I have read a few of the books by this gent and to my way of thinking, this is the best. Published in 1995, it seems that everybody else is catching up with it now. Alastair Reynolds has written of indoctrinal viruses, but did they first appear in fiction between these covers?
At the start we meet Alex Sharkey, ex-con, nuaghty boy, but no ogre, no monster. Young Mr Sharkey is mixed up with something hitech that he cooks up on the sly, something that is about to become illegal. Then he meets the Little Miss and everything changes. Alex becomes a target who survives by moving. And Alex is not the old Alex anymore. The old Alex has already died and woken back to a new life under heavy manners.
Cut to years later in gay Paree. Alex is treks through an altered Europe, looking for the Little Miss, fomenting Revolution, fighting for his own life and those of his confederates. The book throw off fountains of virtual reality, biological technology, references to exotic Chemistry and Physics, the nuts and bolts of Cyberpunk. There is a difference. I don't remember Gibson making much of Biology.
Ever heard of George Turner? I'll excuse you if you haven't. He was the finest SF writer Australia ever produced. He said that in the future there would be more horrors produced by Biology than anything else and here McAuley proves him right. The artificial people, the Fairies, he creates and inserts into the world are Capek's robots, a race of servants who revolt and take over, change themselves and us, move the bottom rail to the top as the slave becomes the master. Think of the huge breakthroughs we might be on the verge of and ask how could they be misued.
Alex Sharkey pursues Fairyland, Utopia, his Little Miss, and it is all like being stretched on the rack. How many people reach out for dreams they cannot reach, wander off after a vision, a false hope? This book is about Sharkey's journey and the fantasy of Fairyland, whether it be London by night or Utopia. It is about the different fairylands that live inside peoples' heads. And of course, my old favourites, Good and Evil.
As SF, this is marvellous. It is pure wonder and horror, just bloody excellent, just as good the third time as the first.