Gardens of the Sun is dedicated to Stephen Baxter, and the business of eking a living on the outer fringes of the solar system is probably strongly inspired by Baxter. However, the whole book reminds me more of Kim Stanley Robinson (who I think is McAuley's mate). The Quiet War seemed to be a friendly riposte to Robinson: alluring as your eco-lefty future might be, the future will be more brutish and constricting. I felt that this second volume eases back, back towards the values of the Mars trilogy, with reconciliation and redemption for the characters and history. It was like a reversed tide of history. It finishes on a somewhat similar note to the Mars trilogy.
Like the Mars books, the story is told through a wide range of diverse characters, including loads of strongly-defined women. And not all amazons or courtesans either. It's so great to read that kind of thing.
Two of my favourite characters though were men: a super-soldier who like Jason Bourne gets into all sorts of exciting fights (the one on pages 348-350 is particularly good I thought). Also a nasty weasely diplomat called Loc Ifrahim who was a bit like Arnold Rimmer, though more socially adept, who falls in with a no-nonsense soldier-lady called Captain Neves, who is just the kind that Rimmer used to get pushed around by.
ETA I think the quality of writing is excellent. I'm going to type out a paragraph from that fight I mentioned, because this is a good example. This is two super-soldiers fighting in space suits on the Moon:
He saw the shadows at the top of the chimney shift fractionally and threw himself forward as the guard launched herself upwards in a graceful arc, taser in one hand, rail pistol in the other. He corkscrewed into her and locked his arms around her thighs, and then they were tumbling down the chimney's steep chute. He almost lost his grip when his back smashed against an outcrop of rock; then, as they spun out into thin air, he managed to hook his fingers around her utility belt and jack himself up so that in the scant moments of their fall they were locked face to face. The guard had lost her pistol but was trying to jam her taser into Felice's side. He chopped the blade of his palm into the nerve cluster at her elbow and the taser dropped from her numbed grip, and as the broken ground rushed up at them he clamped the glove of his left hand over the diagnostic port of her lifepack and discharged his second and last battery.It's very controlled, and the long sentences give a continuity and flow to the action so it makes sense despite being outside of experience. One example of the care of the book is the attention to gravity, and all the variations of it.