This week we continue to compile our list of the greatest science fiction novels of all time. For those who are just joining us, we are creating our list based on objective data. The awards and nominations that each novel received represent the greatest portion of our selection criteria. We also take into account such things as the novel’s commercial success.
The first three entries in our list each were published in the 1970s, while the fourth found its fame in the 1960s. This week we move forward in time to the 1980s.
Golden Age or Campbellian style science fiction still existed and found its way to print quite frequently. Novels inspired by the New Wave continued to flourish, but the 1980s are frequently associated with Cyberpunk.
Science fiction claims many novels that were written before the term science fiction was introduced, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Likewise, Cyberpunk finds its roots in a handful of novels that were brought into the world by amazing authors long before Cyberpunk became the accepted term. Great authors such as Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Alfred Bester, to name only a few, dabbled in the tropes of Cyberpunk and helped inspire a generation of writers.
Cyberpunk focuses more on near future events where society becomes increasingly dependent on and controlled by large corporations. Technology races to meld humans with computers. The line between artificial life and organic life begins to fade.
This week’s entry in our list of the greatest science fiction novels of all time remains one of the cornerstones of the Cyberpunk movement. Before we jump into our latest addition, let’s take a look back at our list so far.
The Greatest Science Fiction Novels of All Time
- Rendezvous on Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 1974, Nebula 1973, Locus 1974, Campbell 1974, British Science Fiction Association 1973, Jupiter 1974, Seiun 1980)
- Gateway by Frederik Pohl (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 1978, Nebula 1977, Locus 1978, Campbell 1978)
- The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 1975, Nebula 1975, Locus 1975, Jupiter 1975; Nominations: Campbell 1975)
- Dune by Frank Herbert (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 1966, Nebula 1966; Nominations: Hugo 1964 for Dune World)
Author: William Gibson
First Year Published: 1984
- Nebula Award for Best Novel 1985
- Hugo Award for Best Novel 1985
- Philip K. Dick Award 1984
- John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel 1985
- British Science Fiction Award 1984
No discussion of Cyberpunk is complete without mentioning William Gibson’s Neuromancer. When the novel was published in 1984, it announced to the world that Cyberpunk had arrived.
Gibson differs from the other entries on our list in that when he published Neuromancer, he was not already a long established author. Neuromancer was the first novel he ever wrote, published or otherwise.
The talented editor Terry Carr commissioned the novel after Gibson had published several intriguing pieces of short fiction with a Cyberpunk twist. (I’d like to personally thank Terry for pushing William Gibson out of his comfort zone and into the world of novel writing.) The risk he took with an up and coming author paid off.
Neuromancer not only filled William Gibson’s trophy case with awards, it helped expand the reach of science fiction. Estimates put the number of units sold at greater than seven million. Time magazine added it to a list of the 100 best English novels written since 1923.
Neuromancer had a way of connecting with the reader during the growth of the information age. The computers that were slowly finding their way into every home suddenly represented something much more adventurous and promising than the microwave or television.
As the world exists today, it continues to step closer and closer to the future that William Gibson dreamed of when he created his novel.
The novel centers around Henry Case as he tries to survive in the dystopian future that Gibson created for him. Electronic enhancements for humans are common place. The divide between the wealthy and the poor has expanded beyond reach.
Along his journey Case encounters street samurai, corrupt mega-corporations, and artificial intelligence. The novel offers intense action, twisted plots, and complex characters. It represents Cyberpunk at its best.
William Gibson went on to write two sequels to Neuromancer. Both novels are must reads, but neither achieved the greatness of his original work.
If you have never read any Cyberpunk, this is a good place to start. William Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time.