Top 5 Cyberpunk books you should read in 2022
2022 is looking to be quite an ominous year, with plenty of dire headlines to read. But if you’d like a different kind of ominous, or perhaps a dystopian series of fiction to go with your Cyberpunk reality, then we here at Cyberpunk Matrix have you covered. Here are our top 5 Cyberpunk books you should read in 2022.
2022 Cyberpunk Book #5: Second Variety by Philip K Dick (1953, novelette)
Technically pre-Cyberpunk, Philip K Dick does a masterful job of writing both novels and short stories with believable, interesting characters while also somehow being very easy to read with compelling dialogue. It’s hard to choose from his 44 novels and 121 short stories (he was a prolific writer during his life), but Second Variety is one of his more popular and well-known novelettes.
Second Variety reads and feels a bit like a Black Mirror episode. It’s an eerie, perhaps prescient story of a battle between Americans and Russians, which feels a little apropos for our times here in 2022, but is also about paranoia and androids.
Set in a dystopian future, the story starts off with a group of American soldiers sitting in the trenches on Earth in the middle of a very long, drawn-out war with the Russians. At some point, the Americans were able to develop a technologically advanced set of robots called Claws that burrow into the ground and attack any living flesh they can. The Americans, who apparently developed the line of robots, are protected from the claws by radioactive “tabs” signalling that they aren’t the enemy.
As one Russian soldier tries to cross no-man’s land and inevitably dies to the Claws, the Americans recover a message from the soldier asking for a chance to negotiate a cease-fire. This leads to the American leader deciding to cross no-man’s land to the Russian trenches in order to do so, when he discovers that the robots the Americans had developed have learned to self-develop, resulting in a Second Variety of robots that take on a human appearance in order to kill their prey.
What happens next is an incredibly thrilling tale of a dystopian future as humans fight against robots, and themselves, as they try to determine who the threats really are.
You can read my more complete review about the short story, which was part of a series of stories, here.
2022 Cyberpunk Book #4: Ready Player One (2011) by Ernest Cline
Ready Player One was Ernest Cline’s first book, and an instant success. So much so that it was adapted into a live action movie directed by Steven Spielberg, which is also excellent. In stark contrast to Second Variety, Ready Player One reads like a gaming nerd’s fever dream. It’s filled with pop culture references to the 1970s and 1980s, and describes in eager detail the process of a gamer grinding through levels to become good at retro, simple videogames. However, it does this while set in a somewhat dystopian future where much of the world lives their lives in a virtual world called the Oasis, much like Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of what he wants Meta to be.
You should read Ready Player One in 2022 for its depiction of virtual reality alone, especially considering this image of the future was brought onto the silver screen to allow us to truly picture what it may look like.
In true Cyberpunk fashion, Ready Player One is set in a world with massive wealth inequality, and on the bottom rung of that ladder is Wade Watts, the protagonist of the story. He lives in a trailer park where the trailers are stacked one on top of the other in Columbus, Ohio, and spends his time in the Oasis until the founder of this virtual reality world, James Halliday, dies. His death sets off a massive easter egg hunt where anyone within the Oasis must find 3 keys with clues leading them to egg itself, which is a prize bestowing on the finder a huge sum of money, as well as over 50% of the shares of the company that runs the Oasis itself, thus effectively giving ownership to the company. Wade teams up with a motley crew of fellow nerds to be the first to the egg in order to save the Oasis from the nefarious IOI industries, who want to turn the Oasis into a marketing nightmare.
One thing this book did really well was describe the advantages a virtual reality could have for society as a whole, an unusual thing to accomplish within a cyberpunk story. While definitely showing the potential for harm if the megacorporation were to gain control, the book also describes how low-income students were able to access state-run online classes, and virtually receive a bully-free education as a result.
I went into more of the potential ramifications of this in a short review on the blog here.
Cline also wrote a sequel to RPO, called Ready Player Two, which I liked well enough but was apparently panned by many critics. Nonetheless, the sequel takes the next logical step forward with the technology of VR immersion, along with the dark possibilities and ramifications therewith, and is well worth the read.
