Reading list: Android: Netrunner

One of the best parts of Fantasy Flight Games’ Android: Netrunner LCG is its techno-dystopian futuristic setting; pitting valiant hackers against faceless megacorporations under the black skyscrapers of Chrome City makes for an immersive theme that’s unrivaled among today’s CCGs. If you really dig the cyberpunk aesthetic of Netrunner, but haven’t had a chance to jump into the literary tradition that it’s born from, you’re in for a great surprise.

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Cyberpunk really got kicked off in the late ’70s and early ’80s, before the birth and popularization of the internet, but its dark, gritty, visions of urban techno-dystopias, anti-hero hackers, post-goverment megacorporations, and transhumanist body/mind modification were far ahead of their time.

There are a lot of great cyberpunk works out there that will appeal to Android: Netrunner fans, but these eight are absolute necessities and will help you get started on your journey into the dark underbelly of a sinister future.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

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No list of cyberpunk works is complete without Neuromancer. While the origins of the genre are up for debate, a lot of people consider this novel to be the one that really kicked off the genre, and it remains to this day one of the most highly regarded works in cyberpunk.

The story follows Case, a former hacker who got caught trying to steal from his associates; in retaliation, they damaged his nervous system with a toxin that prevents him from connecting to the worldwide virtual reality environment called the matrix. When a mysterious organization offers to heal him in exchange for the use of his hacking skills, Case is thrown into a mysterious and dangerous web of intrigue.

Though the book was released in 1984, its vision of cyberspace and the degree to which the world is connected through electronic communications was visionary; a lot of the things in Neuromancer might not seem so crazy today, but they were pretty far out there when the book was released.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

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Another absolute necessity when discussing cyberpunk, Snow Crash is a crazy ride. Like the world of Neuromancer, Stephenson’s universe is largely focused on a virtual reality space—this time called the “Metaverse.” When Hiro Protagonist and his new business partner Y.T. start hearing about a new drug, called Snow Crash, going around the Metaverse, things get interesting.

It’s hard to say much more without taking away some of the phenomenal surprises that you’ll find throughout the book. With appearances by pizza-delivering Mafia members, ancient gods, a mysterious church/cult leader, mechanized attack dogs, and privatized embassies, Snow Crash will give you the full cyberpunk experience in one relatively quick read.

(A side note: don’t hit the Wikipedia page for this one if you’re thinking about reading it; a lot is given away in the opening paragraph of the entry.)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

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If you’ve seen Blade Runner, you know the story of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Philip K. Dick novel that served as its inspiration. The story of Deckard and his pursuit of the rogue androids is a classic, and the gritty, futuristic vision of San Francisco is pure cyberpunk.

There are some pretty heavy philosophical undertones to this one, but it’s great as an exciting detective story, too. You can read it either way you like . . . just be sure to read it. It’s not one to be missed.

Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo

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This cyberpunk manga has stood the test of time as a great work of the genre. Though it’s been adapted as an anime movie, it’s best to experience it in its original form (though choosing the re-issued colorized version is definitely a viable option). Neo-Tokyo, as many of the cities in cyberpunk works, becomes a character in its own right.

It’ll take a while to read all six volumes, but Akira is an important part of cyberpunk culture, and if you like Android: Netrunner, you should absolutely give it a shot.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

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Although Bester’s novel is more of a forerunner to cyberpunk proper than a member of it, it’s still a fantastic vision of a sci-fi future that definitely has some similarities to the society seen in Netrunner. Humans’ ability to “jaunte” (teleport) instantly from place to place also adds a unique element to the story as well.

Under all of the science fiction and bleakness that foreshadowed cyberpunk, The Stars My Destination is a revenge tale: after a man is stranded in space and left for dead, he is given new purpose and motivation for surviving, transforming his previously unremarkable life into something darker and more interesting.

Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis

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This comic collection is one of the most unique things that I’ve ever read; its vision of the future is dark, disturbing, and entertaining in a way that few (if any) other works can replicate. Consumerism, sex, transhumanism, violence, and drugs have absolutely taken over the techno-dystopian den of iniquity that is The City.

But not everyone has been inured to the moral downfall of society; Spider Jerusalem, an anti-hero if there’s ever been one, is a journalist with a drinking problem and a serious bone to pick with the world. His investigations, impressively profane diatribes, and biting investigative journalism keep The City in check . . . at least a little.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

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Combine gritty cyberpunk themes with even grittier hard-boiled detective fiction and you get Altered Carbon, the story of a future in which people with enough money can “resleeve” their minds in new bodies, effectively cheating death. It’s full of intrigue, action, and a lot of bleak cyberpunk styling.

Although some readers might find it a bit much, its combination of different styles forges a unique and thrilling view into a dark future.

Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune

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Another very important cyberpunk manga that’s better known for its anime incarnation, Ghost in the Shell is a great example of transhumanist literature and an exploration of what happens when man and machine start becoming more interconnected. And when ghost hackers start hacking into people, things get pretty interesting.

There are only three volumes of this one, making it a bit faster to get through than Akira, and a good place to get started with manga. A couple commenters have noted that the latest versions of the volumes have been slightly censored, so if you want the full original experience, you may have to get an older version.

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If you can’t get enough of the cyberpunk action in Android: Netrunner, grabbing a few classic cyberpunk books is a great way to spend more time in the dark, dismal future of man/machine hybrids, megacorporation control, and shadowy urbanization. The books above are a fantastic introduction to the genre, so grab one from Amazon or your nearest library and get reading!

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