit too much so, in that it leaves you a bit confused now and then as to why that particular part of the background scenery is so important, or how this dystopian vision of a scene actually relates to our characters. We see the return (sort of) of Wintermute and Neuromancer - disguised as voodoo gods, but otherwise a new cast of characters. More points of view from which to examine the weirdly wonderful world Mr Gibson has created...

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You'd think that Artificial Reality couldn't kill you, since legally speaking, everything is a lie in AR anyway. But that seems to be just exactly what happened - in a sealed booth. And he died the same way in the real world as he did in AR - a slashed throat. Dore Konstantin is a hard-boiled cop who must now find the murderer responsible for doing the impossible - killing from inside AR, and to do so she must enter the brutal, sadomasochistic and sexually perverse world of AR. Yuki is looking for her lover, who may be dead, and who was one of Joyz Boyz - and when she meets Joy Flower she is taken on as her personal assistant. Neither Yuki nor Dore are aware of how deadly the danger that surrounds them, or of how dark the world into which they have stepped. And of course it is much more complicated than just a few impossible murders.Japan is gone - the catastrophe that took it undefined. In fact it seems the entire generation that remembers it is also gone. The world - the real world - that Pat envisions here is overcrowded and dreary, and the Artificial Reality is bright and popular. People live there as much as they can because the alternative is, well, dreary, and overcrowded. Also one is legally entitled to do whatever the hell it you feel like in AR, including murder, rape, whatever, because it is not real, and cannot affect your life. So die tonight, and come back tomorrow night rarin' to go. And then the ills of AR start to spill over into the real world.There are some very disturbing echoes of our world today in this work. I mean if we look at how many people spend their every spare moment on the internet... Gritty, fun, disturbing, thought provoking - well worth the money you'll spend on it.

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Awards Won:2010 LocusSF
Award Nominations:2009 NEBULA, 2010 HUGO

Zeke Wilkes is a son out looking to regain his name. his Pa went and lost it when the drilling machine he invented tore up half of Seattle, and released a gas that turned half the area's inhabitants into zombies. So Zeke goes hunting inside the walled off section of Seattle - fifteen years later - hunting for evidence that might prove his Pa wasn't the devil they all said he was. Things get complicated quickly - and Briar Wilkes, Zeke's mother, follows him to the walled city, trying to save the son who's trying to save a name, all the while harbouring secrets of her own...She's trying for an opus of the Steampunk sub-genre, and getting it right, too. The vision is sweeping, and the characters engaging. The addition of zombies gets her extra points too - Steampunk sits well on the undead. Alternate history - we got to the 1800's before getting side tracked - in this case by the American Civil War, which a dastardly England has prolonged (through interference) far beyond it's time, thus spawning a whole other technology with its feet ankle deep in 1861.

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Award Nominations:1995 BSFA

Alex Sharkey is looking for the queen of the elves. Well - that's not quite true, but she's really not quite human. Thing is he thinks he loves her - though it might actually be a face full of nanobots, and not love. Maybe she's more than human, or human plus, or whatever you want to call it. Still, it becomes quite the quest for this overweight psychotropic virus engineer, and while there don't appear to be any dragons breathing fire down his neck, there are still some pretty big government and criminal organizations who would prefer it if Alex never gets as far as finding his new amour, which really amounts to the same thing, really.

Conceptually, Paul McCauley has managed to create a story that does not actually need the fizz-bang technology that pervades it to be good. It would be good if the tech involved a stick and some semi-solid mud. The characters are real, they breathe, and you can almost smell the sweat from their overactive imaginations. They grow, and change a little, and you can see the little changes that show as much.

He's also got this flow to his writing - it's a bit like dream sex - all smooth and warm and effortless, which is a nice contrast to the storyline, which is edgy, dark, and filled with foreboding. He gets a bit tied up towards the end - there's a late character introduction or two that I thought were unnecessary, but, quite frankly, this is such a good ride that I don't mind that little bump there the least.

