Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on December 1st, 2016 and has been republished in relation to the recent Ready Player One movie trailer debut.
It’s no accident that many people who appreciate VR and AR are also fans of scifi books, movies, and TV shows. Technology has imitated art and the other way around, with science fiction writers coining terms like “virtual reality” and “the metaverse,” and tech companies using science fiction writers as in-house futurists and advisers.
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in books with significant AR and VR presence, this is the reading list for you. We’ve also compiled this list on Goodreads, where you can add more titles and upvote your favorites. Each title below links to that book’s Goodreads page and contains a brief, non-spoiler description adapted from it.
Here we go, in alphabetical order:
1. Accelerando, by Charles Stross
It is the era of the posthuman. Artificial intelligences have surpassed the limits of human intellect. Biotechnological beings have rendered people all but extinct. Molecular nanotechnology runs rampant, replicating and reprogramming at will. Struggling to survive and thrive in this accelerated world are three generations of the Macx clan.
2. AlterWorld, by D. Rus
A new pandemic – the perma effect – has taken over Earth of the near future. Whenever you play your favorite online game, beware: your mind might merge with the virtual world and dump its comatose host.
3. Better than Life, by Grant Naylor (Red Dwarf #2)
Lister–who passed out drunk in London and awakened in a locker on a moon of Saturn–now finds himself trapped in a computer game that transports players to the perfect world of their imaginations–a game people are literally dying to play.
4. Brasyl, by Ian McDonald
Be seduced, amazed, and shocked by one of the world’s greatest and strangest nations. Past, present, and future Brazil, with all its color, passion, and shifting realities, come together in a novel that is part SF, part history, and part mystery.
5. City of Golden Shadow, by Tad Williams (Otherland #1)
Renie Sulaweyo, a teacher in the South Africa of tomorrow, realizes something is wrong on the network. Kids, including her brother Stephen, have logged into the net, and cannot escape. Clues point to a mysterious golden city called Otherland, but investigators all end up dead.
6. Daemon, by Daniel Suarez
A high-tech thriller for the wireless age that explores the unthinkable consequences of a computer program running without human control—a daemon—designed to dismantle society and bring about a new world order.
7. Disclosure, by Michael Crichton
Thomas Sanders’ world collapses in just 24 hours – he is passed over for promotion, his new woman boss comes on to him during a drink after work, then, the next morning, he learns that she has accused him of sexually harassing her. She demands his transfer, thereby threatening to cut him off from the millions he would have made when his high-tech company was floated on the stock market.
8. Donnerjack, by Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold
In our world, called the Verite, he is a Scottish laird, an engineer, and a master of virtual reality design. In the computer-generated universe of Virtu, created by the crash of the World Net, he is a living legend.
9. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
The result of genetic experimentation, six year-old Ender may be the military genius Earth desperately needs in a war against an alien enemy seeking to destroy all human life. The only way to find out is to throw Ender into ever harsher training, to chip away and find the diamond inside, or destroy him utterly.
10. Erebos, by Ursula Poznanski
Nick joins Erebos, an intelligent computer game with a disturbing agenda, and quickly becomes addicted. When it sends Nick on a deadly assignment, he refuses and is banished from the game. Now unable to play, Nick turns to a friend for help in finding out who controls the game. The two set off on a dangerous mission in which the border between reality and the virtual world begins to blur.
11. Everywhere But No Place, by Mark Foster (Messages from the Unseen World #1)
It is the year 2042. Prisons all over the European Union are bursting at the seams. Hans Schleiman, a criminal psychologist, has developed a new system for rehabilitating prisoners. He proposes that they be housed in virtual reality units where they spend the entirety of their sentence.
12. Feersum Endjin, by Iain M. Banks
In a world where one can live multiple lives, Count Alandre Sessine VIII has survived seven times and is down to his last, leaving him one final shot at finding his killer. His only clues point to a conspiracy that reaches far beyond his own murder, and survival lies in discovering other fugitives who know the truth about the ultimate weapon of chaos and salvation.
13. Ghosts of ARCADIA, by Ramsey Isler
The greatest video game system the world has ever seen has been hacked. ARCADIA was the first platform to offer a complete simulated reality experience using direct brain scans to trick the gamer’s senses and, more importantly, to read their minds to know what they wanted to do next. It was hailed as a breakthrough; the most innovative invention since the television. It sold out in record time. Then the hackers started stealing.
14. Halting State, by Charles Stross
Sergeant Sue Smith of the Edinburgh constabulary is called in on a special case involving a daring bank robbery located within the virtual land of Avalon Four, and the robbery was supposed to be impossible.
