By 2097, as the solar system recovers from the catastrophic Great War, the stunningly powerful quantum-entangled computer network known as the Seine comes back to life. On Ganymede, home of the wealthy industrialist Ligon family, young Alex confidently tests his new predictive computer model—but, inexplicably, the results insist that humanity will become extinct less than a century hence. Out in Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, researcher Milly Wu joins a SETI installation sponsored by surly Jack “the Ogre” Beston; and when Milly detects what appears to be a genuine alien attempt to communicate, Jack clashes with his bitter rival: his brother Philip, “the Bastard.” To escape their dead-end existence on Earth, Janneed Jannex and Sebastian Birch, companions since childhood, apply for jobs on Ganymede. The immigration authorities learn that odd, childlike Sebastian, with his uncanny ability to predict the weather on Jupiter or Saturn better than any computer, is riddled with tiny inorganic nodules of unknown function and purpose. And on Saturn’s tiny moon Pandora, reclusive genius Rustum “Bat” Battachariya delights in solving puzzles, the tougher the better, and in collecting weapons from the Great War. Alex’s family, deciding that Pandora suits their requirements, sends Alex to negotiate with Bat—who has left for Ganymede to discuss the alien message with Milly. Bat, voracious for data and pursuing rumors of an as-yet undiscovered doomsday weapon, becomes curious about Sebastian’s nodules.
Ingenious puzzles and resolutions, moved along at a smart pace by the convincingly lifelike and varied cast: a worthy if belted sequel to Cold as Ice (1992). So far, it’s developing into Sheffield’s best series to date.