This novel is about an exploration of an alien civilization and its death. The book opens at an archaeological dig on an alien world uncovering evidence of an alien civilization and its demise. The book, sort of, follows this exploration into space and artifacts.
Alastair Reynolds is a scientist, and has stated that the technologies in his stories are conceivable with our current understanding of science. So space travel is sub-light speeds with people in hibernation, who face elapsed-time differences with the people they know. In spite of this, he does introduce a number of odd, strange and even peculiar technologies and associated problems.
From a hard science fiction perspective, this is an interesting story. However, that’s where it ends. The characters are a bit flat with weak dialog, and weak prose. There is no character growth, and the story seemed to drag on in the middle.
The characters themselves are rather odd and include a virtual character. Much of the book involves mistrust between the different characters as they try to guess each others motives. This went on too long without showing much evolution. I felt it had the making of a good political struggle, but it didn’t pan out.
I did find the end somewhat compelling, but it didn’t make up for the weaknesses. It is a good read for those interested in the hard science, but others will be disappointed.