People occasionally ask me for contemporary science fiction recommendations and the first name I always mention is Paul McAuley. Usually people have not heard of him. McAuley is British and is far more popular and better-known there than here. I have no idea why. But I do know that anyone who is interested in science fiction and does not read McAuley is totally missing out. He is one of the field's best, particularly in the hard SF subgenre. McAuley is a biologist by training and he particularly shines in extrapolating developments in that field to the future.
With some minor exceptions, everything McAuley has written is worth reading, including his short stories. Along with his fascinating scientific speculations, he is an excellent writer, with vivid descriptive powers.. This cannot be said of all science fiction writers, to understate the case.
Like I say, it's hard to go wrong, But I particularly recommend his far future Confluence trilogy, a masterpiece of imaginative world-building:
The entire trilogy can be had as a $15.99 Kindle e-book.Confluence - a long, narrow, artificial world, half fertile river valley, half crater-strewn desert. A world beyond the end of human history, served by countless machines, inhabited by 10,000 bloodlines who worship their absent creators, riven by a vast war against heretics.This is the home of Yama, found as an infant in a white boat on the world's Great River, raised by an obscure bureaucrat in an obscure town in the middle of a ruined necropolis, destined to become a clerk - until the discovery of his singular ancestry. For Yama appears to be the last remaining scion of the Builders, closest of all races to the revered architects of Confluence, able to awaken and control the secret machineries of the world.Pursued by enemies who want to make use of his powers, Yama voyages down the length of the world to search for answers to the mysteries of his origin, and to discover if he is to be the saviour of his world, or its nemesis.
Another masterpiece is Fairyland, perhaps the definitive biopunk novel.
Another Kindle bargain at $5.99.The 21st century.Europe is divided between the First World bourgeoisie, made rich by nanotechnology and the cheap versatile slave labour of genetically engineered Dolls and the Fourth World of refugees and homeless displaced by war and economic upheaval. In London, Alex Sharkey is trying to make his mark as a designer of psychoactive viruses, whilst staying one step ahead of the police and the Triad gangs. At the cost of three hours of his life, he finds an unlikely ally in a scary, super-smart little girl called Milena, but his troubles really start when he helps Milena quicken intelligence in a Doll, turning it into the first of the fairies.Milena isn't sure if she's mad or if she's the only sane person left in the world; she only knows that she wants to escape to her own private Fairyland and live forever. Although Milena has created the fairies for her own ends, some of the Folk, as fey and dangerous as any in legend, have other ideas about her destiny ...
Other books I loved include his early novel, Eternal Light, his Quiet War sequence (The Quiet War, Gardens of the Sun, In the Mouth of the Whale and Evening's Empires and his recent Jackaroo books (Something Coming Through and Into Everywhere).
Most of these are also available in inexpensive Kindle editions--perhaps to encourage us Yanks to pick up on this great, but mysteriously neglected author. Time to stock up!