Lady of Mazes, by Karl SchroederRead about another entry on the list.
Karl Schroeder’s brain-altering hard-SF-meets-space-opera grand opus is basically a 400-page political thought experiment. In the far future, humanity exists almost universally within self-selected “manifolds,” virtual reality simulations that are based on a specific set of social values, with their resulting different levels of technology, the strictures and bylaws of each enforced by perception-altering brain implants. So, one manifold may be organized around the ideals of the Renaissance, for example, and everyone may live in fine homes draped in tapestries. Another may include those who eschew technology altogether, and live “off the grid” as hunter-gatherers. There’s even a manifold for those born with impaired mental capacities, which operates by its own sort of cartoon non-logic. The book follows Livia, a diplomat who is one of the few able to perceive multiple manifolds, on an adventure that takes her beyond the confines of the worlds—both virtual and real—she knows and into an altogether more complex system of perception, and a political system with implications so mind-altering, we’re loathe to spoil them here, and not only because doing so would give away the secrets at the heart of this intricate, ambitious novel.