Very well-written and smart. It's heavy on the speculative end of sci-fi, basically staging an extended debate about the conditions of personhood, the nature of intelligence and sentience, and the ethical dilemmas that arise when the usual assumptions of one's own people/species no longer apply. Despite the fact that most of the action is in the first half, there's plenty at stake, and the main characters, human and alien, are consistently sympathetic and involving.
The book is 20 years old now, and I couldn't help feeling that attitudes towards sexuality ended up changing much faster than people anticipated. It perhaps makes the book feel tamer and more intellectually cautious than is fair that most of the ordinary humans of Arnason's future take for granted that homosexuality is deviant and even more open-minded characters are surprised by it. In 1994, the conceit of a society where heterosexuality is considered deviant and homosexuality the norm would have felt more radical than it can today, where I've read any number of stories based on that idea. Reading this book leaves you with the impression that even sci-fi writers had trouble imagining a future where different forms of sexuality would not only be legally "tolerated" but fully embraced--(let alone that all manner of sexual acts, including anal sex, rimming, fisting etc. might be described in detail in romance novels--and thank the gods for that!) Still, it does make me wonder how my favorite M/M sci-fi stories will be perceived in 2034.