Five years after the Manfred riots, the question of machine intelligence is still a dangerous one on Persephone, and the coolie rights organization Realpeace is not prepared to let it go. For conjurer Celinde Fortune and her musician cousin Fanning Jones, the conflict is a distant one — until the murder of a popular musician raises the stakes even for the most determinedly uninvolved. And when Fortune acquires a new Spelvin construct to manage her magic act—one originally owned by an FTL pilot named Reverdy Jian—she is thrust suddenly into the middle of the problem. Because this construct is something different, and that difference can get them all killed.
Celinde Fortune is the top stage magician on the planet Persephone, equally famed for her marvelously complex illusions and the grace she imparts to the robots in her act. Unfortunately, not everyone on Persephone is impressed by life-like robots or the illusion of artificial intelligence. To Realpeace, the radical group fighting for the rights of the planet's large, disenfranchised population of coolie laborers, anything that smacks of AI is seen as a threat to the livelihood of the masses and is subject to attack. That's why they've assassinated the leader of Hatik, a popular band known for its support of AI rights, and that's why Fortune may be at risk. Indeed, it's lucky that Realpeace doesn't know just how intelligent the new computer program she's created to help run her act really is. In this sequel to her much-praised Dreamships, Scott once again explores the concept of artificial intelligence and its effects on society. She's covering territory similar to that examined by Asimov in his early robot stories, but Scott has a clearer understanding than did Asimov of how the new technology affects working-class people. The novel features three-well-developed viewpoint characters--Fortune, her cousin Fanning, who performs in a band similar to Hati, and Jian, the starship pilot who was nearly murdered by an AI in Dreamships. Although readers with a preference for high-speed action may find Scott's concentration on the details of these and other characters' lives a bit slow, this is a well-written novel that should appeal to anyone who cherishes thoughtful, idea-driven SF. FYI: Two of Scott's previous novels, Shadow Man and Trouble and Her Friends, were Lambda Literary Award winners.