Hacking and science fiction are a match made in heaven. In the early ‘80s, when computers were becoming mainstream, authors such as Neal Stephenson and William Gibson started combining dystopian worlds with hacking and science fiction to create cyberpunk, a bleak vision of the near-future where technology is God but society is a struggling shell of what it once was.
Books such as Neuromancer and John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider defined a generation of tech-obsessed readers, and their legacy is still obvious today in most science-fiction novels. Other books focused around hacking hit closer to the world we live in now, with authors playing on today’s concepts of virtual reality gaming and terrorist-like hacking cells.
So pick up some of these must-reads, get dug in, and have a blast reading some quality fiction that’ll teach you more than you ever thought you could know about hacking.
A hero protagonist who leads a double life – one as a pizza delivery boy and another as a cyber warrior who lands himself with the task of cracking the mystery of a new computer virus that’s taking down hackers left right and centre.
The entire existence of the cyberverse is at stake and it’s up to the hero to stop the infocalypse.
Written in the style of blog entries by a Microsoft computer programmer, Microserfs is spot-on novel about life in the 1990s surrounding the adventures of a group of six computer geniuses. Dubbed ‘Microserfs’, the group spends more than 16 hours a day writing software, eating food that can be passed under closed doors, and generally getting paranoid about the prying eyes of company boss Bill Gates. One day they decide they have had enough, and try to break free from Microsoft to start their own tech company called Oop! Microserfs is funny, endearing, and surprisingly familiar.
Another Neal Stephenson blockbuster, Cryptonomicon switches around the world and even back to World War II, following the antics of some 1940s allied codebreakers (including Turing) and their ancestors in the present day, who are now tracking down some Nazi gold and need to set up an off-shore data haven in Asia.
Exciting, clever, and a hackers heaven in a book.
Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
In 2044, society’s in bad shape. Humanity escapes the grim global-warmed, overpopulated world by spending days jacked into OASIS. A virtual universe where people can live out lives how they wish. The 1980s-obsessed creator of the OASIS has died, leaving a massive, life-changing fortune to anyone who can find the three easter eggs hidden in the OASIS. The race is on, and Wade Watts fights monsters from Dungeons and Dragons, relives the hit film Wargames and uses extensive knowledge of ‘80s pop culture to try and win the prize of a lifetime.
At over 1000 pages, this novel is a mammoth undertaking but is by no means an excessive piece of work. Schatzing builds a huge backdrop to the events surrounding the year 2025, where a new energy source has been found on the moon, and one private entrepreneur has the monopoly on a space elevator.
One of the story arcs follows a British cyber-detective who lives in Shanghai. He’s on the hunt for a missing girl, and utlilises all his knowledge in hacking and virtual worlds to track down the girl and link the disappearance to a plot evolving on the Moon which will change the world forever. Hard sci-fi not for the faint of heart, but you’ll come out the end of it more clued up on hacking that anyone else you know.
A strange employer recruits an ex-data thief to target the all-powerful AI orbiting the Earth which runs in the service of a nasty corporation.
Neuromancer is heralded as one of the first works of cyberpunk, and its foresight is only bettered by its creativity.
Neuromancer practically coined the word cyberspace and gives us the idea of a virtual world within the real world.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
By Stieg Larsson
More of a detective thriller than a hacking book, one of the protganists in Larsson’s best work happens to be a dab hand at the old breaking into online systems game, however.
Lisbeth Salander, who is enlisted by detective Mikael Blomkvist, is an archetypal computer hero who brings hacking into the mainstream and does it all for a good cause.
The Shockwave Rider
By John Brunner
The one man who escaped the fate of Tarnover, where hyper-intellgient children are raised to maintain the dominance of the USA, is now on the run and trying to hack into the data-net that keeps the country prisoner. Along the way, Nickie Halflinger finds more allies in his efforts, and The Shockwave rider is a proto-cyberpunk classic that was years ahead of its time – introducing the world to a self-replicating virus, later to become known as a ‘worm’.
Yes, you’ve got us…another Stephenson novel. But he really is the king of writing about hacking.
In Reamde (an anagram of a readme file) a draft-dodger escapes conscription and becomes addicted to an online fantasy game similar to World of Warcraft. Like its real-life counterpart, dedicated players farm in-game gold to pay for their addiction, selling off the gold to other players who want to buy expensive items. The protagonist, Richard Forthrast, amasses a fortune exploiting gold farmers, but when the barriers between real-life and the virtual world start to blend, he’s caught in the middle of a virtual war for global dominance.
The Blue Nowhere
By Jeffery Deaver
Whilst normally limiting himself to more traditional thriller books, Deaver expands his horizons in The Blue Nowhere to follow a murderer who tracks down his victims by using the internet, tracking their every move in the virtual world.
A detective teams up with a hacker to hunt down the online killer, and although it has not dated as well as some other books on this list, The Blue Nowhere is a terrifying eye-opener to the data we all share in our now constant digital life.
Ben is a reporter for CBR, Factor’s sister title focusing on computing and technology for business.