“The stars, like all man’s other ventures, were an obvious impracticality, as rash and improbable an ambition as the first venture of man onto Earth’s great oceans, or into the air, or into space.”
A few years ago I read the Cyteen novels, which exist in this same universe as this one, but is not a sequel. Instead, we have some world-building here. Space colonies! Like a lot of early European colonies were headed up by financial entities rather than governments, and like Earth colonialism, once things start making money, get too powerful or distinct, the Earth governments try to claw back control. And that’s where we are.
There are several colonies around various planets and star-systems, but we are focused on Downbelow Station, which orbits Pell’s World, a world inhabited by a sentient, if docile race, and a station that finds itself in the middle of a war of control over whether it stays independent or becomes re-integrated into Earth’s cultural and financial orbit.
Beyond that, there’s a lot that happens, but the plot is basically along the lines of stories within that struggle focusing on a handful of specific figures. This kind of novel is basically a genre of space opera unto its own, with other examples that come to mind: the Helliconia novels by Brian Aldiss, the Hyperion novels by Dan Simmons, and the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. This novel reminds me a lot of some of the later Lois McMaster Bujold novels, but the writing here is comparatively dry and serious, and not so playful. It’s still a very good book.