Complex, enigmatic science fiction about war and the damage it inflicts, both visible and invisible, from the celebrated author.
In this future, Earth is so energy-depleted that natural forces and the power of human muscle must be used to accomplish work; simultaneously—a paradox Wolfe never explicates—starships prospect the galaxy for desirable real estate, bringing humanity into conflict with the alien Os, who have similar designs. Thanks to highly detailed brain scans, personalities can be downloaded and stored electronically. Students Skip Grison and Chelle (“shell”) Blue met in college and married, but soldier Chelle soon departed to fight the Os on distant planets. Due to time-dilation effects, when Chelle returns she’s only a few months older, while Skip is now a hugely successful middle-aged lawyer. They are still in love, or so it seems, and arrange to go on a leisurely Caribbean cruise aboard a colossal wind-powered liner. But Chelle's body and perhaps brain were severely injured—her hands are now different sizes, Skip observes. She tends to jump into bed with practically anybody (after Skip's long affair with his secretary, he's in no position to censure or complain) and leaves a cryptic note claiming to be another person altogether. With complications involving spies, murderers, cyborgs and pirates, Wolfe cross-examines his characters with a subtle, intelligent series of psychological and logical challenges.
A somber, almost brooding tone permeates this compelling work from one of the genre's grandmasters.