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Award Nominations:1987 PKD

Allie Haas likes to get high. Her dealer likes to get her high. One day he convinces her to try a new, stolen madcap' - very illegal. The experience nearly kills her, and as an extra kick in the teeth gets her criminalised. She is offered the chance - loathsome as it may be - to become a Mindplayer instead of going to prison...

What follows would probably make a good initial screenplay for a series along the lines of - say - Fringe. Allie's life takes us on a journey - in episodes, by way of her patients - from addiction to a form of sanity. Allie grows from a two-dimensional non-person into someone with real depth, and she has a way of echoing round your head after you've put the book down.

Pat Cadigan explores a whole host of mental conditions, and her look at the inside landscape of the mind is enthralling. Mesmerising. This was a formidable first novel, which came after a bunch of equally edgy and well-formed short stories.

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Comments (2)
Awards Won:1989 CAMPBELL
Award Nominations:1989 HUGO, 1989 LocusSF

Imagine the world as an alternate 1985, where Whitney Houston's ubiquitous voice, those eyeball-raping neon colors, leg warmers, Kirk Cameron's ubiquitous face didn't exist. Actually, anything would have been better than real life 1985. But I'm happy to embrace Jasper Fforde's vision of an alternate 1985, where literary detective Thursday Next (see, even the names are far more awesome than Stacey, Cindy, Brandon, and Zach) follows a criminal through Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

England and Imperial Russia fought the Crimean War for over a century, and England is a plice state run by a weapon production company called the Goliath Corporation. In the novel, Jane Eyre ends with Jane going with her cousin, St John Rivers, to India for missionary work. Literary debates end in gang wards and murder.

Thursday Next investigates the theft of a Charles Dickens manuscript by Acheron Hades. Thursday is injured during a steak out to stop Acheron, only saved by a copy of Jane Eyre that stops his bullet. She is helped on the scene by a good Samaritan who leaves a monogrammed handkerchief and a jacket behind. These items are the same ones that Rochester, a character from Jane Eyre. This is the part where it gets even trippier - Thursday knows this, because she entered the book as a child. And just when you tell yourself you're not hallucinating, Thursday's future self instructs her take a job in her hometown, where her uncle has created the "Prose Portal", which allows people to enter works of fiction. Telling any more of the plot would ruin this delightfully surreal, literary journey.

Wall Street Journal described it as a mix of Monty Python, Harry Potter, Stephen Hawking, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you enjoy absurd, comedic writers like Lewis Carroll and Douglas Adams, you need to read this novel.

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Vergil Ulam has done something remarkable - he has created something wondrous: biological computers which he calls noocytes. The thing is he used his own lymphocytes to do it, and now he's been told to shut it down, destroy his work. So he tries to smuggle all those millions of single cell computers out of the lab the only way he can - inside himself - in his bloodstream. Inside his blood the noocytes begin to evolve, and in evolving they change the world...

Greg Bear is the thinking person's author. He's not scared to go way out there and look back at us mere mortals left behind on this lump of wet rock. And his words take you deep into the heart and soul of the concepts he places in front of you (which, let me tell you, can be quite disturbing in a chilling sort of way). And there's some real hard science behind the stories too (he's not just weird - he's got style!) - he is credited as the first sci-fi author to write about nanotechnology with this book.

He explores the concepts of reality as a function of observers, biotechnology, consciousness and everyone's favourite bogey-man: artificial intelligence. Somehow he manages to squeeze in a darned good story that ties it all together flawlessly. Also (honestly) it's one of his easier books to read. One of the founding members of Cyberpunk or maybe a pre-curser author. The point is debatable.

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Cowboy used to be a Delta pilot, up till the Soviet Orbital took out his business. Now he is a smuggler ridin' around in a tricked out hovertank that he calls a Panzer - smuggling goods across insane borders on the soil of what used to be the US of A. He has advantages in that he can plug himself directly into his ride, making him one hell of a pilot with anything that he can jack into.

