From the ugly, imitation-Gibson, cyberpunk near-future universe of Hardwired (1986), Williams progresses to the fascinating and plausible medium-future of Bruce Sterling's splendid Schismatrix and Michael Swanwick's equally fine Vacuum Flowers (p. 102); the upshot is a more considered and much improved adventure. Humans, then, have spread throughout the solar system in a variety of habitats; cyborg modifications are freely available; immortality, via cloning and memory updating, is a possibility. Various avaricious high-tech corporations, probing beyond the solar system, discovered the abandoned planets of the centaur-like alien Powers; the planets were stuffed with technological goodies, so the corporations fought vicious wars over them--until the Powers unexpectedly returned to rescue the wretched survivors and set up trading posts. Etienne Steward is the clone of a man who fought in these wars; now his original, or ""alpha,"" has been murdered. Unfortunately, Steward's memories lack the experiences of the last 15 years of the alpha's life; he feels an overpowering need to fill in those years, to discover how, why, and by whom his original was killed. And during the course of his investigation, Steward uncovers a monstrous conspiracy to direct the course of human development for the benefit of the Powers. Fast-moving, hard-driving, with a robust, well-handled plot, an unusual approach, and plenty of intriguing complications. All in all, a stirring and heartening performance.