An arresting slice of future history, set in the same dynamic, high-tech universe as Sterling's faulty but exciting short stories (""Cicada Queen,"" ""Swarm,"" etc.). With the Earth destroyed, humans living in artificial habitats and asteroids have spread throughout the solar system. Amid the hundreds of independent societies, republics, and corporations, two major powers are waging a long-standing war: the Mechanists, technocrats specializing in cyborg modifications and hardware; and the Shapers, psychologists and bio-engineers. Complicating all this: an explosive growth of information and know-how, propelling humanity towards new levels of awareness; the coming of the Investors, huge reptilian aliens looking for booty. And the focus is on a series of adventures involving Abelard Lindsay, lovable conman and Shaper-trained diplomat. At first a powerless exile aboard a decaying colony, Lindsay pulls a bold theatrical swindle, then flees with a good-hearted, piratical nation-in-a-spaceship, later marrying one of the pirates' victims. There's an eerie, mind-stretching showdown with arch-enemy and megalomaniac Constantine, as both occupy alien bodies to battle in a mini-universe. Then, wealthy and wiser, Lindsay spearheads the drive to terraform Europa and redesign humans to live there. And finally he meets a friendly disembodied alien, shrugs off his failing body. . . and goes traveling. Fractured and occasionally confusing--Sterling often knows things his readers don't--but highly imaginative, richly detailed, and absorbingly original science fiction.