Concluding the extraordinary far-future space opera begun with The Golden Age (2002) and continued with The Phoenix Exultant (p. 277).
Phaethon of Rhadamanthus has regained control of his wonderful spaceship, the Phoenix Exultant, but, according to all laws and agreements, must permit the owner, Xenophon, to come aboard, even though Phaethon suspects the huge, cold, squidlike Neptunian of being an agent of the Nothing Sophotect, an artificial intelligence representing the Silent Oecumene set up by rebels near the black hole Cygnus X-1. Long ago the rebels sent a cryptic message and fell silent, having apparently taken up residence inside the black hole itself. Xenophon insists that the Golden Oecumene's sophotects are evil, intent only on controlling the universe into the farthest conceivable future, whereas the Silent Oecumene represents freedom for humanity to expand through the galaxy. Though the Neptunian's arguments are plausible, Phaethon refuses to yield control of the ship, because Xenophon's activities are cloaked in a code that Phaethon is unable to translate; somehow, too, he's signaling to an object inside the sun itself! Is the Nothing Sophotect hiding inside the sun, instructing Xenophon via black-hole engineering incomprehensible to Phaethon and the entire Golden Oecumene? Who's lying? What is the significance of Phaethon's still-missing memories?
Structurally unsatisfying, with extended philosophical arguments, a lengthy coda once the main situation's been resolved, and little narrative momentum, plus what appears to be stage-setting for yet more sequels: Tremendously flawed, certainly, but set forth with such effortless intelligence and confident verisimilitude that the author might be a denizen of the remote future, reporting back to us in the distant past.