In The Quiet War, all plot lines ran towards and finally converged in the title-giving war as their focus. In Gardens of the Sun – not so much a sequel as the second half of the novel – all of the lines diverge again from that point, spread out into many different direction, but, like having passed through a prism, changed from what they were before.
There are many stories about war, science fiction or otherwise, but not a lot, science fiction or otherwise, who pay much attention to what happens after the war is over, to both victors and defeated. The events of recent years have shown how much of an oversight that is, and Gardens of the Sun takes that lesson very much to heart, with McAuley spinning out the parallels to contemporary events even more distinctly than he did in The Quiet War. He picks up all the threads from that novel, although there is some shift in emphasis – while Macy Minnot is still very much in the foreground, Sri Hong-Owen makes only a few appearances, instead we get a lot of chapters with pilot Cash Baker who point of view is mostly used to show us what is happening in Greater Brazil while the rest of the characters are spread out all over the Solar system.
So there are both structural and conceptual reasons why Gardens of the Sun is lacking some of the focus that The Quiet War had, and while the reasons make sense, they do make of the later novel a somewhat less compelling read. It’s still excellent stuff though, and definitely will not be the last thing by McAuley I’ve read.
Also, the guy seems to have an excellent taste in music – I’m going to finish this off with a video I pilfered from his blog: