The Quiet War - Paul J. McAuley
I went through a phase a couple of years ago of not reading science fiction, preferring to concentrate on fantasy over on that side of the library, but I see I've missed all sorts of good stuff...

Here's an example - the basic premise of 'The Quiet War' is that it's set in a time after the Overturn, a time when the inhabitants of Earth were forced to make some tough decisions about how to save their environment while at the same time colonising elsewhere in the universe. As a result there was a significant shift between the very autocratic governments of the home planet, determined to control everything, and the colonists taking advantage of genetic engineering to set up new worlds for themselves along a more Utopian ideal.

Within this, the book mainly follows the experiences of a couple of individuals - one an important scientist determined to get hold of the colonists' secrets and exploit them, another a genetically-engineered soldier brought up solely for the purpose of infiltration and a third, another scientist who finds herself caught up in other people's plots to the point where her own safety and future is significantly jeopardised. In the end, it's the story of the latter character (Macy) which works best in terms of eliciting the reader's sympathy.

It's clear the author is aiming at a discourse on what it is to be human but doesn't quite make it work like he wants - perhaps the differences between his characters are too subtle at times to strike that point home. As it is, McAuley has also published a sequel - 'Gardens of the Sun' - that apparently follows up a number of the characters in this book. I'm not sure I'll be checking it out all that soon but I'm certainly interested to see what else he's written...