In this future, humans have long-since mastered the art of surviving in alien environments but have become divided. Pioneer Halo Worlders settled brown dwarfs between the visible stars, and adapted with daring, art, and creativity. But when faster-than-light travel was discovered, the richer, more monolithic Rights Economy claimed the Earth-like planets of the "lit" stars; that society's overriding principle has been ownership-of everything. The human need for enlightenment expresses itself through Permanence, a non-metaphysical religious order seeking the eternal survival of our species. In a beginning reminiscent of classic Heinlein, scrappy young Rue daringly escapes from a bad situation and heads for her home in Halo World; she happens upon an alien artifact that promises to make her rich but instead lands her in a galactic crisis and she must find her sea legs fast. Meanwhile, in a Rights Economy project, Michael, a monk in the outlawed NeoShinto order, is assisting in a scientific study of extinct alien civilizations as he covertly collects their kami, or essence.
Rue, Michael, and a large cast of equally colorful characters must determine the correct use of mysterious alien technology and then fight like the dickens if their species is to survive. This suspenseful, complex tale asks many intriguing questions and illustrates more scientific principles than a semester of science labs. Some readers might not quite follow all of the rapid twists and turns, but they will want to hang on to reach the story's satisfying conclusion, where a thoughtful solution emerges amid plenty of fireworks.