It's rare today to get through a week's worth of news and not see some story about a corporate data breach and millions of unwary consumers having their personal information compromised. While this may be an artifact of the computer-reliant world we live in, you can ultimately thank the computer wizards known as "hackers" for the hard lesson in computer vulnerabilities.
Science-fiction writers were writing about hackers before they were ever in vogue. Here's a quick rundown of seven notable science-fiction novels centered on hacking that have been published over the past 40 years.
THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER by John Brunner (1975)
Written way before the proliferation of the Internet and considered by many to be an early ancestor to the cyberpunk genre, The Shockwave Rider takes place in a dystopian future world experiencing a communications explosion, where America is dominated by computer networks. Nickie Haflinger is on the run. He recently escaped from Tarnover, a program set up by the American government to create hyperintelligent children in order to maintain a worldwide political dominance. Nickie aims to hack the computer-run society, thus freeing the mental prisoners and restoring freedom to the world. Historical note: The Shockwave Rideris credited with predicting a computer virus referred to as a "worm" which, once unleashed onto a computer network, propagates itself, making it harder to eradicate.
NEUROMANCER by William Gibson (1984)
William Gibson tapped into the emerging personal computer culture of the 1980s with Neuromancer, a book considered by many to be a seminal work of the cyberpunk movement. In it, a man named Case, a washed-up computer hacker living in a dystopian city in Japan, is hired by a mysterious employer to steal a computer chip containing the saved consciousness of Case's mentor. To achieve this, Case must enter The Matrix, the virtual reality that is also home of an artificial intelligence, which are legally banned through The Turing Law Code. Smart and timely, Neuromancer was the first novel to win the so-called "triple crown" of science-fiction awards: the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Philip K. Dick Award.
SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson (1992)
If you ask any self-respecting science-fiction reader to name a novel about hackers and they don't mention Snow Crash, then you are legally allowed—no, obligated—to confiscate their Star Wars lightsaber. Snow Crash is Neal Stephenson's quintessential cyberpunk novel that's truly a riveting, action-packed and humorous adventure. The story's hero protagonist (who is, for real, named Hiro Protagonist) is a pizza delivery man for the mafia by day and a sword-wielding hacker by night, collecting information for those who will pay for it. Hiro sets out to find out how people who are jacked into the virtual reality world of the Metaverse can be infected with a virus powerful enough to kill them in the real world. I dare you to read the opening sequence and not want to read the rest of this excellent novel.
LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow (2008)
Cory Doctorow has always been a writer who's keenly in tune with current technological trends and extrapolating them into plausible near-futures. Little Brother is a perfect example of this. Here, a teenage hacker from San Francisco named Marcus Yallow takes on the Department of Homeland Security after being falsely connected with a terrorist attack. Marcus' toolbox consists of some readily-available technology and some enterprising friends. Although originally marketed at young adults, Little Brother is a novel that adults will enjoy, too. It moves quickly, but no so fast that it doesn't deliver some thought-provoking issues about surveillance and freedom for readers to mull over.
LIMIT by Frank Schätzing (2009)
German writer Frank Schätzing's thriller Limit tells the story of the rise of space tourism, a nifty idea that involves space elevators and hotels on the moon. Although, perhaps it's not such a nifty idea for those who cannot pay for it. Space tourism in this near future can only be enjoyed by those wealthy enough to afford it. While not directly a story about hackers and hacking, Limit does feature a storyline of one particular hacker named Yoyo who stumbles upon some information in cyberspace that certain individuals desperately want to remain secret. When a cybercop tracks her down, she learns that the conspiracy trail around Yoyo leads to the premiere entrepreneur of space tourism.
READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline (2011)
Wade Watts does what most people who live in the grim future of 2004 do...he escapes into the virtual reality world known as OASIS. Within the cyberspace confines of this sprawling virtual utopia, you can be whomever you want to be. Even so, most people are looking for lottery ticket of a prize left behind by the world's creator, which can only be found by following a series of enigmatic puzzles heretofore undiscovered...until Wade stumbles upon them. Then he discovers that people in the real world will kill to get their hands on the big OASIS prize. Infused with pop-culture references aplenty, Ready Player One is a must-read for anyone who grew up around video game culture.
ZEROES by Chuck Wendig (2015)
What happens when you mix old-school cyberpunk with more modern sf-nal tropes? You might end up with Chuck Wendig's Zeroes, a story about a ragtag team of five hackers who are given a choice: go to jail, or use their cyber-espionage skills to serve the U.S. government for one year. They choose the latter, but what they find, though, is definitely not what they expected: a sinister NSA program involving an artificial intelligence named Typhon that already is amassing much power and control and will soon become unstoppable if not taken care of immediately. Will the hackers escape their federal watchdogs and not only take down the already-sentient Typhon, but find its secret genius creator? Read Wendig's techno-paranoia-infused thriller to find out.