Set 5 centuries into the future, Reynolds introduces us to his universe (which apparently has already had 5 novels set in it, plus several short story collections, and I somehow managed to miss this Brit. phenomenon, just like I missed Richard K. Morgan).
Since Reynolds was apparently a real scientist, we get very realistic exposition --- we get to see relativistic travel, the question of the Fermi paradox, a great description of neutron stars, black holes, and time travel used in computation, as well as the usual grand sweep space opera concepts such as very large ships, planet destroying weapons, and space civilization/archaeology.
The plot revolves ostensibly around Dr. Dan Silvestre, an egoistic, obsessive archaeologist who's exploring the remnants of an expired civilization, the Amarantins. We then get seeps of back story, and two other convergent plotlines that converge very early on in the novel --- most of the mystery behind the book has to do with tying the civilizations together, and figuring out what's going to happen next.
All the clues are fair, and in fact, when I figured out a crucial plot point ahead of time, I felt extremely satisfied, rather than cheated or feeling like the author was being stupid.
The only criticism of this novel is common to all scientists turned writers --- the characters are quite wooden, and seriously, how could anyone learn to care about such characters? Then again, with science fiction of such epic scope, the sense of wonder (often only achieved by Iain M. Banks, another great British writer) is a great substitute for characterization.
Recommended for realistic science, a plot that doesn't make you feel stupid, and a fun romp through an interesting universe. I'm buying the next book in the series for the long flight home.