What are some of your favourite cyberpunk stories?


#1

The talk of Cyberpunk 2077 from Austin and Patrick has left me tremendously excited to see more of the game in the future, as well as a little anxious about where it might falter. Time and time again stories told in the cyberpunk genre fail to reconcile the East Asian (particularly from the 80s) inspired aesthetic with the “punk” part of the equation, that sees dystopic futures full of systemic oppression and class divides as the core of the message. Mike Pondsmith’s connection to the project as well as all the good things Austin and Patrick had to say about their demo gives me some hope that 2077 will side step those pitfalls and not be afraid to wear its politics on its sleeve, though time will tell if the corporate, AAA nature of the project ends up diluting the themes that are so integral to the genre.

All this is to say that I’ve had cyberpunk on the brain these past few days. It’s led me to think about other recent explorations into the genre. Last year I was wowed by Blade Runner 2049’s cinematography and the visual direction that tried to envision how a cyberpunk dystopia changes over time, but was ultimately disappointed by its whiteness and failure to depict how minorities survive in a cyberpunk society (instead opting to use robots as allegory for the oppression of the marginalised). Similarly, Detroit: Become Human by Quantic Dreams enjoys using oppression as a pillar of its narrative, appropriating the iconography of oppression throughout history without ever interrogating how their version of society was able to move past the prejudices and marginalisation that are already rampant in the present world. The white-washing was also fully apparent in the recent Western adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, which opted to cast Scarlett Johansson as the lead rather than an actress of colour. The framing of cyberpunk seems ripe for showcasing minorities surviving in an oppressive world and the ways in which we resist the systems that are responsible, and yet too often we’re nowhere to be found on the silver screen, in the AAA games, or more generally the mainstream versions of these stories.

Which is why I wanted to make this thread, to allow folks to shout-out their favourite cyberpunk fiction. Whether it’s books, films, games or something else entirely, I’m interested to hear what y’all consider to be some of the best in the genre, or simply those that resonated with you personally. The cyberpunk fiction I’ve outlined are all mainstream productions and I’m sure, like most things, there’s a lot more interesting stuff going on in the indie and experimental scenes. It doesn’t have to be related to what I’ve been rambling about, maybe your cyberpunk fav is entirely to do with its aesthetic, but I’m definitely looking for more stories that are focused on a diverse cast and/or ones in which their idea of gender is a little less cisnormative. I’ve heard good things about the Shadowrun series so that might be where I look first.


CD Projekt RED Won't Commit to Gender Fluidity in ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ (Yet)
#2

While it has some problems, Snowcrash’s core idea of in a land of words made real (the code of the meta-verse) there may be words that can reshape thought on a physical level is a powerful one for me.

Of course i cannot pass Neuromancer by either, the stakes are everything but all case is trying to do is get out alive. this above all else shaped a lot of the cyberpunk rpgs and the like that came later.


#3

I think about Snow Crash’s Franchise Oriented Quasi-National Entities and Burbclaves a lot.

For me, the perfect cyberpunk books are actually Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy, which deals so much with identity in online spaces, the perils of being working class in a hypercapitalist society, and some interesting ideas about the nature of celebrity, plus there’s a Taoist guy wot stabs dudes real good. They even have some interesting things to say about online fandom culture, which is quite a trick because it barely existed when he wrote those books but goddamn if the flash mob in mourning for a popstar rumored to be dead doesn’t feel true and accurate.


#4

Wadjet Eye’s Technobabylon from 2015 was the game that brought me back to adventure games, and back to Science Fiction right when I really needed to be brought back to it.

In the fall of 2015, I had a sort of reconsideration of what it was that I was really supposed to enjoy. I remember a couple of circumstances that brought me there - I went to a bookstore that had a collectible figure section and realized that I didn’t care about any work that had figures made and sold there. At the time, it felt like something was wrong with me, like all that stuff - Firefly, Star Wars, the Walking Dead, etc - were supposed to be things I liked, and I was supposed to show support for the things I liked through buying the figures, but it just wasn’t there for me. After that, I also enrolled in a science fiction literature-topics class, and it struck me that I found no lasting interest in nearly anything we read or watched inthat class.

