4 of 5 stars.
This tale brilliantly explores a future in which humanity exploits multiple layers of reality, called skins, that filter out undesired elements. To stay in these virtual reality skins, one must be a taxpayer in good standing. Taxpayers also use their palm chips, credit and good standing to access public transport, public services like police and 911, and to move freely around the city. Those without good standing, baselines, are restricted to life at the fringe of society in the few unrestricted locations and filtered out by anyone skinned. [Comparisons to The Matrix are apt in the layering of realities.]
Charlie loses girlfriend Rose and professorship in a devastating one-two punch. Next comes tax-default status. In mid-conversation with buddy, Numair, at a restaurant, Charlie plunges into the unskinned world to see that the restaurant is disgusting, the sexy buxom waitress is a dude, and the pizza is grey and vile. Worse, Numair is still skinned and cannot detect unskinned Charlie.
Charlie cannot access the trains or buses, nor recognize even basic structures to find home again. Baseline ruffians also quickly put the hurt on and 911 doesn’t care . . .