By Sarah Yung
With their combination of skilled rebellion and mysterious computer wizardry, fictional hackers are always fun to follow on page and screen. From the popularity of characters like Felicity Smoak on Arrow to the controversy surrounding hacktivist groups like WikiLeaks and Anonymous, hacking is clearly a language that speaks to our digitally driven age.
If you can’t get enough of Mr. Robot and other firewall hopping heroes, check out these five novels!
#Prettyboy Must Die by Kimberly Reid
Peter Smith is not your average high schooler. After botching a CIA assignment in Ukraine, the precocious teen hacker (real name: Jake Morrow) goes undercover at Colorado’s Carlisle Academy on an unofficial pity mission. But the mission becomes real after a photo of Peter goes viral on social media, leading hostiles eager for revenge to drop in for a visit—literally. With the help of his best friend Bunker and the beautiful Katie Carmichael, Morrow must defeat his enemies and save the school in Reid’s fun, fast-paced thriller.
Fun fact: #Prettyboy was inspired by the viral sensation #AlexfromTarget!
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Published in 2008, Doctorow’s near-future novel, set in San Francisco and focused on terrorism, surveillance, activism, and civil liberties (and the loss thereof), feels eerily prescient. Despite these weighty themes, Doctorow manages to convey 17-year-old hacker Marcus Yarrow’s journey to take down the Department of Homeland Security in a compelling manner, describing real hacks, cryptography, and cybersecurity in a voice anyone can follow.
Fun fact: The title and name of the protagonist pay homage to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the quintessential dystopian novel on totalitarianism and government surveillance.
Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
This twisty dark comedy follows 14-year-old prodigy Cadel Piggott, who started hacking at the tender age of seven. Now, under the direction of his trusted psychologist Thaddeus Roth, Cadel is studying at the Axis Institute to earn his degree in World Domination alongside a cast of other villainous (and occasionally murderous) misfits. Complications arise when Cadel begins to unravel a number of previously withheld secrets, and an online relationship with a mysterious genius named Kay-Lee makes him question the ethical repercussions of his actions.
Warcross by Marie Lu
Warcross, an immersive augmented reality game invented by elusive 21-year-old billionaire Hideo Tanaka when he was just 13, has become a way of life for its millions of daily players. But for 18-year-old hacker Emika Chen, playing for ranking and glory isn’t an option. She’s months behind on rent and has a criminal record that prevents her from legally touching a computer for two years. So she navigates the game anonymously and works as a bounty hunter, tracking down in-debt gamblers in the game to make ends meet. When Emika manages to exploit a security glitch and hack into the prestigious Warcross Opening Ceremony, she’s caught and thinks it might all be over. Instead, Hideo Tanaka flies her to Tokyo for an offer she can’t resist: joining the annual games while hunting down a dangerous Warcross hacker.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
By the year 2045, most of the world plays OASIS, a virtual reality “massively multiplayer online role-playing game” (MMPORG). When the creator dies, he bequeaths OASIS—and his fortune—to whoever can find an in-game Easter egg. When 18-year-old orphan Wade Watts uncovers the first clue, he’s thrust into a high-stakes race for the treasure, facing off against a greedy corporation who poses a lethal threat to him and his friends both in-game and in real life. With a world so dependent on tech, it’s only natural that Wade would resort to hacking to keep his friends safe and expose the bad guys. Steven Spielberg signed on to direct the 2018 adaptation, and we understand why: Ready Player One feels both relevant and nostalgic, lending itself well to an imaginative visual space with a plethora of pop culture references.
Fun fact: Cline pays homage to author Cory Doctorow with a character who bears his name.