At that time I was really trying to find a personal identity and I was kind of relying on media to provide a sense of identity or personality that I didn’t think I had, or, rather, that I pushed downward out of a sense of shame for not fitting in to some sort of nerd archetype. Sometime around November of that year, I found Technobabylon.

I appreciated that game delving further into social issues that i cared about than other science fiction works I had struggled to catch genuine interest in. Tehcnobabylon had a diverse cast of well-rounded characters, characters in whom I could actually find the wrinkles and complexities I guess I’d just never seen or taken interest in that genre before. In a strange way, right after I’d kind of decided that science fiction just wasn’t for me, I found a work firmly within that genre that was, and it led me to accept that I really just cared about well-created characters and the stories they can have in that setting, which pushed me to focus on a much different and more open-minded approach to appreciating the works that I care about.


#5

I’ll share a few articles that, while aren’t fiction themselves, are very much interested in cyberpunk fiction. These were among the pieces I read that inspired me to make this thread in the first place.

This essay by Amr examines the ideologies found within the cyberpunk genre, the images & iconography that reinforce those ideologies and the ways in which they’re stripped of context to be sold as an aesthetic:

This piece by Dawn Chan discusses the Western depiction of East-Asian cultures in cyberpunk and sci-fi futurism, describing its troubling roots in techno-Orientalism, as well as pointing to Asian artists that are trying to subvert this trend with their own futuristic creations:

Finally, this article by Andreas claims that Bloodborne is not only a successful cyberpunk narrative but one that also explores trans-humanism in some compelling ways. I thought it was fun read and an interesting perspective on a game I care a lot about (spoilers for Bloodborne included therein):


#6

I’m not completely sure about it being punk enough, but Batman Beyond is underrated. And I’d list a bunch of anime, but most have been mentioned to death in these kinds of threads.


#7

Neuromancer set the table for a lot of stuff but I think my favorite of the trilogy was Count Zero, just for Marly’s story (although it’s been ages since I’ve read them).

And, for an instant, she stared directly into those soft blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty, that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human.


#8

I talk about it too much but Serial Experiments Lain is one of my favourite pieces of Cyberpunk fiction and it’s themes regarding online personas, connections and loneliness still feel pretty prescient.

I also think it has some of the best style I’ve seen in cyberpunk. it doesnt induldge in neon and chrome. Everything could pass as contemporary or near-future (and you’re constantly reminded that it is. Present day, present time and all that) so it makes the techie moments feel really beautiful, uncomfortable and uncanny.

Honestly if I were a stronger writer I’d find an opportunity to write about how haunting the rendering of daylight is in that show. High contrast with ink blotched shadows defining what could be houses. The constant electrical hum of the Wired buzzing in Lain’s ears. Things only gain a semblence of clairity when shes jacked in and in control of the world around her but even then everything is just slightly out of focus and out of reach.

Gosh I need to watch Lain again.


#9

Lain is extremely good!! It was among the first distinctly cyberpunk stories I experienced. I remember once I’d finished it for the first time, I fell down a rabbit hole of reading all about the history of the internet and early depictions of the concept of a collective-unconscious. It was a cool couple of weeks.

I’ve been meaning to watch it again. I’ve seen other trans folks sing its praises and admire the ways in which its depiction of trans-humanism was relatable and inviting, which I might pick up on more a second time around. Also that opening theme is killer.


#10

I second the recommendations for Snow Crash and Batman Beyond. I’d give a sexual assault CW to Snow Crash though; it’s handled well from my memory, but something folks might appreciate knowing up front. Even just reading the first chapter of the book is worthwhile, I think. If you do read through Snow Crash and like it, I also recommend its pseudo-sequel, The Diamond Age, although there’s some Weird Sex Stuff towards the end, so content warning for that as well.

I also really like the very very underrated Westwood Studios Blade Runner game. I think it holds up a lot better than the film and is neat just as a piece of video games history.

