The best cyberpunk novels that launched and defined the subgenre

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up in the ‘80s, I discovered cyberpunk just when the subgenre acquired its name and was instantly hooked. While its style and action were certainly engaging, it was cyberpunk’s message about the surveillance state, corporate power, fascism, and corruption, which contrasted so violently from mainstream science fiction, that kept me turning pages. 40 years later, after writing novels for 25 years, completing 12 books, I’m still fascinated by what cyberpunk can do. In an age where Humanity is mortally threatened by climate change and inequality, we need cyberpunk now more than ever, with its action and adventure and a little something for us to think about, too.


I wrote...

Ethos of Cain

By Seth W. James,

Book cover of Ethos of Cain

What is my book about?

The perfection of cold fusion and CasiDrive propulsion had lifted humanity into the wider solar system—and widened the gulf between the nameless masses and the sovereign-class wealthy. Into the grey between corporate and criminal walked Cain, a soldat de fortune, who, for the last twenty years, had taken scores and completed contracts for the elites of any world, impenetrable, abstruse, and solitary.

All of that changed one year ago when, after a triste with a former client turned into a romance, Cain’s relationship with Francesca caused him to question how he could walk in her world and survive in his own. The boundaries of their lives then came crashing to Earth when the man whose syndicate they had destroyed returned for revenge.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of City Come a Walkin'

Seth W. James Why did I love this book?

City Come A-Walkin’ is it, the beginning, the first true cyberpunk novel. 

As William Gibson famously said in the forward to the 15-year anniversary edition, “John Shirley is cyberpunk’s patient zero.” Debuting in 1980, City follows Stu Cole, a streetwise nightclub owner who angered San Francisco’s political and criminal elite, bringing down the full weight of their power; his only hope, the enigmatic construct known only as, “City.” 

A proto-AI, City was a conglomeration of the computer, surveillance, and data infrastructure that took on a life of its own, becoming sapient and dangerous. To ten-year-old me, it was the coolest book I had ever read (and it didn’t hurt that the school library refused to order it for me) and really put the punk in cyberpunk.

By John Shirley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked City Come a Walkin' as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stu Cole is struggling to keep his nightclub, Club Anesthesia, afloat in the face of mob harassment when he's visited by a manifestation of the city of San Francisco, crystallized into a single enigmatic being. This amoral superhero leads him on a terrifying journey through the rock and roll demimonde as they struggle to save the city.


Book cover of Neuromancer

Seth W. James Why did I love this book?

Without a doubt, Neuromancer is the most recognizable, well-known, and highly regarded cyberpunk novel—and rightfully so. 

Published in 1984, Neuromancer was directly inspired by City Come A-Walkin’ and then surpassed it, deepening the technical elements, exploring the ever-more-important aspects of computer networks and hacking (Gibson having coined the phrase, “cyberspace”), and solidifying the literary style of cyberpunk. 

For me, though, the fact that Gibson was responding to Shirley enriches both novels. I love the concept of one artist responding to another’s work; from Horace to Shakespeare, to Dryden to Pope, to Hammett to Chandler, the best art is inspired by art, and the same is true in cyberpunk. It’s a microcosm of the human condition and, come to think of it, so is Neuromancer.

By William Gibson,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Neuromancer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The book that defined the cyberpunk movement, inspiring everything from The Matrix to Cyberpunk 2077.

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

William Gibson revolutionised science fiction in his 1984 debut Neuromancer. The writer who gave us the matrix and coined the term 'cyberspace' produced a first novel that won the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Awards, and lit the fuse on the Cyberpunk movement.

More than three decades later, Gibson's text is as stylish as ever, his noir narrative still glitters like chrome in the shadows and his depictions of…


Book cover of Streetlethal: Book 1 of the Aubry Knight Series

Seth W. James Why did I love this book?

So often overlooked by cyberpunk aficionados, Streetlethal is the first of the Aubrey Knight novels by Steven Barnes.

Published in 1983, Streetlethal is a story of betrayal, corruption, criminal syndicate politics, and the dichotomy between the obscenely wealthy and the outcast poor. The gritty look at power from below—as Aubrey is set up, almost shanked in prison, and then on the run in the city’s literal underworld—is the novel’s major draw, but the most interesting part, looking back, is that both it and City include psychic elements. 

Hard as it is to believe now, in the ‘80s, psychic powers were considered science. Really. Even mainstream TV shows like Magnum PI and Miami Vice regularly employed psychic powers as plot movers. Bizarre, but true.

