This is an omnibus that collects both Schismatrix and all of Sterling’s short stories in the same setting. Schismatrix was IMHO Sterling’s best novel, yet these stories don’t have to hide in the shadow of their bigger brother.
Swarm takes place on an alien colony where the question whether intelligence is really a good long-term survival trait is raised, and the answer eerily foreshadows later singularitarian ideas where transcendence is often seen more positive than here. Spider Rose is the tragic (or comical) story of what happened to Spider Rose after she had to watch over an alien pet, not bad, but also not outstanding.
Cicada Queen is the biography of a shaper named Landau, who later transforms himself into a Lobster, people who have adapted themselves to live and dwell in the vacuum. Twenty Evocations is an interesting, experimental story that shows fragments of the life of a shaper named Nikolai Leng.
Sunken Gardens takes place nearly two millennia after the end of Schismatrix and shows a contest between many of the transhuman species that have risen after the end of the shaper/mechanist conflict.