In one thread, we follow the haunted life of Michael Kearney, a barely-working theoretical physicist, who also happens to be a serial murderer. Kearney has glimpsed the pattern that defines reality, and seems to have opened a crack in the universe that let a monster out; a Shrander, a being with a horse skull for a head. Kearney believes that the murders he commits will keep the horrifying monster at bay.
In another thread we meet Seria Mau Genlicher, the piolt of a K-ship called the White Cat (a white cat and a black cat are a running trope in the novel). K-ships wink in and out of existence, taking advantage of a multitude of dimensions, like a mass of linked virtual particles (there is a lot of physics terminology within the novel). The human, Seria Mau, has been torn apart and cybernetically connected to the White Cat and its computerized mathematics/navigation system. There are also ‘shadow operators’ who whisk their way through the ship. Seria Mau stalks other ships in a ‘naked singularity’, the Kefahuchi Track, which is an artifact left by an über-advanced species that is long gone.
In the third thread we are introduced to Ed Chianese, an ex-spacecraft pilot who has been living in a virtual reality ‘twink-tank.’ Ed is forcibly removed from the tank by various peoples who he owes money to; he escapes, and ends up working in a bizarre circus for an enigmatic woman with strange powers.
Harrison’s writing is, at times, quite elegant, but for most of the novel I felt disassociated from the story; I found it difficult to swim through the soup of ideas. It is equally difficult to find a sympathetic character: as mentioned, Kearney is a serial murderer; and Seria Mau kills at a moment’s whim. Strangely, I found myself eventually liking both characters: neither had a fair chance to grow up and there was something intrinsically sad about their pasts, but it is Ed Chianese who is the novel’s hero.
The three threads are satisfactorily tied together by the end of the novel, but the book ends with an opening for much more; and Harrison has written two sequels, Nova Swing (2007) and Empty Space (2012).
I can’t give a wholehearted recommendation, but there was enough in the novel to impel me to read the sequels.