This is what SF is for. Books like this justify SF and excuse the torrents of trash. Schismatrix is unashamedly hard. It is about technology, and culture shock, and evolution. It is not literature 'masquerading' as SF but genuine genre in all its glory.
Once again, I am amazed and the level of detail and depth built into what is really a very short book. Sterling makes each choice, each detail count towards the bigger picture - many modern novels build worlds by cudgelling the reader under the weight of facts.
Schismatrix moves in ever accelerating leaps, without losing a sense of continuity and story (the longevity of the major characters helps), the pace of the narrative reflecting the accelerating disintegration of society, culture and eventually humanity.
Part of the story's strength lies in the appeal of the lead character - Abelard Lindsay. He's good without being perfect; smart without being infallible; purposeful with out being all powerful. Schismatrix - for all the technology - takes a fundamentally humane perspective on the future - reflecting the beauty and the tragedy of the individual successes and failures weaving into the large perspective of progress. Nothing lasts for ever - no person, no society, no philosophy - but neither are they pointless.
Schismatrix is breathtaking.