From the author of the splendid Vacuum Flowers (1987), a dazzling far-future science-vs.-magic puzzler set on the strange planet Miranda, whose icecaps periodically melt to form oceans and whose lifeforms also change accordingly. The feared magician Gregorian reportedly has stolen proscribed technology, and, through propaganda and threats, is attempting to remake the planet in his own image. Orbiting Miranda is the Puzzle Palace, an Escherian worldlet of doppelgangers and captive goddesses, lobotomized artificial intelligences and dire political secrets, set up to control the import of dangerous technologies. To track Clown and expose Gregorian, the Puzzle Palace sends "the bureaucrat" and his sapient briefcase. In his struggle to counter Gregorian's pervasive "magic" and simultaneously outmaneuver his scheming colleagues, the bureaucrat becomes involved with Miranda's supposedly extinct intelligent natives, the haunts, and comes to appreciate just how intractable and ambiguous the idea of technological suppression is. Though the details sometimes prove elusive, Swanwick leaves no doubt that his planetary scheme works; his complex creation--to which no summary can do justice--possesses a rare cultural solidity and physical conviction. And the ironic perils presented by the Puzzle Palace give extra psychological dimensions to a novel already of extraordinary richness and scope. A magnificent achievement.