During the course of a delivery that goes badly wrong he meets Sarah, a prostitute/assassin who has had some pretty invasive cybernetic surgery to trick her out as the ultimate weapon, and the most desirable creature for her target. Together they find that, perhaps, there is a way to beat the oppressive Soviet Orbital that so cruelly governs their existence.

So it's a bit dated these days (at the time we thought the Soviets un-assailable), and occasionally our hero 'Cowboy' doesn't quite hang together consistently as a character, and maybe the main female protagonist is a bit two-dimensional, but despite the flaws Walter Jon managed an interesting offering anyway. Born in the fallout from Neuromancer, the work is somewhat derivative.

Something I do quite like (pure nostalgia) is the feel and flavour that pervades the book of those crappy westerns I used to read as a kid, back before I developed taste. There really is this sense of dust and lonesome cowboys riding under an eternally hot plains sky - only their 'horses' mount cannon and they drive them by direct interface. Perhaps we should call this one Cowboypunk, and see if anyone feels like making a real sub-genre with it.

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Awards Won:1983 PKD
Award Nominations:1984 LocusF, 1985 BSFA

Brendan Doyle has fallen on some hard times - and is not precisely comfortable in his new existence. Unfortunately for him his new existence includes a whole passel of evil beggars - led by the horrific Horrabin - being out to help him shuffle off the mortal coil, or worse. The other bad part is that he is now stuck in the 19th century - about a hundred years before he was to be born.

He has discovered a method to travel through time and space, and finds the future and the past both passingly strange and violently dangerous. He meets old poets, inventors, solves a few old mysteries and creates a few of his own for future generations to wonder over. And all the while he is looking for a way to escape his pursuers, and return to his own time.

Steampunk is one of the most under-exploited genres of all - but don't expect that to be the case for much longer. There is so much romantic appeal to the synthesis of old Victorian sentiment and behaviour with alternative energy science that I suspect we will soon see a renaissance of sorts in movies and television that will bring this sub-genre to far wider public attention. We have already seen the beginning of it with the release of movies like the Hellboy pair of offerings, which include quite a few of the concepts that identify steampunk, like scientific magic, clockwork mechanisms and alternative power sources and histories.

Tim Powers writes vivid, colourful prose that involves you effortlessly in the story, engaging your mind and heart in his characters - flaws and all. It should also be mentioned that this book is equally comfortable being classified as Science Fantasy, due to the inclusion of the 'science of magic'. Ancient Egyptian deities, mad beggars, gentlemen at war, murderous body-swapping werewolves (well - one of them, anyway, and he's not exactly a werewolf), and a treatment for poison that involves charcoal...

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Meet Nell, a Thete, which is not really a good thing to be, all things considered. In a world dominated by the Phyles - huge, globe-spanning tribes grouped together by religion, or culture, or colour, and dominated also by nanotechnology, it pays to be a member of one of those Phyles, which is exactly what a Thete is not. She finds for herself a book - a primer, actually - for young ladies. An illustrated Primer. And it tells her to have an "interesting" life...

Meanwhile - a world away from Nell - there lives a man named John Percival, who once wrote an Illustrated Primer for Young Ladies, and stole a copy for his own daughter, Fiona. But now someone knows what he did, and they want things from him - or else.

What are the roles of technology and personal relationships in child development? What is the place and nature of communication between cultures of different relative values? What would we do if we had nanotechnology capable of affecting matter on the individual atomic level? Ethnicity, social class, education, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology. Postcyberpunk at its emotionally mature best.

They call this kind of book a "bildungsroman", since it primarily follows the growth and development into adulthood of the main protagonist, Nell. If you think it is easy to write a character that grows up while you read him/her/it then you are tragically mistaken, or stupid (or a genius, and for you it really is easy). Let me put it to you this way: there is a reason why Neal Stephenson is considered a master of his craft.

