An adaptation of Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon will be available on Netflix this weekend. It depicts a grim and violent world where cheap death and enforced immortality are possible thanks to a technology known as consciousness-downloading After binge-watching all of the episodes, however, you may find it difficult to leave the show’s colorful, sinister world. However, there are numerous books that will satisfy your craving for dystopian science fiction and dark, neon-lit cities. We’ve narrowed it down to just five of our favorites.
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
For the sake of completeness, I’d like to recommend that you read the show’s source material, which is an attempt to recreate and deconstruct the more edgy aspects of cyberpunk (the cybernetic enhancements, the security guards with bright red mohawks, the monolithic megacorporations) and the more utopian aspects of brain uploading. The idea of a murder mystery set in a world where everyone has been granted enforced (and involuntary) immortality seems daunting, but Takeshi Kovacs, the book’s strong protagonist, and the life and energy of Bay City’s wretched hive, combined with the dark places Morgan takes the idea of digitizing and storing consciousness, make this an engrossing and horrifying read. Reading Broken Angels and Woken Furies after finishing the TV series will give you a taste of what’s to come.
When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger
This classic cyberpunk novel by Effinger, which has only grown more timely over the years, introduces readers to the Budayeen, a city in the Middle East where the police are corrupt, the crime lords have amusing nicknames (like “Papa”), and the serial killers believe they’re James Bond. An investigation into the death of one of Marid’s friends attracts the attention of nearly every major player in the city, and the small-time troubleshooter and hustler quickly finds himself in over his head. There are many similarities between Altered Carbon and the Budayeen, including the use of sci-fi technology and a dystopian setting that will appeal to Altered Carbon fans.
Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks
Even though it’s best known for its gimmick — a character who can only communicate by writing phonetically due to a neuroatypical condition — Feersum Endjinn paints a surreal picture of an Earth in terminal decline where citizens can upload their brains via genetic engineering to “the crypt,” an electronic vault that holds people’s thoughts. Four people must work together to start the “fearsome engine,” a device that may be able to prevent the sun from dimming and eventually going out completely. The idea that the bright, optimistic promise of earlier years has given way to a cynical, dystopian present does resonate with Banks’ future, as does the story thread of Count Sessine, who, like Laurens Bancroft in Altered Carbon, must solve his own murder before the assailant tries to kill him again.
Mindplayers by Pat Cadigan
Even if it doesn’t deal with consciousness transfer, Pat Cadigan’s place as one of the founding writers of cyberpunk (and thus one of the authors who inspired Altered Carbon’s style) makes it a perfect companion read for Mindplayers because of its emphasis on the mind and consciousness. We follow a young hacker who accidentally enters a psychotic state after using an illegal psychological “madcap.”. Finally cleaned out, she is forced to become a “mindplayer,” helping others with their own psychological issues, or face life as a criminal under the control of the Brain Police.” It’s hard to put into words how mind-boggling Cadigan’s book is, thanks to the author’s unique ability to condense his thoughts into a single sentence. If you’re looking for something similar, check out Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel Synners, which explores what happens when humans and technology become one.
Bone Dance by Emma Bull
Aside from the fantasy elements and the post-apocalyptic setting, this is an unconventional choice, but there is a certain similarity between Emma Bull’s trippy conspiracy novel and Richard K. Morgan’s downbeat mystery, given that both books place an emphasis on the slipperiness of identity and in both books, the heroes must figure out who they are. There are numerous cases of body swapping in Bone Dance, as well as a shadowy conspiracy that will stop at nothing to keep its secrets hidden and a gritty mystery set in a vast dystopian city. The search for a missing sci-fi film in Bull’s novel leads to strange body-jumpers, animated wax statues, occultists, and yet more interesting narrative surprises. It’s a worthwhile read as a spiritual cousin to Morgan.
What are your all-time favorite tunes for the cyberpunk genre?
Dawn of Affinity by V. J. Deanes
Leading genetics experts working in Wyndhall Life Sciences Center laboratories are secretly testing human enhancement methods. Human cloning will be illegal in 2029. However, the affinity child, their most recent creation, will forever alter the course of human evolution… While visiting his father and the scientists, Kalan Mars discovers that they have set up an entire colony where clones are allowed to live alongside the general population. Knowing the truth about the colony will cause havoc in Kalen’s life and the lives of everyone else.
The One by John Marrs
To find your soul mate, all you need is a simple DNA test. Your genetic match can be found with just a simple mouth swab. A decade ago, Match Your DNA made this promise. Since then, tens of millions of people have found love all over the world. However, being genetically matched has its drawbacks. In the past few decades, many relationships have come to an end due to bad test results. There are now five people who have been notified that they’ve been paired.
Dawn Arrives by Michael Anderle
Michael Anderle’s The Second Dark Ages: Book 4… Despite the gloomy weather, there is still a glimmer of hope. Trying to find a craft that will transport Michael to Bethany Anne, Michael, Akio, and Yuko are scrambling to find the pieces they need. However, it appears that others are also interested in these components and plan to take them by force. This force will be tested to the limit when the Dark Messiah confronts them… Michael will find a way to return to Bethany Anne, somehow.