Other games that are tangentially-related, but slightly more fantasy, are The Longest Journey (which starts off firmly in a cyberpunk world) and Beyond Good & Evil (which is a slightly fantastic post-Earth authoritarian society). Heads up that TLJ has some of the most nonsensical puzzles in all of video games, and I played through it with one of those progressive hint guides.

The one story I would not personally recommend is Neuromancer; caveat that I personally didn’t particularly enjoy it, but I bring it up because I think it’s worth mentioning that it has what I believe to be some extremely questionable representations of women, black people (specifically Rastafarians/islanders), and neurodiverse people that bothered me even before I became more aware of issues regarding representation in media. I suppose it is worth reading if you want to get into the “origin” of cyberpunk, but honestly I can think of so many other books I’d recommend before that one, even in Gibson’s later work.

I can’t think of any others off-hand but I’ll let you know!


#11

I read The Star Fraction by Ken MacLeod (best friend of that other Scottish socialist sci fi writer Iain Banks) not long ago and enjoyed it a lot even though you can tell it was written in 95. I need to get to the rest of his books.

Also, I recently got an anthology book called Cyber World with stories by folks like Saladin Ahmed, Alyssa Wong, Stephen Graham Jones, Minister Faust and Cat Rambo.It tries to focus on the more internationalist, gender fluid, minority and racial aspects of the genre.


#12

The book I will always champion in regards to cyberpunk is When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger.

The basic premise of the book is that the West has fallen apart and the Middle East has become the center of power in the world, growing in economic stature while retaining the cultural influences that make up the region. It is set in an unnamed city somewhere in the Levant (a region associated with Syria), with a particular focus on the Budayeen, a walled-in quarter of the city where the undesirable elements of society congregate. One of these undesirables is the protagonist, Marid Audran, an aimless small-time operator who does assorted dirty work for the local underworld. Marid’s lover, Yasmin, is a trans woman who is a sex worker that makes a better living than he does. There’s a number of other trans and queer characters in the book, and while some of them end up victims of the plot, the portrayals are always sympathetic and surprisingly forward thinking for 1986.

Identity is a major theme in the book, as the technological advances posited in the setting has resulted in “moddys”, neurological implants that you can pop in or out at a whim. These modify a person’s memory, knowledge base, or even their personality, and can include crafted fictional personas based on figures from popular culture. This leads to some really fascinating passages where Marid and other characters adopt alternate identities and perspectives, allowing Effinger to mimic the style of a diverse range of influences, a thing he often did in other work.

The plot is about a serial killer who is imitating a number of infamous murderers while stalking the residents of the Budayeen. Marid gets reluctantly swept up in the investigation through the influence of a powerful underworld boss and ends up burning a lot of bridges to bring the case to its downbeat and disturbing resolution. The story beats are fairly traditional hardboiled detective stuff, but its flavored with exotic spices and flavors you don’t get from the likes of Gibson or Williams.

Effinger based the Budayeen on the French Quarter in New Orleans, where he grew up, and part of the joy of the book is the colorful variety of personalities and places that are clearly drawn from his personal experience. My favorite is probably the American burnout taxi driver who had his body modified to constantly drip an LSD-like hallucinogen into his bloodstream. He serves as one of Marid’s circle of loose acquaintances and contacts, most notably driving like a madman and seeing demons everywhere.

There were other books that followed, and I remember liking them almost as much as the first book. No idea how well they have aged, but the wild variety of images and characters stays with me.


#13

well, here I am, y’all.

Also: after seeing some of Dia Lacina’s tweets regarding the whiteness of popular cyberpunk stuff I thought of an anthology I was lucky enough to have assigned last semester in a Sci Fi Lit class. It’s called Love Beyond Body Space and Time , and it’s a collection of LGBTQ North American indigenous science fiction short stories and essays.

A few of the stories are very cyberpunk adjacent, particularly one called Perfectly You by David A Robertson.

The whole collection is worth getting your hands on, and its a pretty quick read, just over 100 pages.


#14

Content warning for this as well though, it starts off with pedophilia in what i’m guessing is an attempt to up the edgy oppression stakes. It’s super gross and turned me right off of playing it again recently, which really bummed me out after remembering it so fondly.


