Generations after the Sharers refused to accept Valen control, there is a new struggle for freedom on Shora. Centuries ago, the Sharers allowed the Elysians to settle on their world and learn lifeshaping from them. The Elysians chose to exchange their own ability to bear children for near-immortality. Over the course of the book, they come into conflict with many different societies. Having more money than they could ever use, they grant huge assistance loans to the L'lii, who could never repay them. The Urulan are a warlike, very sexist people who bred with their simian slaves over the years, and are as against the Elysians' use of simian embryos for lab experiments as the Elysians abhor the Urulans' sexism and agression. And the Elysians' own utopia turns against them, when their own nano-servors achieve sentience and demand rights. Negotiating between and around all of these conflicts is a immigrant family from Bronze Sky, who have their own blind spots and cultural assumptions. And threading through it all is the shared text of The Web, a philosophical treatise written shortly after A Door Into Ocean.
The book is slightly over-ambitious: many of the plot threads are dropped for the climactic show-down between nanon-servors and the Elysians, and there are a few too many characters to keep track of. But I love the philosophical discussions and problems posed by this book, and the wide array of mind sets, societies, and lifestyles that make it up. It's all so fascinating! I love how non-traditional this book is; it never does what I think it will.