The novel follows Jack Potter, a computer cryptographer tenured at the fictional Academe of Pure and Applied Sciences in Santa Sierra, California (a city assembled from the ruins of San Francisco.) The story details Jack's first encounter with an alien calling himself Wheeler who apparently wishes to trade information with humanity.
Accompanied (for a while) by "gene witch" Zero al Qaseem and data paleontologistIsabel Mirabeau, Jack establishes a corporation based around one of the technologies he was traded by Wheeler, but soon finds that there may be more to his dealings with the alien than he bargained for. Traitorous alliances, deceitful propaganda, and shady business practices are frequent elements of the novel.
One of the interesting pieces of technology utilized throughout the novel is the idea of bubbles. A bubble is a self-contained holographic chamber that a person may interface with and, if augmented with the proper neural equipment, use to connect to a network resembling an extremely advanced World Wide Web. Using a bubble's interface, a person can manipulate a super-immersive graphical simulation, drawing on their thoughts and subconscious hunches to create metaphorical situations which aid greatly in communication with others. However, unlike similar holographic technology (such as Star Trek's holodeck), there is no A.I. to be seen; all avatars inside the bubble's simulation are either users or metaphors created by users.