After humans have been evicted from Earth by mysterious whale and dolphin loving aliens, they settle eight other worlds inside the solar system, helped by technology taken from a seemingly free information downlink from Ophiuchi. But then comes the bill together with some unsettling information regarding the future of humanity.
My experience with SF over the years has been that it dates faster than every other form of fiction, so when you read something that could have been published yesterday and feels fresh and invigorating, and realize that it’s written thirty years ago, you’ll feel like you discovered a diamond among the rubble. Varley does many clever things with TOH. Alternating between the POVs of different clones of the same person, you never feel that this fragments the flow of the story, because all these clones feel the same and as a reader you get the feeling of a continuous narrative stream.
Reading TOH made me realize how much it seems to be a predecessor to Sterling’s Schismatrix, or since there’s not that much time between the two, how similar they seem. While the whole stage is smaller than most galaxy spanning SF, they both create a solar system whose multifaceted civilization feels much bigger and denser in detail than many of the galaxy spanning variant.
Both are about inevitable changes to the human body itself, and the need to define or create a concept of what humanity entails beyond the mere human body. Both have an ambivalent ending that can either spell doom for the human race, or show the first steps into a future rich in possibilities. Both are excellent reads, books that opened new veins in the ideaspace of SF and yet are entertaining to read in their own right.