During the first half of the novel, a reader is initially puzzled by the flash-forwards and other action occurring in somewhat-familiar settings. The mystery is compelling enough to keep you going and find out what calamity has befallen our world to make it into something so unrecognizable. By the time you are a third of the way through, the characters take over. Paul, Wili, Mike, and Della Lu in particular are fascinating people that draw you compulsively to the book’s finale.
Large parts of the world are merely sketched out; most of the action takes place in what used to be California. Yet those sketches are suggestive. I don’t feel particularly cheated; I do want to see more of what happened in Europe or Asia, or maybe even read about Della Lu’s Mongolian adventure.
Of special note to me, Vinge has created here a world that is sexist without tactitly approving of that sexism. If anything, it’s made clear to the reader how stupid such a chauvinistic society can be through the strength and intelligence of several female characters (Allison and Della Lu in particular).
There are a few anachronisms (such as a reference to Lucas’ “Lord of the Rings”) that mark the publication date, but by and large it’s held up well since it was published as a serial in 1984. A fun read with some solid worldbuilding and interesting characters.