15. Headcrash, by Bruce Bethke
When Jack Burroughs, a brilliant young computer programmer, is given his pink slip, he is offered the opportunity to use his skills for a little industrial espionage. Donning the guise of his online alter ego, Max Kool, Burroughs transforms himself into one of the hippest cybernetic surfers on the InfoBahn.
16. Heir Apparent, by Vivian Vande Velde
In the virtual reality game Heir Apparent, there are way too many ways to get killed–and Giannine seems to be finding them all. But she has to figure out how to survive, because dying in the game means dying for real.
17. Human Plus, by David Simpson (Post-Human #4)
Apparently so full of spoilers that we can’t post any description. Mysterious…
18. Infoquake, by David Edelman (Jump 225 #1)
Natch is a master of bio/logics, the programming of the human body. He’s clawed and scraped his way to the top of the bio/logics market using little more than his wits. Now his sudden notoriety has brought him to the attention of Margaret Surina, the owner of a mysterious new technology called MultiReal. Only by enlisting Natch’s devious mind can Margaret keep MultiReal out of the hands of High Executive Len Borda and his ruthless armies.
19. Killobyte, by Piers Anthony
Two protagonists discover Killobyte, an exciting new fantasy adventure game that promises to be the most realistic experience they can imagine. But Killobyte is more real than even its creators can have dreamed.
20. Neuromancer, by William Gibson (Sprawl #1)
Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employers crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run.
21. Permutation City, by Greg Egan (Subjective Cosmology #2)
In the not-too-distant future, technology has given birth to a form of immortality. The human mind can be scanned and uploaded into a virtual reality program to become a perfect electronic “Copy,” aware of itself. A new Copy finds himself forced to cooperate in scientific experiments with the flesh-and-blood man he was copied from.
22. Rainbows End, by Verner Vinge
Living with his son’s family, Robert Gu has no choice but to learn how to cope with a new information age in which the virtual and the real are a seamless continuum, layers of reality built on digital views seen by a single person or millions, depending on your choice. But the consensus reality of the digital world is available only if, like his thirteen-year-old granddaughter Miri, you know how to wear your wireless access—through nodes designed into smart clothes—and to see the digital context—through smart contact lenses.
23. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
24. Reamde, by Neal Stephenson
Richard uses a fantasy virtual reality game as the perfect opportunity to launder his aging hundred dollar bills and begin his own high-tech start up—a venture that has morphed into a Fortune 500 computer gaming group, Corporation 9592, with its own super successful online role-playing game, T’Rain. But the line between fantasy and reality becomes dangerously blurred when a young gold farmer accidently triggers a virtual war for dominance—and Richard is caught at the center.
25. Rim, by Alexander Besher
Follows the story of former psychic detective Frank Gobi and his son Trevor as they solve the mystery of a VR crash that leaves millions of people in a trancelike state.
26. Schismatrix, by Bruce Sterling
The Mechanists are ancient aristocrats, their lives prosthetically extended with advanced technology. The Shapers are genetically altered revolutionaries, their skills the result of psychotechnic training and artificial conditioning. Both factions are fighting to control the Schismatrix of humankind.
27. Simulacron-3, by Daniel F. Galouye
Douglas Hall´s employer, Horace Siskin, the President of Reaction Inc., has created a synthetic world as a demonstration; a virtual l937 New Orleans in which Hall and his superiors Fuller and Lynch, live much of their lives. But when Fuller is murdered and Lynch disappears, governmental scrutiny and investigation threaten to destroy Reaction.
28. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers in both the real world and the metaverse, Hiro Protagonist races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse.
29. Solarversia, by Toby Downton
Solarversia is the story of an epic year-long game played by 100 million people inside a virtual world modelled on the real world Solar System. Given three lives, three vehicles, and told to master The Science of Solarversia to stand a chance of winning, players compete for the 10m grand prize, and the chance to help design the next game, starting in 2024.
30. Surface Detail, by Iain M. Banks (Culture #9)
A brutal, far-reaching war is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead & it’s about to erupt into reality. It started in the realm of the Real & that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives & affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.
31. Tea from an Empty Cup, by Pat Cadigan
A young man found with his throat slashed while locked alone in a virtual reality parlor. The secret of this enigmatic death lies in an apocalyptic cyberspace shadow-world where nothing is certain, and even one’s own identity can change in an instant.
32. The Atopia Chronicles, by Mathew Mather
Dr. Patricia Killiam is rushing to help save the world from itself by giving everyone everything they’ve always wanted. The questions is, is she unwittingly saving the world only to cast it towards an even worse fate as humanity hurtles across the brink of forever.
33. The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
A science fiction coming-of-age story, focused on a young girl named Nell, and set in a future world in which nanotechnology affects all aspects of life.
