Paul McAuley’s latest novel is a challenging and ultimately satisfying story, one that will reward close attention and repeat readings.
McAuley wastes no time in dropping the reader headlong into his post-human future, in which three strands of evolved humans are vying for the control of a distant planetary system. In this far-off place the distinction between the real and the simulated universe is mostly technical, and the future seeks to exert control over the past.
It might sound fanciful, but it isn’t. McAuley’s world is as precisely and exquisitely rendered as some of the virtual environments in this novel. His grasp of science is formidable – at times almost intimidating – but it is always in service of the story.
And his protagonists – a disgraced digital demon-hunter, a slave forced to fight for her freedom, and a small girl with a yen for genetics and the fate of humanity on her shoulders – are dynamic, compelling and recognisably human, even when they aren’t (technically).
Thoughtful readers will find themselves meditating on who we are, who we imagine ourselves to be, and who – or what – we might yet become. But such is his command of narrative that they won’t realise they’ve been pondering such deep questions until the story is finished. Simply put, this book is science fiction at its very best.