Sterling’s protagonist states that spaceflight and ergo space opera is ‘romantic crap predicated on the work of roughnecks who were willing to do the hard staff’. That protagonist, Joe Kipps, is a space hero, internationally lionised. The reality is somewhat different – he did bring around the death of a terrorist responsible for nuking several cities, but rather than pulling a trigger, it was his analysis of satellite surveillance reconaissance that indicated the hiding hole of the bomber. And his exploring the outer limits of space, but those limits are within our solar system, and he is remotely controlling exploration vehicles moving very slowly on Saturn.
So with American recovering from the war, the world order shifted, and Joe Kipps limited to ferrying space tourists into orbit, himself little more than a tourist as everything is controlled from base, what price space opera? Who are the roughnecks on whose sweat space opera be built?
The solution for Sterling is to look for our salvation as a space-faring race to the sub-continent. Kipps finds himself in the very vibrant city of Bombay. It too has been nuked, but there is no trace of that event, and the teeming multitudes have the vibrancy and the desire to succeed that is no longer there in the West. And in a very unassuming location, he is about to come face to face with the new face of space opera.