William Gibson is known as the writer who shaped the cyberpunk genre — not to mention coined the term “cyberspace.” But Gibson is more than just the innovative author who got there first. He’s a cyberpunk master as well as its inventor, and his body of work is full of essential reads.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t start with Gibson's iconic Neuromancer (you should). From short fiction, to later trilogies, to Gibson’s graphic novels, there are a lot of Gibson classics to discover. Here’s where you should start with William Gibson books.
If you read just one book by William Gibson, it has to be Neuromancer.
Gibson’s first novel is not his only great work, but it’s by far his best known and most impactful. In Neuromancer, Gibson lays out the blueprint to what would become its own sub-genre of science fiction: cyberpunk.
Neuromancer presents a gritty near-future world with all the shadiness of a film noir. The setting and the morality are both presented in shades of gray, “like a television” (as the novel memorably begins) “tuned to a dead channel.”
Neuromancer’s prose isn’t as fully realized as the writing in some of Gibson’s later work, but it’s as stylish and as memorable as anything he has written since. The novel introduces readers to Case, a disgraced hacker on the run from a drug kingpin; and Molly, a cyborg mercenary.
Case and Molly agree to work for a mysterious figure named Armitage, only to find that the deal isn’t quite what it seemed. Gibson returns to the world of Neuromancer in later books Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), which complete the loosely connected Sprawl trilogy that begins with Neuromancer.
A short story collection, Burning Chrome includes Gibson works that date back as far as 1977 (“Fragments of Hologram Rose”).
The titular “Burning Chrome” (1982) is the most famous of these stories, largely because it was in this story that Gibson coined the term “cyberspace.” But all of the stories in this collection are worth reading.
Short stories and science fiction magazines play crucial roles in the sci-fi literary scene, and that was even more true when Gibson got his start. Consider these short stories required reading.
Originally serialized in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Count Zero is a sequel to Neuromancer. It’s set seven years after the events of the first book, and returns readers to the strange setting of Gibson’s first novel — particularly “The Matrix,” a cyberspace world where much of the action takes place.
Count Zero threads together three distinct plot arcs, which stay relatively divorced from each other until the climax of the novel brings them together. It’s an early example of the sort of narrative weaving that became a staple of Gibson’s novels.
Mona Lisa Overdrive
The third and final volume in the Sprawl trilogy is one of Gibson’s finest works.
Like Count Zero, this novel returns to the world of the Sprawl trilogy years after the last installment. Eight years after the events of Count Zero, Gibson brings readers back to the Matrix and re-introduces major characters from the first two novels, including Neuromancer’s Molly and Count Zero’s Angele Mitchell.
This is a particularly fully-realized work for Gibson, both in a world-building sense and a literary one.
The first book of Gibson’s Bridge trilogy introduces another vividly imagined near-future dystopia.
Set in the then-future year of 2006, Virtual Light paints a grim portrait of a near-future California. Following a disastrous Earthquake, San Francisco’s Bay Bridge is inoperative and abandoned, and is now the site of a massive shantytown. Gibson’s protagonist is a bicycle messenger who lives in the shantytown and steals a pair of glasses that turn out to be of international importance.
All Tomorrow's Parties
After finishing Virtual Light, keep reading the Bridge trilogy to reach 1999’s All Tomorrow’s Parties, a critical favorite that includes some of Gibson’s most striking prose writing.
Finishing the series that started with Virtual Light and continued with Idoru (1996), All Tomorrow’s Parties is vintage Gibson: A collection of disparate but related narrative threads with an emphasis on emergent technology and remarkable (and grim) world-building.
Pattern Recognition kicks off yet another one of Gibson’s trilogies: the Blue Ant series.
Unlike much of Gibson’s earlier work, this novel features a contemporary setting. Structured as a thriller, this is really a novel about mankind’s desire for order and patterns — even in times as disorderly and frightening as the years following 9/11.
William Gibson's Alien 3
Alien 3 is the most unusual entry on this list, and arguably the least essential. Gibson is first and foremost a prose writer. But fans of Gibson who have already read their fair share of his prose fiction should check out some of his other work, like the nonfiction collection Distrust That Particular Flavor (2012) or one of his graphic novels—like Alien 3.
Alien 3 is a graphic novel adaptation of the original screenplay to the film Alien 3 (1992). Alien 3 had problems in development, and it was at one point shooting without a script.
Eventually, director David Fincher was brought in to finish the project and a final script was hammered out. The result was a decent film but a frustrating entry into the larger Alien series (Alien 3 did not fare well on my list of the best Alien movies, and the script was a big part of the problem).
That was Alien 3’s only legacy until the late 2010s, when an old un-filmed (and much better) script to the movie reappeared in the form of this graphic novel adaptation, authored by Gibson. The finished novel is an imperfect but highly enjoyable entry into both Gibson’s catalog and the Alien universe—even if it’s technically not “canon.” Alien 3 isn’t the most typical Gibson work, but it’s a great reminder of the range of his talent.