Paul McAuley is probably my favourite science fiction author writing today and despite having read most of his works there was always a significant gap in my reading history. Three novels (Child of the River, Ancients of Days and Shrine of Stars) published in the late 90s as part of the Confluence trilogy were almost impossible to find. They've been out of print for ages and even though I could've easily track them down on eBay, for some, to me, unknown reason I've never done it. But luckily this February everything changed. Similarly to their excellent omnibus of Stephen Baxter's Xeelee sequence Gollancz have decided to publish omnibus collection of all three Confluence books in a nearly 1000 pages long door stopper. To sweeten the deal, Paul has revised all three books and the collection also features two additional stories sharing the same universe.
Now, since I haven't read the original novels I can't possible comment about the number or the impact of the changes introduced in this edition but speaking strictly from the Omnibus point of view the entire trilogy has dated rather well. Most of the time Paul is not a bombastic writer. His stories are usually steeped deep in hard science and more often than not he is poetic in a classic science fiction sense of the word and Confluence is no exception. Over the course of the three books, the story flows nicely and it's metaphysical nature quickly erases any boundaries set between fantasy and what you would these days consider to be science fiction.
The story takes place on an polarized artificial planetoid known as the Confluence. Being half fertile river valley and half crater-strewn desert, this extraordinary world is inhabited by tribal culture that worships it's human designers as deities. That is all about to change when Yamamanama is born. Being the last remaining scion of the Builders Yama has the potential to control the machineries left from the ancient days. And so while Yama is trying to make sense of it all and to discover the secrets of his origin, he is pursued by his enemies who want to abuse his power to win a raging civil wore. Along the way the true nature of Confluence becomes clear, including a mystical process known as the Change.
Similarly to his excellent manga western set on Mars, "Red Dust", the protagonist here is predestined for greatness from the start but Yama seems to be much more in control despite being finding himself in them middle of a religious war. There are also traces of Fairyland in the set up of the general population of the Confluence. It is mostly made up from genetically engineered anthropomorphic animals. However, if you are really trying to find something to compare Confluence to, it's closest contemporaries are Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun and Jack Vance's The Dying Earth. All three explore the far future humanity through a prism of fantasy and are monumental in their scope. More importantly, they're all equally stimulating, thought provoking, and best of all, such great joy to read.
Order Confluence - The Trilogy by Paul McAuley here:
Review copy provided by Gollancz.