WarningMight contain spoilers.

This is a tough one to collect my thoughts about. It’s good enough that I wanted to keep reading it, I’ll give it that, but it’s far too long, with its opening chapters introducing much too many characters in quick succession with no indication of when or how they’ll be relevant. I don’t mind a story taking the time to set the stage, but this is self-indulgent. In addition, it takes several chapters to accustom oneself to the disregard for punctuation: full stops, semi-colons, commas, and colons are all treated as interchangeable here.

It’s very much a science fiction story written by a middle-aged, white, British man, about a future designed for men: women keep themselves fit and shapely for men to ogle, sex is currency, and lesbian relationships exist for the enjoyment of men whereas other queer people—assuming they exist—stay in the shadows. It feels strangely American, on top of that. At least the protagonists show some diversity, though.

This is a puzzling vision of the future in some ways thanks to the centering of oil and trains. It’s interesting to see how space travel and longevity inevitably go hand in hand in this book just as they do in Cities in Flight and Zima Blue . I was taken aback at first by the way the characters are always programming this and putting in algorithms for that, but it’s quite forward-thinking considering how software is famously eating the world. Indeed, I think very longingly of the rejuvenation procedures here with their easy access to skills and cellular reprofiling: the possibilities are endless.

The chapter detailing the history of the Prime is unusually good. The fates of the humans are gruesome and nauseating, but it embodies the alien’s perspective in an extraordinarily believable yet comprehensible manner. In a similar way, I like the Sylfen’s distinct style of speaking more than anything else in the book.

Unfortunately, there’s too much extraneous material. It’s maddening that this isn’t even the complete story: there’s a sequel, which I can’t imagine would have been necessary if not for the egregiously large set of peripheral characters with their irrelevant arcs. Morton’s story, to take one example, only provides context for Mellanie’s. It’s as if the author accidentally stuffed a bunch of prequels and spinoffs into the same novel only to be forced to split it for lack of space.

No questions are answered. The Starflyer exists, no more. The SI’s goals remain a mystery. The creator of the barrier around the Primes’ system remains unknown (although since the Starflyer likely removed it, perhaps the same entity created it). The Sylfen remain an enigma. Ozzie simply doesn’t get an ending—all the time spent following them and babysitting Orion comes to naught. Rather than read the sequel, I satisfied my curiosity with a plot summary. I don’t think I missed anything.