Huge, ambitious concoction from the author of Kiln People (2002, etc.) that tackles the question of why we haven't yet been contacted by aliens.
In a future where everybody is connected via a worldwide virtual reality network, astronaut Gerald Livingstone collects and disposes of the vast amount of orbiting junk that has accumulated in a century of space flight. One object he scoops up is a shaped crystal, clearly manufactured. Gerald finds that, as the first to touch the crystal, it communicates preferentially with him. It turns out to be a repository containing dozens of different aliens, all of whom seem to be competing for his attention. But how did the crystal get here, and what do the aliens want? The answers they give are peculiarly evasive. Other plot threads include Hamish Brookeman, a wealthy author of doomsday yarns tied to the anti-technology Renunciation Movement, whose views—explored at tedious length—gradually change. Peng Xiang Bin, a scavenger along China's drowned coast, discovers a second crystal whose denizens insist that Gerald's aliens are liars. Investigative journalist Tor Povlov, her body destroyed in a terrorist incident, survives as a cyborg. Lacey Donaldson-Sander, one of the planet's super-rich de facto rulers, would have been better eliminated altogether. Lacey's thrill-seeking son, Hacker, crashes into the ocean after a sub-orbital joyride and falls in with a company of intelligent dolphins. Various prodigiously talented autistics and Neanderthals weave in and out. The problem with all this, other than the lack of a coherent narrative, is that the dullest threads (Hamish, Lacey) persist inordinately, while the most intriguing (Bin, Hacker) simply cease in mid-story. Most disappointing of all, Brin generates few truly innovative ideas, instead borrowing heavily from his own previous works and from such writers as Gregory Benford and Greg Egan.
A verbose, unwieldy, frustrating, nugget-strewn mess.