The memory of Earth is a supercomputer, the Oversoul, that orbits the planet Harmony. For millions of years, the computer has worked by telepathy to prevent the peoples of Harmony from developing the communication, transportation, and weapons systems necessary for mass warfare of the kind that virtually destroyed Earth and forced humans to colonize other planets. The computer system, however, was never meant to last so long. Many of its supporting satellites have been lost, it is losing its power to prevent mass violence, and human nature has not changed fundamentally.
Nafai, the main character of this volume, is a fourteen-year-old boy who finds himself at the center of several power struggles as the Oversoul begins to seek human aid to restore itself. Over the millennia, the Oversoul has become like a God, people having forgotten it is a machine. When Nafai and his father become privileged communicators with the Oversoul, Nafai finds himself at the center of rivalries for power among his brothers, within the governing council of the city, and among increasingly aggressive emerging nations. In a series of adventures, he receives a mission from the Oversoul that forces him to gain self-control and become an adult.
Typical of Card’s novels, this story moves quickly and dramatically while also involving the reader deeply with the moral and intellectual concerns of the central character and gradually revealing a fascinating culture. Especially interesting is the religious dimension of the story, reflected both in incidents that echo the Bible and in Card’s development of moral dilemmas in which one’s relation to a computer God parallel traditional accounts of relations between humans and their Gods.