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Meet the Macx family. All three generations of them. We begin with Manfred, who gets suckered into marrying Pamela, who defines the term 'Bitch' really well. From him we move to Amber, his daughter, who cunningly escapes Pamela's domineering leash - ultimately by owning an asteroid. Then we come to Sirhan, son of the physical Amber and her man, Sadeq. The digital Amber, meanwhile, has been off jaunting through wormholes meeting solar system sized artificial intelligences - some naughty, some nice. Three generations to track the 'technological singularity'...

Now I know that 'technological singularity' fiction has a really limited repertoire of plotlines - basically you've got the 'Terminator' and the 'Matrix' on one side, and the android from 'Aliens' (the second film. The first one was called 'Alien') on the other. That's it. Either the superintelligences will be sort of friendly, or they'll kill/enslave/eat-for breakfast all of mankind. Such is the reach of 'tech singularity' fiction. Fortunately for us Charles Stross has two things going for him: firstly, he is a Prince of Great Ideas. This collection of nine stories that make one family 'history' is so full of them that you'll find yourself quite stimulated, intellectually. Second, he is a witty and sharp poker-of-fun at quite a few of our deeply held idols - in this case it's the first contact trope he plays with...

Supercomputers made from the planets in a solar system, self-aware lobsters - who only became that way when they were uploaded to the net from their usual seafaring bodies, and the trope that presumes that one day the only life worth living will be a digital one, uploaded to some kind of a network, and free of the constraints of mere flesh.

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Isaac Van Der Grimnebulin and his girlfriend, Lin, live in the city of New Crobuzun. It is a grimy, harsh metropolis - but then aren't all cities grimy, and harsh? Lin gets an offer of work from the Mob Boss Mr Motley - he wants Lin to create a sculpture of himself, being as how he is a Mob Boss, and feels the need to express his status in the world.

Isaac, meanwhile, is approached by one of the Warrior-Bird folks, this one named Yagharek - who (due to a terrible crime against his people) had his wings cut off. Now Isaac is an inventor of sorts, and Yagharek wants his wings back. Isaac begins to work, and collects a veritable flock of flying creatures to study - amongst them a brightly hued caterpillar, which feeds only on the drug called 'dreamshit'. But the caterpillar - later a moth - is not quite a normal moth (or ex-caterpillar), and dreamshit is not quite a common, run-of-the-mill drug either...

I have got to tell you that reading about Isaac and Lin's sex life is definitely...umm... interesting. This is because Lin is not human. She is humanoid/insectoid being, complete with head scarab, mandibles, and wings. Communicates by way of hand signs. Go figure. There are remades (as in re-made) - with all sorts of extra bits added in/on/over them (imagine a prostitute with extra...ummm...'tools of her trade'), various brands of ambulatory cactus, demonic beings, spontaneous (and contagious) machine intelligences, and a giant spider with human hands. Magic is referred to as 'Thaumaturgy' (and is a definable science), we have the totalitarian rulership in place and the word 'dystopia' is on the tip of everyone's tongue. Because of all these things this must be Steampunk. Right?

Maybe a bit of Mythpunk thrown in? And possibly a largish whack of a sort of pseudo-Biopunk. Actually, I don't know quite how to categorise this book, except that it is not precisely cyberpunk - or even exactly science fiction. I read a review the other day that called it fantasy - but it's not that either. I will say that it is truly a great work: China looks deep into our collective psyche, and pulls out some pretty serious stuff for us to look at, and once you realise that he's writing about us, then only do you begin to really appreciate this book.

He pokes a finger into the wasp-nest of human consciousness and swirls it around good and proper, so the wasps are all pissed-off when they come charging out to see who dares disturb their dark, quiet rest. Themes involve compulsion - both good and bad, artistic and perverse; consequence; sexuality - and sexual depravity, and the flaws inherent in being 'people'. What makes our heroes heroic is that they acknowledge their failings, and in owning them, discover some true inner horrors. A worthy read by any standard. You don't have to like it - but if you don't respect it you're either an idiot, or a Mills & Boon fan.

