Oh yes, this is the good stuff. The best science fiction novel I've reviewed so far.
I wasn't overly impressed with his short story collection Galactic North, which was very hit and miss, but I did like it enough to give one of his novels a go. This is the first in the series, but works very well as a stand alone.
It's set in the aftermath of the Melding Plague, which is a big deal in the short stories as well. It affects nanotechnology, and there's no cure. It means many people with implants have either frozen themselves until scientists know how to kill it, or bomb about in containers called palanquins so they don't get infected. And cities, which are meant to grow organically, have withered and died. All very dark and gothic.
One of the three stories which come together concerns the plague - the captain of a spaceship is in stasis because of the infection, but the crew know someone who can help him. This person - Sylveste - is the leader of a planet where an alien race became extinct a million years ago. He's also their head archeologist and he's obsessed with finding out what happened to them. The third strand is an assassin sent by someone known only as the Mademoiselle to kill Sylveste.
It works on every level. The setting is well realised - I wrote in the last review about it being hard sf with relativity causing time dilation, no faster than light travel etc, but there are other great touches, like inches of slime on the floors of the spaceship, and acres of rotting vegetation because the UV lights in the biodomes have broken. The characters are interesting, unusual and believable if not always sympathetic. And the plotting's excellent. It builds quite slowly, coming to a great showdown in the middle, and the last half goes off in an unexpected and mindblowing direction. But nothing feels rushed, shoehorned-in or surplus to requirements. Fantastic.
I'm now embarking on 2666 by Roberto Bolano (Spanish squiggle on the n implied) which is pretty good, even though it's not actually set in the year 2666. As far as I know.