The story, despite taking up a meager two hundred pages, is pretty epic, spanning almost a century, and follows a small cast of long-lived characters. Earth has colonized Venus and Mars, and two religious factions, The Brotherhood of the Immanent Radiance and its offshoot Transcendent Harmony both have a piece of the puzzle that would allow man to reach the stars. In reality, the religious orders are merely fronts for scientific research (to say much more would spoil). Their icons and litanies and prayers are entirely scientific, and merely take on the clothing of a religious order. The book opens with The Electromagnetic Litany, which I can't help but quote in its entirety:
And there is light, before and beyond our vision, for which we give thanks.
And there is heat, for which we are humble.
And there is power, for which we count ourselves blessed.
Blessed be Balmer, who gave us our wavelengths. Blessed be Bohr, who brought us understanding. Blessed be Lyman, who saw beyond sight.
Tell us now the stations of the spectrum.
Blessed be long radio waves, which oscillate slowly.
Blessed be broadcast waves, for which we thank Hertz.
Blessed be short waves, linkers of mankind, and blessed be microwaves.
Blessed be infrared, bearers of nourishing heat.
Blessed be visible light, magnificent in angstroms. (On high holidays only: Blessed be red, sacred to Doppler. Blessed be orange. Blessed be yellow, hallowed by Fraunhofer’s gaze. Blessed be green. Blessed be blue for its hydrogen line. Blessed be indigo. Blessed be violet, flourishing with energy.)
Blessed be ultraviolet, with the richness of the sun. Blessed be Xrays, sacred to Roentgen, the prober within.
Blessed be the gamma, in all its power; blessed be the highest of frequencies.
We give thanks for Planck. We give thanks for Einstein. We give thanks in the highest for Maxwell.
In the strength of the spectrum, the quantum, and the holy angstrom, peace!