A couple people appreciated me mentioning Vernor Vinge's books in a previous post, so I thought I'd toss out another author I've been enjoying quite a lot lately: Alastair Reynolds.
His books are reasonably hard science-fiction, meaning that he sticks (mostly) to hard science. The exceptions are granted based on extrapolations from today's knowledge of nanotechnology and various theories of physics floating around out there.
The books are also relatively dark, painting a very cool but not entirely comfortable picture of the future. Somewhat like cyberpunk meets hard SF in outer space.
The books are:
Three of the books form a trilogy. Chasm City is a related book in the same universe, but isn't part of the trilogy. However, it is probably best to read them in the order listed above, since Chasm City tends to make some of Redemption Ark more meaningful.
Unlike Vinge's books, I wouldn't say that these provide any great insight into SOA :) They are however, a very good read.
I'm also nearly done with Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, the first book in his new trilogy. The other two are out as well. These are prequels to Cryptonomicon, which I still think is the best book I've ever read.
If you have any interest in the history and origins of modern scientific thought, the conflict between Catholicism, early Protestant churches, Islam and all the related politics of kings then Quicksilver is your cup of tea. How can you beat a book that uses Isaac Newton and his contemporaries as major characters?
My one warning – Cryptonomicon and its prequels are dense. Stephenson makes wonderful, even masterful use of the English language in his writing. But the density of information means that I haven’t whipped through any of these books like I do with most other books. There’s no skimming over paragraphs of description to get to the action, since Stephenson’s descriptions are as meaningful and interesting as any conflict or dialog.
You should also be aware that, from a literary perspective, these are cyberpunk books. While none of them have cyber, and precious little punk, the literary form of the books follows the typical cyberpunk approach of telling multiple, vaguely interrelated tales that all collapse together into a single thread in the last few pages. Not everyone likes this style, but I personally love it.