#15

re: Dia’s tweets about cyberpunk, I saw she referenced an excerpt from a larger piece she wrote for Waypoint. It touches on her history with Shadowrun and goes on to talk about Burning Games’ attempt at an anti-colonial RPG, and the issues that arise when outsiders try to make stories about the colonial violence inflicted on indigenous peoples. It’s well worth a read: https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/a37a34/it-takes-more-than-a-tolerance-mechanic-to-make-an-anti-colonial-rpg

I think you can see some parallels between what Burning Games is trying to do with Dragons Conquer America and how some creators of cyberpunk fiction try to tackle the more troubling parts of the genres identity. Good intentions can still lead to misrepresenting certain cultures, especially if folks from those cultures aren’t involved in the creative process. That Dawn Chan piece I mentioned in an earlier post even speaks to how East Asian & Asian American artists sometimes find themselves reinforcing the Western depictions of East-Asia in cyberpunk because of the homogenisation of that type of sci-fi futurism in pop culture. Not that it’s the job of minorities to create art that directly counters the problematic elements of pop culture, but if that was your only exposure to the genre it’d make sense for one to think that’s just how it has to look.

I’m looking forward to diving into some of the recommendations in this thread, particularly the stuff by non-white and queer creators. Despite considering myself a fan of the genre I feel my perspective on what cyberpunk looks like is still pretty narrow, so I’m excited to see how other artists envision their own versions of sci-fi dystopia.


#16

Austin’s excitement about the Cyberpunk 2077 demo got me hyped enough to reread Snow Crash this weekend. I like that the protagonists are a poc and a woman and for the most part the story and setting holds up well. It was very clearly written in the 90s though. There is a lot of casual use of ableist language that flew over my head the last time I read it.

On the anime front I am a huge fan of Ghost In the Shell Stand Alone complex. Every time I watch it I spend the next few weeks going around telling people the future is anime. I also love the Tachikomas so much that I forced the friend I watched it with to watch all of the Tachikoma Days shorts at the end of the episodes despite him loathing their adorable antics.

I remember really getting into Serial Experiments Lain when I watched it back in the early 2000s but other than the opening scenes and her room sized computer I don’t actually remember a lot about it.


#17

Not sure how accessible this will be to a lot of people but I just ordered a cyberpunk novel called But n Ben A-GO-GO by Matthew Fitt set in a partially flooded Scotland and a lot of it is to do with climate change and other Northern European immigrants. Oh, also the whole thing is written in Scots:

“Java 5 aye got Broon where he wis gaun, but no athoot a stooshie and never athoot a fecht.”


#18

There’s been some discourse following a recent CDPR interview that talks cybernetic augmentations and how that turns the body from sacrum to profanum. My first inclination was to push back on that and suggest all the ways in which trans-humanist augmentation can help folks in society who struggle to live in their original body, but as Austin (and the thread by Ashley that he quotes) points out, in the framework of a cyberpunk dystopia it’s not quite that simple (not to say CDPR’s position is great either, but that there’s more nuance than simply going in the opposite direction). In a world of class divides and oppression, the access to those positively life-changing cybernetics will be reserved for those in the upper class, everyone else getting the scraps.

I mention this not only because I found the perspective insightful but because Austin points to their own works in the genre which I thought were worth shouting out, those being his interactive fiction game A(s)century and the tabletop campaign they ran as part of Friends at the Table, COUNTER/weight. This being the Waypoint forums I’m sure y’all are familiar, lol (i’m embarrassed to admit i haven’t gotten around to checking either of these things out yet).


#19

Totally listen to COUNTER/Weight. It’s super good and is literally about killing late stage capitalism!

I checked out A(s)century a couple nights ago and was going to play through it but had to work early the next morning so I decieded on sleep instead. Austin’s tweets reminded me I really need to play it!


#20

There were a lot of really great recommendations in Cyberpunk book club that we had going last summer. It sort of fell off, but the one we read for the first month was a collection of really good short stories that I throughly enjoyed.