The word “cyberpunk” was first used in 1980 in a short story of the same name by author Bruce Bethke. Decades later, he sounds a little bitter that he didn’t trademark the term (among other things), but he does make his story available free as a PDF (but requests donations if you liked it): “Cyberpunk” He also has some thoughts on the story of the word and genre here.
Then the word was popularized by science fiction editor Gardner Dozois to describe a then-emerging subgenre of literature, at least according to re-posts of old alt.cyberpunk Usenet FAQs. It’s no surprise at all that the cyberpunk subgenre was an instant darling with the old BBS and Usenet crowd.
I enjoy the cyberpunk range quite a bit, but my favourites are a trio of trilogies (ha-ha), as well as associated short stories.
Naturally, William Gibson‘s Sprawl trilogy of Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive plus the short stories gathered in Burning Chrome. The original, defining series — not the first, not the last, but the reference material for all other cyberpunk authors.
Next, as I’ve only mentioned about one hundred times:
George Alec Effinger‘s Marîd Audran/Budayeen trilogy, When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss as well as the collected short stories Budayeen Nights (released posthumously). Honestly, I think Effinger was a better writer than Gibson at the time (though Gibson continued to develop while Effinger died). His blend of cyberpunk and hardboiled detective stories à la Raymond Chandler is smoother, more accomplished, his stories are stronger, and his characters are better developed.
That said, my third panel in this tryptic is William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy:
With Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties, Gibson showed that he planned on continuing to grow as a writer and trying new things rather than serving us the endless series of sequels and self-pastiches that some authors might have opted for.
When talking about cyberpunk I should mention Neal Stephenson and Bruce Sterling, who were also pioneers of the genre and remain strong. While I recognize the former’s creativity and impact, I simply don’t derive as much entertainment from his books; and I have yet to read a story by the latter where I did not feel let down by the ending, despite some strong world-building.