34. The Dueling Machine, by Ben Bova
Dueling as a means of settling disputes has been revived by the invention of the dueling machine, which allows two adversaries to have at each other in the imaginary world of their choosing, with no danger to either other than humiliation and the loss of the point in dispute—until the Kerak Worlds found a way to kill with the machine.
35. The Eye of Minds, by James Dasher (The Mortality Doctrine #1)
Recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific—the hostages have all been declared brain-dead. Yet the gamer’s motives are a mystery.
36. The Futurological Congress, by Stanislaw Lem
Bringing his twin gifts of scientific speculation and scathing satire to bear on that hapless planet, Earth, Lem sends his unlucky cosmonaut, Ijon Tichy, to the Eighth Futurological Congress. Caught up in local revolution, Tichy is shot and so critically wounded that he is flashfrozen to await a future cure.
37. The Hacker and the Ants, by Rudy Rucker
Computer programmer Jerzy Rugby spends his days blissfully hacking away in cyberspace — aiding the GoMotion Corporation in its noble quest to create intelligent robots. Then an electronic ant gets into the machinery … then more ants …. then millions and millions of the nasty viral pests appear out of nowhere to wreak havoc throughout the Net.
38. The Judas Mandala, by Damien Broderick (The Faustus Hexagram #2)
Maggie Roche is an out-of-work poet and single mother. Spied on by a cyborged rat, attacked, drugged into panic and rapture, seduced, drawn into conspiracy, she’s flung four thousand years into her own future.
39. The Reality Bug, by D.J. MacHale (Pendragon #4)
The inhabitants of Veelox have discovered a way to enter their own personal dream worlds, where they can be whomever they want, wherever they want. Their bodies lie in stasis while their minds escape to this dream realm.
40. The Terminal Connection, by Dan Needles
Welcome to post 9-11 where the lines are blurred between terrorists and superpowers, military and civilian, and virtual and reality. In a war of information, everyone is on the frontline. Moving between reality and virtual worlds, the players in this high thriller, corporate espionage novel find danger and death in both worlds.
41. The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1)
Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens.
42. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by Philip K. Dick
In the overcrowded world and cramped space colonies of the late 21st century, tedium can be endured through the drug Can-D, which enables users to inhabit a shared illusory world.
43. Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Thomas Sweterlitsch
Grieving for his wife and unborn child who perished in the blast, Dominic relives his lost life by immersing in the Archive—a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh, accessible to anyone who wants to visit the places they remember and the people they loved.
44. Trading Reality, by Michael Ridpath
Mark Fairfax is a young, gifted London bond trader with a high-paying job, a stellar track record and a beautiful girlfriend. His older brother, Richard, owns FairSystems, a small company poised to do for the virtual reality world what Bill Gates did for personal computers. But one dark night Richard is brutally murdered in his workshop.
45. True Names, by Verner Vinge
Disaffected computer wizard “Mr. Slippery” (True Name Roger Pollack) is an early adopter of a new full-immersion virtual reality technology called the Other Plane. He and the other wizards form a cabal to keep their true identities — their True Names — secret to avoid prosecution by their “Great Adversary” — the government of the United States.
46. Upload, by Mark McClelland
To escape the hacker crimes of his youth, Raymond Quan has worked out a brilliant but extremely risky scheme. He plans to upload his consciousness into a computer, but make it look like it failed. It will appear to others that he died, while he secretly whisks his uploaded mind off to a remote computer, to live out his life in a virtual world of his own creation, free from society and the far-reaching eye of the law.
47. Virtual Light, by William Gibson (Bridge #1)
Berry Rydell, an ex-cop, signs on with IntenSecure Armed Response in Los Angeles. He finds himself on a collision course that results in a desperate romance, and a journey into the ecstasy and dread that mirror each other at the heart of the postmodern experience.
48. Vurt, by Jeff Noon
Vurt is a feather–a drug, a dimension, a dream state, a virtual reality. It comes in many colors. The beautiful young Desdemona is trapped in Curious Yellow, the ultimate Metavurt, a feather few have ever seen and fewer still have dared ingest. Her brother Scribble will risk everything to rescue his beloved sister.
49. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, by Philip K. Dick
A clerk dreams about visiting Mars. Novellete-length, this story is the inspiration behind the popular Total Recall movies from 1990 and 2012.
50. Winter, by Rod Rees (Demi-Monde Saga #1)
The Demi-Monde is the most advanced computer simulation ever devised. Created to prepare soldiers for the nightmarish reality of urban warfare, it is a virtual world locked in eternal civil war. Its thirty million digital inhabitants are ruled by duplicates of some of history’s cruelest tyrants.