I've learned that when reading Wolfe, one should expect an oblique story, a narrative that makes little sense on the surface, who's meaning must be gleaned by penetrating the layers of the story, picking up on cryptic clues and piecing it altogether upon reflection after finishing the book. This is no exception.
One of the themes at the center of this story is identity. What it is that makes us different when we are physically the same and how can we tell the difference between the real thing and a clever simulation?
The narrative is split into three interconnected novellas and set on a colony world with a dystopian society and a mysterious, vanished alien aborigine. An anthropologist from earth arrives to investigate the true nature of this nebulous alien race. Sounds fairly conventional SF faire but stylistically this is anything but conventional.
As Adam Roberts points out in his introduction, there are parallels between this and Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles but the comparison only goes so far, this is far more obscure. If you read this edition, I would strongly recommend reading the introduction after
you have finished the book because it is spoiler laden beyond belief.
I generally like ambiguity and obliqueness in stories that leave you pondering it's implications afterwards but this is nearly too much for me. Perhaps Wolfe is just too clever for me? Or maybe I just need to read it a couple more times.