We open with Theo, our narrator, and Robin, his son, looking at the night sky through a telescope. ‘Darkness this good was hard to come by,’ Theo tells us. He calls Robin ‘my sad, singular, newly turning nine-year-old, in trouble with this world’.
We’re in the American Midwest, where Theo is a nerdy computer scientist — a data engineer whose professional world consists of looking for life on other planets. Robin, we soon see, might have ADHD. He’s brilliant, but unpredictable and testy. Alyssa, Theo’s wife and Robin’s mother, a former animal rights activist, is dead. Apart from Theo’s not-quite-friend Martin, an extreme super-geek of a neuroscientist, these are our main characters.
Powers’s previous novel, The Over-story, was about the idea that trees can communicate with each other, and the fact that most humans don’t know or care about this.