The bulk of the novel is about a planetary system, the New Republic, run by a militaristic authoritarian regime that prohibits high technology and is intentionally isolated from the rest of the humanity. A Marxist (yes, Marxist!) revolutionary cadre has sprung up on one of it's backwater colony planets - which explodes unpredictably when a mysterious starship calling itself the Festival arrives offering the inhabitants anything they want in exchange for information (stories, theories, what have you). They suddenly find themselves with all the material and technological goods they could have ever wanted, with some unintended consequences. Sound boring yet? Yes, it was.
While his wordplay, setting, and concepts are nothing short of breath-taking his characters and plot development are nothing short of yawn inducing. I trudged through the novel as best as I could, and it took considerable effort to finish it. It was lauded with much praise, and I can certainly see why a novel such as this would be an instant hit with particular readers, but Stross' brand of "hard" sci-fi just wasn't my cup of tea.