By Steven Barnes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Streetlethal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Los Angeles is a teeming metropolis with a rotten core: Deep Maze, where the Thai-VI ghouls—the disease-spreading Spiders—roam. Here the all-powerful Ortegas rule over their empire of drugs, prostitution and black-market human organs “donated” by their helpless victims.All Aubry Knight, the former weightless boxing champion, wants is to be left alone. But you’re either with the Ortegas or against them, so they made his life a hell. First they tried to control his mind, then they tried to reduce him to “spare parts.”


Book cover of Software

Seth W. James Why did I love this book?

Software is a zany romp through a 1983 vision of 2020, with sapient AIs living on the moon and maybe invading South Florida. 

Like its author, Software is a rich amalgamation of disparate elements: on the one side, the book is campy fun, while on the other, it’s a legitimate exploration of Artificial Intelligence and identity.  Back when I was first getting into cyberpunk, this was another difficult find, despite having won the Philip K. Dick award; I actually didn’t read it until the late ‘90s! 

The author’s life is nearly as interesting as his books, too: his full name is Rudolf von Bitter Rucker, a descendant of German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel, though he grew up in Louisville, KY, and he would eventually develop his own literary movement, Transrealism.

By Rudy Rucker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Software as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The creator of the first robots with real brains, Cobb Anderson finds himself another aged "pheezer" with a bad heart, and when he is offered immortality by his creations, he risks his body and his world. Reissue.


Book cover of Hardwired

Seth W. James Why did I love this book?

For the last book on our list, we look at Hardwired, by Walter John Williams because, in my humble opinion, it marks the completion of cyberpunk’s subgenre formation. 

Published in 1986, Hardwired follows a protagonist named Cowboy as he connects his brain to various machines through a hardwire and fights the evil orbital corporations that own the world.  Awesome. It stands out to me in the history of golden-age cyberpunk novels in that it calls upon elements from previous cyberpunk works more-so than its predecessors, solidifying the subgenre’s obligations. 

To say it another way, Hardwired alludes to earlier cyberpunk works to effectively place the story within the reader’s literary experience. And that presupposed cyberpunk experience demarcates the subgenre, a clarion signal that the subgenre was here to stay.”

By Walter Jon Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hardwired as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The criminal and resistance undergrounds of a high-tech future earth merge to wage war against the corporate Orbitals who rule the planet from their sterile space platforms


You might also like...

Exchange Student

By Michael R. Lane,

Book cover of Exchange Student

Michael R. Lane Author Of The Gem Connection

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

As an avid reader, I read a wide variety of books. Of the fiction genre mystery and suspense remain my favorite. From the classics to the gritty, a well-told mystery is a literary gem. As my mystery palette has aged—like my taste in wine—so are my demands of what makes a good mystery novel. The best mysteries for me contain more than a serpentine journey toward the hidden truth. They have intriguing characters, crisp dialogue, interesting settings, formidable foes, and of course indispensable heroes or anti-heroes. My writing goal is aimed at achieving the same level of literary penmanship of the mysteries I enjoy reading so much.

Michael's book list on African American mysteries

What is my book about?

Daniel “Dan” Bluford is the Director of Polar City Single Organism Research Lab Facilities. A business he helped to create. The world’s leading architect of sustainable, ecologically conscious products for energy, manufacturing, water treatment, waste management, and environmental clean-up equipment. A company whose mission statement read in part, “Better environment through industry.”

Unable to stay awake on his drive home after work, the loving husband and father stopped for coffee at a familiar coffee shop. The place was empty, aside from a lone barista. A young woman with a sacred Maori chin tattoo and an infectious smile. Shortly afterward, Dan…

Exchange Student

By Michael R. Lane,

What is this book about?

Daniel "Dan" Bluford is the Director of Polar City Single Organism Research Lab Facilities. A business he helped to create. The world's leading architect of sustainable, ecologically conscious products for energy, manufacturing, water treatment, waste management, and environmental clean-up equipment. A company whose mission statement read in part, "Better environment through industry."

Unable to stay awake on his drive home after work, the loving husband and father stopped for coffee at a familiar coffee shop. The place was empty, aside from a lone barista. A young woman with a sacred Maori chin tattoo and an infectious smile.

Dan decides to…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cyberpunk, robots, and rock music?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cyberpunk, robots, and rock music.

Cyberpunk Explore 107 books about cyberpunk
Robots Explore 97 books about robots
Rock Music Explore 231 books about rock music