Another adventure for troubadour-spy Giraut Leones of the Thousand Culture’s Office of Special Plans—whose mission is to steer humanity down a path between war on the one hand and solipsistic retreat into virtual reality on the other.
In an age where travel to distant planets takes place instantly, via springer, and both old age and death have been conquered, Giraut is 50 and looking it—since he has sworn to be true to his Occitan cultural heritage. His father, now occupying the body of an eight-year-old, is part of his team; his boss is his ex-wife, Margaret. He’s also a famous musician, now developing a new song cycle based on the life and teachings of Ix, a philosopher he met during a previous adventure, now a saint with a considerable following. Giraut’s chief problem, however, is that somebody’s trying to kill him. The attempts continue, until it becomes clear that the object is not Giraut’s demise but to nudge him toward a particular course of action. In time, a representative of the illegal extraterritorial colonies contacts Giraut; he learns that the illegals are more numerous and more advanced, scientifically and culturally, than the Thousand Cultures, treating their “aintellects” as equals—which the Thousand Cultures, following an unsuccessful aintellect revolt, certainly do not. Even more disturbingly, Giraut learns that official Thousand Cultures history is full of evasions, mysteries, denials and cover-ups. Despite all this, the extraterritorials desperately want friendship and an alliance. What, Giraut must discover, do they fear so much?
Still top-heavy with cultural referents, but thoughtful, well plotted and intriguingly populated—the best so far in a worthwhile series.