Lately, the concept of “Cyberpunk” has come back into the general discourse. With the success of the Hackaday Cyberdeck Contest (and my modest contribution to it), not to mention a certain large social media company throwing around terms we’ve all heard for years like they were something new, there’s renewed interest in the entire cyberpunk genre.
To that end, I thought it might be a good idea to look at the books and movies that best exemplify the art form. To that end, I give you my recommendations of the best in Cyberpunk…
The Matrix – 1999
Not really a lot needs to be said here. This movie came out of nowhere and pretty much reset the whole nerd culture worldview.
absolutely jawdropping technology – being able to install a human being into an artificial ‘shell’, granting them what amounts to superpowers. The original anime was groundbreaking in it’s concepts, exploring the concept of self identity. The live action movie did a great job of expanding the visuals into a modern form, but I feel sacrificed story and depth for action.
Johnny Mnemonic – 1995
Sigh. So, for those who don’t know, this movie is based on a short story by William Gibson from Burning Chrome. The story is fantastic, but this movie adaptation… isn’t. I mean, if you’re into the most 90s SF movie you can get, this is it. But lets be frank. It’s not a good movie.
I was afraid to watch Blade Runner in the theater because I was afraid the movie would be better than what I myself had been able to imagine. In a way, I was right to be afraid, because even the first few minutes were better. Later, I noticed that it was a total box-office flop, in first theatrical release. That worried me, too. I thought, Uh-oh. He got it right and nobody cares! Over a few years, though, I started to see that in some weird way it was the most influential film of my lifetime, up to that point.William Gibson
Pretty much no matter how you look at it, Blade runner is the best representation of Gibson’s Sprawl in movie-dom. While the movie was not a box office success when it came out, it has gained a cult status, and for good reason. The story of an overpopulated city and a damaged ecosystem (it always rains), coupled with technology and staggering wealth is unparalleled.
Strange Days – 1995
This is a movie that snuck under a lot of peoples radar, but absolutely exemplifies the Cyberpunk mindset. Sensory link technology co-opted for nefarious purposes far beyond it’s original design. The movie isn’t as well known as it should be, but it absolutely should be required viewing for anyone interested in the cyberpunk genre
It all started with books. Before Netflix, before Youtube, before the movie industry cottoned on to the fact there’s money to be made in hard SF, there were the books. Here’s the best examples…
Mirrorshades – The Cyberpunk Anthology
Unfortunately out of print now (though there’s a free version hosted on Rudy Rucker’s site), Mirrorshades is a short story collection edited by Bruce Sterling. It has the honor of being the first collection to explicitely describe itself as Cyberpunk, and as such, has a place of honor in this list.
Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
One of the best of the genre, IMHO. So many fantastic concepts, so brilliantly presented. The book hasn’t aged well, as many of the concepts really don’t make much sense anymore, but who can resist
“The Deliverator’s car has enough potential energy packed into its batteries to fire a pound of bacon into the Asteroid Belt. Unlike a bimbo box or a Burb beater, the Deliverator’s car unloads that power through gaping, gleaming, polished sphincters… You want to talk contact patches? Your car’s tires have tiny contact patches, talk to the asphalt in four places the size of your tongue. The Deliverator’s car has big sticky tires with contact patches the size of a fat lady’s thighs. The Deliverator is in touch with the road, starts like a bad day, stops on a peseta.”
Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson
Of Neal Stephenson’s work, this may be one of my favorites. Not strictly cyberpunk as it loosely ties in with Snow Crash but after nanotechnology has become the norm, but still gritty and enjoyable. The world building is outstanding.
Mona Lisa Overdrive
Burning Chrome – William Gibson
Basically, where it all started. Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy is the G.O.A.T. in the Cyberpunk realm. Gibson was the man to bring the term Cyberspace into full form in his stories, starting with Burning Chrome, and then into the the Sprawl trilogy. Arguably he was the man to define what Cyberpunk looks and feels like, and his influence drives everything
Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan
A great book (and later TV show) that explores what happens when technology is integrated tightly into society, to the point where individuals are, in many ways, immortal. Lives are recorded and uploaded and can be placed into a new body. But as in so many things, this experience is primarily for the wealthy.
Trouble and her Friends – Melissa Scott
Many people interested in this genre may not have heard of this one. The scenario sounds familiar –
netwalking hackers evading deadly IC(E) (Intrustion Countermeasures (Electronic)) using implanted brain computer interfaces – but Scott’s characters in many ways are more human, more real, and definitely not cut from the mold the male-dominated circles have created.
I’ve grown quite attached to the concepts of high technology tightly coupled with humanity – and we’re slowly on the road to these sorts of things being the norm. Witness things like cochlear implants, and other types of brain computer interfaces. While what results will likely not resemble the imaginative geometry and immersion described in Snow Crash and Trouble and Her Friends, I feel the barrier between “human” and “computer” continues to thin, and what will happen when that interface is complete, only the SF writers can speculate.