I read this just prior to Incrementalists, so I suppose it was foolish for me to waste the phrase "strange, low-key book" on Brust/White. This is a strange book. And low-key, as well, if only because that adjective is so often paired with "haunting".
More than thirty years ago, I read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I'm sure I re-read it, perhaps twenty years back? But it was written in 1960, so Colin, the boy protagonist, might be in his sixties today. He might be a radio astronomer, poking at the heavens, and having the occasional spell of -- well, he's getting along, isn't he.
In another life, a man paints the wall of a cave. Words thick as cream.
I don't think one needs to revisit the earlier Alderley books to read this one. They're connected but that isn't the point -- or it wasn't the point to me, who hasn't revisited them.
The point is to wander between a sharp, self-aware, self-sufficient man who fears he's losing himself, and a shaman who fears that the sun will never rise again and the world be drowned in ice.
Neither is comfortable. When the Director says "Your vision could take us to our next understanding", I do not know whether the author thinks of radio telescopy as still of the 1940s, when lone eccentrics mapped the skies in their back yards... or whether the Director is comforting a senescent with lies... or whether Colin is dreaming it all regardless. It's that sort of book.
(Bonus note for IF fans: if you ever want the experience of lighting a kerosene Tilley lamp -- what you think of as "the brass lantern" -- it's in here. Not as visceral as the claustrophobic cave crawl, but perhaps as canonical.)