Spoiler free summary: An alien archaeologist digs through dead Earth's past to use humans as bait for the purpose of intergalactic pest control. Humans don't like being bait for alien spiders who drink their neurological pain endorphins, so they resist, ally, or betray one another to the exterminator. Centipedes, spiders, humans, gnomes, robots, ghosts, and zombies clash in a space war fought across 15 planets and two sentient "suns" that are actually machines designed to maintain the insect trap.
Who is AA Attanasio? Oh, just a writer using every inch of his brain to pummel readers with the most original, outrageous story set to paper. He's a master mood manipulator, turning on a dime from cerebral (ow, my brain), to terrifying (dont read if you have arachnophobia), to grotesque (oh the distorts you'll know!), to badass (Vikings fighting robot zombies? fuck yeah!), to charmingly goofy (evil priests live in a fortress of insect parts on the north pole!), to poignant (humanity's glorious flaws radiate on every page).
Though the writing is overwrought at times, it's actually a very taunt novel without a page of wasted space to advance the plot. Oh, and "the plot?" It only spans some seven thousand years. Seven billion years if you count the death of Earth. And the timeline is hardly linear--add in the paradoxes of time travel and parallel universes and it's perhaps the most ambitious story ever told. Somehow this complexity doesn't overwhelm, it only astounds. Even characters who appear in the flash of a year are given a memorable background and purpose. On the whole Attanasio transcribes a beautiful nightmare "rising from the tar pit of dreams." By the end I didn't want to wake up.