2022 Cyberpunk Book #3: Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan
Like many, I learned about this novel after watching the first season of the Netflix series by the same name. A thrilling classic film-noir style cyberpunk story, Altered Carbon is set in the dystopian future of 2384 where consciousness and memories are kept on small metal discs, called cortical stacks, that are implanted into the stem of the vertebrae in humans when they are young. When any human dies, their cortical stack can be put into another body where the human consciousness can live on, but if their stack is also destroyed, this results in a permanent death. However, this also means that certain humans with enough wealth can effectively live forever, through the use of human clones and uploading their consciousness to a cloud server via satellite. These elite god-like humans are called Meths, in reference to Methuselah who according to the myth lived for 1000 years.
The main character is Takeshi Kovacs, the last remaining elite soldier of the envoys, a rebel group who were defeated trying to overthrow the new world order. The the story starts when one particularly wealthy meth, Laurens Bancroft, decides to take Takeshi’s stack out of prison storage and put it into a new body 250 years after the uprising, so that Takeshi may solve the mystery of Laurens’ own (body) death.
What follows is a wild story filled with suspense, intrigue, action, and admittedly sexual scenes (so be warned!) But the book is well worth the read, not only for its entertaining qualities, but also for its on-point depiction of absurd wealth inequality and digital immortality. There are two other novels that follow in the Kovacs trilogy, but the sequels are nothing like the original.
2022 Cyberpunk Book #2: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick
Despite it being written so long ago (1968), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep always seems to pop up in any proper Cyberpunk must-read book list. It’s an incredible tale featuring worldwide animal extinction, mass shared sensory experiences, and the blurred line between humanity and androids.
While having inspired the classic Blade Runner movie from Ridley Scott, the plot is actually significantly different. The story follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department, who has a simple desire in life: he desperately wants to buy and own a real live animal, to replace his electric sheep and maybe cheer up his wife Iran. Meanwhile, duty calls, which in this case is his assignment to “retire” (kill) six androids who escaped Mars and are hiding somewhere on Earth. These androids are new, highly intelligent “nexus-6” variants that are almost impossible to tell from real humans. As Deckard pursues his leads, he meets Rachael Rosen, who works for the Rosen association that manufactures the new lifelike androids. What follows is a mysterious tale where the theme is, more often than not, a constant questioning of characters on whether they themselves are androids, and how they would even know if they were.
This novel is worth reading not only for the classic question of how human androids can be, and how robotic humans can be, but also for its depictions of a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by climate change. It also has an interesting bit about a worldwide cultural and religious icon, whose experiences can be relived through special technology by the masses, which feels oddly familiar to the direction our social media is taking us with YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.
2022 Cyberpunk Book #1: Snowcrash by Neil Stephenson
And our #1 Cyberpunk Book to read in 2022? Snowcrash by Neil Stephenson. Both Cyberpunk and a parody of Cyberpunk in one, Stephenson was the author who coined the term Metaverse decades before Mark Zuckerberg decided to take the name for Facebook. Similar to Ready Player One but predating that novel (as Snow Crash came out in 1992), this novel really has it all: drugs (including cyber-drugs), megacorporations, VR worlds, crazy real-world tech including nukes, cyborgs, viruses, levitating skateboards, and even italian mob-run pizza delivery companies!
Snowcrash is set in a 21st century L.A. after a worldwide economic collapse, and the world is no longer run by governments but instead by corporations. The novel follows the story of Hiro Protagonist (yes, that’s the main character’s actual name) who is a hacker and pizza deliverer for the mafia. On a particular delivery where he fails to get the pizza delivered on time, he runs into Y.T., a courier who agrees to help him deliver his pizza for him. They decide to team up. Meanwhile, in the Metaverse, one of Hiro’s friends Da5id is given a datafile but when he looks at the image, it causes the computer to crash and lands Da5id in a coma. It’s up to Hiro and Y.T. to slowly investigate what and how this deadly virus, this Snowcrash, works, before it causes a worldwide systems crash and millions perish.
The amount of technology and content in this novel is truly phenomenal, the things I’ve mentioned happened above only scratch the surface of what actually happens in the novel. The thing that I loved about this novel is that it has great dialogue, excellent world-building, a very punkish and irreverent tone, and actually exciting action sprinkled throughout with insane and very creative high-tech.
So do yourself a favor and read Snowcrash in 2022, and see for yourself the origins of the term “Metaverse”, and why having a world run by private security and megacorporations would be a terrible thing indeed.
Thoughts on Top 5 Cyberpunk Books to Read in 2022
So these were our top 5 Cyberpunk books to read in 2022. But what did you think? Would have another order, did I omit a book that you think I should have included? Let us know in the comments below.
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