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Comments (5)
Award Nominations:2010 BSFA

Anderson Lake is an economic hitman working for AgriGen as a representative. He is also the owner of a kinkspring factory that is trying to produce a revolutionary new spring tech that will provide much improved power outputs. Well - that's his cover, anyway. His real mission is to uncover the location of the Thailand Seed Bank.

Emiko is a 'windup girl' a bioengineered slave programmed to seek out a master. She has been abandoned by her Japanese owner, has found some kind of existence through the 'good' graces of a sex club owner, whose employment means degradation and humiliation. And all the while there is rebellion brewing, and murder, and treachery, and the challenge to the order that the Trade Ministry has established is waiting in the wings, with many powers waiting for an outcome - preferably one they had a hand in...

Politics, weird and weirdly familiar economies, genehacked crops that are the world's last wealth, murder, intrigue, and the required complement of violent action...Dystopian Biopunk has finally found it's messiah. Set in 23rd century Thailand, after the depletion of carbon fuel sources and the disaster of global warming has raised the oceans, mankind has grown dependant on two technologies: bioengineering and wind-up spring technology for storing power.

Mega corporations control food production through the practice of 'genehacking' seeds, and then creating markets for these seeds by means of bioterrorism, private militaries and economic assassination. Naturally man's meddling also creates widespread issues that affect entire populations - plagues and illnesses caused by gene-modified crops, as well as mutated bugs. Folks, do yourselves the courtesy of reading this - it is another of the 'required reads' for anyone exploring the various '~punk' genres.

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Award Nominations:1993 PKD

Nobody wants to live on Earth. The place is a hole, and a lethal one at that. Cass, Moll, and Dosh are working on getting off-world and never coming back. Cass is a high tech burglar, Moll is a metal Sculptor, and Dosh is an actor - when he's not a prostitute, that is. Dosh is savagely beaten by a trick, and the three begin to realise that what they are doing will get them nowhere. Enter Coelacanth Studios with a job offer.

The Aris - the wealthy elite - are in search of stimulation for their jaded palettes, and they want reality. And of course these days you can plug into the emotions of the actors. So they take the job, and are told that filming will start soon. Enter the paternally abused Mallore, whom they rescue from her erstwhile pimp, and whom Cass suspects as being more than she seems to be...

Life is dirty and cheap, death swift. Very Gibsonesque. Moll and Dosh are stupid, but then they need to be for the plot to hang together, and I thought that a little transparent. That said: the potential future was believable, and the style quite straight-forward, ala Cadigan, or Brust, which is no bad thing.

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Maya Andreyeva is a camera in a world that has become ever more wired, and everywhere is a third world country - except for Africa, where you need to have a blood test before you can immigrate. America fell long ago, and only Africa is still hyper-technological. To be a Camera is to be wired for vid and sound, and to share your perceptions with an audience.Camera's need screeners, who experience the full gamut of the Camera's sensory output in order to filter out the extraneous background crap that interferes with whatever the Camera is filming - and Maya has a new one, who is troublesome. Worse, Maya's Screener is also female, and that is not How Things Are Done. She also only appears to her on the net - another oddity. Soon, however, there is a political coverup, incarceration, and love to look out for...

So the idea of a human camera is not exactly new - Gibson's done it, so has Stephenson - but there's something special about this quirky tale. It may be Mr Carter's prose, which is cool, distinctive, self-assured and wry. It might be the inventive and clever sociological insight, or maybe his take on love, or perhaps his believable rendition of Africa as the Top Of The Pile for a change (he refers to America as a place where the highest technological experience most people have is the use of a pitchfork).

