From the introduction:
Just beyond the orbit of Jupiter, in the dusk of the twenty-first century, a vast and empty Mothership drifts, hidden from view. Its unwatched sensors and flickering monitors remain fixed upon a grey, neon-speckled sphere with a single dead moon, a silent twinkle sulking half a billion miles away.
The great ship’s precious cargo, its children, explore their new home on Earth.
The world they wander exists as an almost unbroken network of cities and sprawl. Nations, once part of the identity of its people, are now but neighborhoods and wards; prime ministers and presidents reduced to squabbling administrators and petulant aldermen in a great concrete machine of cultural, economic and psychological control.
In the lives of Earth’s people, it is the very real and present Ministries of Culture that make their dominance felt more than any state or church — and, to the alien newcomers’ collective dismay, many natives of this world have been so broken that they can no longer feel the weight of the Ministries’ boots.
To live an acceptable life in this world, to survive, is to avoid conflict, to feel nothing, to keep your head down.
This way of being, grim yet tranquil, can only be threatened by art. The stories people share with each other, with songs that change hearts, with visions that show reality as it is or introduce realities that could possibly be — these pursuits and the feelings they stir are at the core of being human, and a world of thinking, feeling humans is not in the interest of the Ministries of Culture.
For the strangers who find themselves in our midst, however, being human is all they’ve ever wanted.
And after coming all this way…why give up now?