Fiction Reviews


The Prefect

(2007) Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, £7.99, pbk, 502pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-8218-2

 

This is the paperback edition of last year's hardback Tony has already reviewed but this is my take.

Set a few centuries hence, Tom Drefus is a kind of FBI-type policeman who is part of a force that looks after thousands of giant orbiting space stations called the glitter band that orbit the colony planet Yellowstone. All is well and good until one day a habitat is cut wide open by some powerful weapon killing all inside save for a few computer-digitised people stored as basic artificial intelligences (beta level AIs). Why this was done is a mystery for the attack appears motiveless. At the same time other agents part of Dreyfus' team are plugging a software security hole in the voting system that allows orbiting citizen's to vote on issues of the day. A handful of what are thought to be the most difficult habitats to have their polling systems secured are selected to trial the upgraded software on the basis that if successful then the upgrade can be applied across the whole Glitter Band. Yet as the last of the handful get the upgrade all these habitats with the trial go off-line. Either it is a glitch or it is a takeover bid. Meanwhile the mysterious Aurora foresees a catastrophe affecting the glitterband but her cure might be worse than the catastrophe. Something is clearly afoot…

The afore summary is a gross simplification of the plot underpinning the novel's first third. The book's first 150 pages, though fully engaging, reveal a complex backdrop and history. Only a part of this relates to other of Reynolds' 'Revelation Space' series novels but The Prefect can be easily read without knowledge of these other stories. The thing is that some readers, 150 pages in, might begin to feel a little overwhelmed by it all, but do not panic as the story soon after settles down and all the bits quickly fall into place. The rest of the novel fills in detail before things start to get real messy as the orbital takeovers are clearly not benign and, indeed, it quickly becomes apparent that the rest of the Glitter Band is physically under threat and not just from some malware.

Reynold's has once again proven that he is one of the leading British pack of writers that are currently internationally at the cutting edge of space opera SF. Reynold's 'Revelation Space' series rivals that of Iain Banks' 'Culture' series. Bank's Culture may have bigger toys but Reynolds' (other than he has no FTL) are just as sophisticated. Indeed Reynold's limitations to his stories' backdrop scenario if anything adds to his stories (not that I am knocking Banks who provides equally good, but different space opera). A further joy, for those who have already read other in the 'Revelation Space' series, is that so far all his stories are not only consistent to themselves but also appear to be with respect to each other. Reynolds has yet to show early signs of having painted written himself into a corner.

The Prefect was one of our recommended top books of 2007 and since then (New Year 2008) it was nominated for a BSFA Award and was also on the Locus 2007 recommended reading list. So you do not have to take just Tony's or my word that The Prefect really is worth getting, as indeed are his other 'Revelation Space' stories and for that matter novels outside of this series. Absolutely brilliant stuff -- positively fluorescent. But, hey, that's life in the Glitter Band.

Jonathan Cowie

See also Tony's take on The Prefect.

Reviews of other Alastair Reynold novels elsewhere on this site include: Century Rain, Chasm City, Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, Galactic North, Pushing Ice (hardback), Pushing Ice (paperback), Redemption Ark and Revelation Space.


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