I think that's brilliant! Almost everyone assumes America and the European Union will be there till the very bitter end - standing strong against the death of Empires. I'm sure everyone felt the same about the Roman Empire back in Julius' days, and I've seen nothing to separate Washington from Rome, except a few years and some space, which two count for little in the human psyche. It's a worthy read, and he's an author worth keeping an eye on.

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Award Nominations:1985 NEBULA, 1986 BSFA

Mankind has populated the solar system, and (being Mankind) is at war - albeit a cold one. The Factions are the Mechanists and the Shapers. Abelard Lindsay is born to a wealthy aristocratic Mechanist family living on the moon, but soon finds himself on the side of the Shapers - recipient of specialised training. He gets himself exiled from the Shaper's Ring Council, ending up in Mare Tranquilitatis Circumlunar People's Zaibatsu, another Lunar colony peopled by misfits and criminals of every stripe.

What follows is epic in scope, dangerous in the extreme, and very, very political, as Lindsay and some truly interesting friends, enemies and random post-humans embark on a quest to change the solar system. Then the aliens arrive, and life in the solar system becomes truly interesting...

Some books have so much plot in them that no description as short as the one above can do them justice. Such is the case here. In fact I'd need this whole article's word count just to give you a basic synopsis - and it would be somewhat lacking in detail. Instead I'll offer some facts: the Shapers are bioengineers, the Mechanists are mechanical engineers. The two sciences are having a nice, unfriendly little cold-war. The politics are truly unbelievable - Lindsay hops around a bit from one political philosophy to the next.

This is not nescessarily a bad thing - he has good reasons for doing so, like the threat of assassination in one case. This means that the politics rings true, and resembles ours pretty closely - not in content, but very much in context. This is classic Cyberpunk, and Bruce Sterling has been a name in the business for decades. So much so, in fact, that he is often referred to as 'Chairman Bruce' - mostly because of his championing the movement that Cyberpunk has become.

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Otherland. A name and a Golden City have haunted Paul Jonas, Renie Sulawayo, her student !Xabbo and Orlando Gardner, who is terminally ill, and can only really experience life vicariously through the Net. Together with various friends and acquaintances they must try to find out why so many children are falling into coma's from which they cannot be wakened. Soon enough they find they need a way to escape the virtual worlds in which they have now been trapped, but this has become impossible for them to do without dying first - a situation none of them are comfortable with, since death is kind of final.

Worse: it seems that if their avatars on the net are killed, then their bodies also die, which should be impossible. So they set out to search through all the realms of the Net to find the secret and private world called Otherland, and the Golden City, where they hope to find answers that won't kill them, and help for the children...but treachery lurks nearby, and someone is not who he was before, and the Lords of Otherland want them dead.

Ah, Otherland. I could wax lyrical about the fantastic multiple worlds - with ties to everything from 'The Lord of the Rings' to Homer's 'Illiad' - visions of all the worlds we could and have imagined. Tad Williams really gave himself so much creative freedom to work with in his panorama of the not too distant future where the Net - a fully immersive network of virtual worlds - has grown out of the internet, and now dominates almost everything.

He's pulled references from all of the great sci-fi and fantasy authors, as well as from the role-playing games (like 'Dungeons and Dragons') that were so popular before computers came along and made the same thing possible with graphics and surround sound added on. It also plays out in significant part in what is currently referred to as South Africa (specifically in Durban, our third largest city, and the Drakensberg Mountains - which is the biggest local mountain range), and (being a Native) I can tell you he did his research relatively well - including a pretty fair vision of the San people in a few years time, extrapolating the politics to its then logical conclusion.

All round brilliant job - and still bears relevance to today, which accolade lots of books cannot claim as their own. Follow-on books take us through Troy, an odd version of Oz, the Neanderthal age of Earth's distant past (sort-of), a cartoon world and finally: a world in the process of being born. Each of them honestly deserves its own place on this list, but then I'd have to choose my favourite one, and that would be...difficult.

