New stand-alone science fiction yarn from the author of such behemoths as The Naked God (2000), etc., whose shimmering skeins encompass colonial oppression, the military-industrial complex, alien empires, time travel, genetic manipulation, nanomachines, and what-all. Several centuries hence, with interstellar trade prohibitively expensive, Earth remains overpopulated and poverty-stricken. Predatory corporations like Zantiu-Braun have developed a policy of “asset realization,” sending starships full of troops to strip hapless colony worlds of everything they produce. Next on Zantiu-Braun’s hit list is planet Thallspring. This time, though, experienced trooper Lawrence Newton has private plans. On a previous visit to the planet, he stumbled upon a tantalizing and valuable secret, and now he's determined to grab it and escape his oppressive employers for good. At first he and his fellow troopers—they wear “Skins,” strength-amplifying muscle suits with built-in armor and powerful weaponry—easily dominate the locals, as Simon Roderick, Zantiu-Braun’s multiple-clone head of security, takes hostages to ensure their cooperation. But soon a more organized and effective opposition emerges, and the troopers face bloody street battles and civilian trickery. Storytelling schoolmarm Denise Ebourn and a handful of colleagues are the true resistance: they carry Primes, miniaturized Artificial Sentiences far more powerful than Zantiu-Braun’s, and possess other highly advanced mental and physical adaptations whose “nanonic” source derives from the mysterious “dragon.” Newton's goal is to learn Denise’s secrets. Roderick, as soon as he learns of the dragon, demands the secrets too, for different reasons. Denise has her own basis for denying them both. And, Denise wonders, how and why does Newton also carry a Prime?
A fascinating, compulsively readable clash of hardware and ideals.