Ian McDonald is one of the best-kept secrets in science fiction. He has written brilliant novel after brilliant novel, each wildly different from the last, from his debut novel, a Bradbury pastiche called Desolation Road, to his high-fantasy King of Morning, Queen of Day (which reads like Crowley's Little Big interpreted by Connie Willis) to his spectacular parable about the Irish conflict, Hearts, Hands and Voices. While McDonald wins awards regularly and has novellas show up from time to time in Asimov's, it seems that most readers haven't heard of him. What's worse, the great majority of his work is long out of print, including some of his best books.
One of these wonderful, vanished gems is Out on Blue Six, a 1989 Bantam Spectra paperback that I've read my way through five copies of. Picture a 16-car pileup in Dr Suess country, where the colliding zithermobiles are piloted by Gibson's console cowboys and parodical caricatures out of Mad Magazine, have PK Dick and Orwell do alternating rewrites on the text, and you'll be getting close to the kind of novel that this is.
I've just re-read it. It is a wonder. We often apply the term "wildly inventive" to authors and their product, but it takes a book like Out on Blue Six to demonstrate what "wild" and "imaginative" really mean.
Out on Blue Six is set in the Benevolent Society, where all suffering has been eliminated by the Orwellian Ministry of Pain, which rearranges your genome to fit you into one sub-species or another depending on the activities it calculates you will be most likely to enjoy. All citizens of the Benevolent Society — a culture shrouded in mysticism and poetry — wear "famulouses," artificially intelligent consciousnesses and PDAs that advise them on behalf of the Ministry of Pain and rat them out to the PainCops in the event of serious PainCrime.
Courteney Hall is the last incisive satirist in the Benevolent Society, and her recasting of the perennial favorite Wee Wendy Waif strips as vicious swipes at the Benevolent Society sets her on the run from the PainCops and the wrath of the society at large.
Like I say, this book is out of print. Long, long out of print. But thanks to the wonderful Bookfinder service, it's possible to lay hands on 100+ copies of the novel, for prices starting at $0.75 plus shipping. I just got another copy, and I'm savoring every page.