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Awards Won:2001 BSFA

Tanner Mirabel has come to Chasm City looking for revenge. A postmortal named Argent Reivich killed his client's wife - the woman he loved, and Tanner is here to collect on that debt. But Chasm City isn't what it used to be - isn't what it should be. The mile high shapeshifting skyscrapers have melted into slums, and the Glitterband of ten thousand orbital habitats is now called the Rustring, and houses only a few hundred, pre-nanotech savages.

And there is the nanotech virus - alien induced, which is starting to affect his mind in the most peculiar way. Then there's Reivich, who is smarter than he first appears, and then there are the bored inhabitants of the Canopy, who like to take poor folk from the Mulch and hunt them all the town. Eventually, though, there is an ancient horror that history would rather not to remember, and Tanner is starting to experience...

260,000 odd words. This is my favourite creature - a thick book. There is only one thing better, and that's a second thick book waiting on the table. One thing worse: a badly written thick book.

Thing with thick books is that they need to be pretty well managed insofar as plotline and prose goes, otherwise people tend to use them in place of bricks when they steal the rims off your car instead of reading them. Mr Reynolds manages to get away with it: the pages flow past under your eyes, and he keeps your interest without breaking too much of a sweat. Hard sci-fi style Postcyberpunk.

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Erasmus is a Fraa - one of the few great thinkers held in a world that prevents them from using any technology more complex than pen and paper due to a thousand year old decision made to save the race from extinction. The world on which he lives - called Arbre, is home to many such concents of Fraa and their female counterparts, called Suur, as well as people of the pale - called collectively the Saecular, and governed by the inquisition The Fraa and Suur live in stable, slow changing societies while the Saecular live in a more familiar fast paced technologically legal society, the Saecular referring to the Concents for new ideas and tech developed by the intellectuals, though they may not use it themselves.

There is little contact between the two societies on the planet aside from what is officially permitted, and then only in controlled fashion. Then there appears an alien spacecraft orbiting the planet - and it soon becomes an open secret. and what about the illegal video camera that Erasmus' teacher, Orolo, was using to film the ship - an illegal action that gets him (more or less) excommunicated. But then it seems that there is more to this ship than any would suppose, and perhaps they are not from this reality at all, perhaps reality is not what we think it is...

Neal put some pretty heavy-duty scientific theory into this alternate universe story: specifically his major themes revolve around the 'many-worlds interpretation' of quantum mechanics (the one that deals with waveforms and multiple universe theory and the conflict between 'formalism' and 'Platonic Realism', which is a form of 'Ethical Realism'. The story is intricate, convoluted, well thought out and alive. There is enough depth to drown in if you feel the need, and some understanding of the theories and themes contained can be gained from reading it.

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Feathers come in many colours, and each colour a different thing. There's. Black - painful, gentle; and Pink - for porno, your every eroticism fulfilled. Blues are legal, for dreaming well, and Silver for the techies who make other colours. But the Yellows are something else entirely - dangerous, exciting, a world beyond normal ken.

And it is a Yellow that takes Desdemona from Scribble (her brother, her lover), one day, leaving an amorphous alien in her place. Now Scribble must find the same yellow feather - the rarest of rare, Curious Yellow - to get her back. But there's shadowcops and robos and rock and roll dogmen between him and his Feather, and the price may be more than he can bear...

Stylistically similar to William Gibson's 'Neuromancer', and often compared to Anthony Burgess' 'A Clockwork Orange', Jeff Noon has made one of the oddest 'future history' worlds ever. His world is a kaleidoscopic, weird, seriously drugged-up, and somewhat incestuous hell-hole, where addiction is traded for a form of enlightenment.

The science is improbable, but fun, and never defined enough to become a hindrance to the story. This is not quite Cyberpunk, but has enough similarities to feel fairly comfortable in the company of quite a few of the sub-genres. Gotta say I hope we as a species never end up living in a world like this one . . .

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