Fiction Reviews

Machine Vendetta

(2024) Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, £25, hrdbk, 374pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09080-4


A terrorist incident, resulting in a conflagration in a large orbiting habitat, was caused by racism species-ism between uplifted pigs (to human sentience levels) and humans. The habitat was one of thousands that formed the Glitter Band orbiting the planet Yellowstone. Humans had arrived at Yellowstone centuries earlier but the planet has an unbreathable atmosphere, so that while some humans established a colony on its surface, others remained in orbit, hence the hundreds of habitats.

Each of the habitats was largely self-policed (usually by local constables) but overall, inter-habitat, peace-keeping and the maintenance of democracy (via strictly controlled computer voting) was undertaken by just a thousand prefects operating from Panapoly – an asteroid hollowed out to provide habitation, space docks etc.

Then a prefect – Ingvar Tench – visits Stadler-Kremeniev orbital habitat. Ingvar Tench thinks she has been ordered there for a routine inspection of its voting mechanisms, but back at the Panapoly, the senior prefects are puzzled as no orders had been given Ingvar: what could she be doing visiting a habitat on the prefects' watch list?  Further, they are perturbed that communications with her have been cut…

Enter senior prefect Tom Drefus who is sent to Stadler-Kremeniev to find out what Ingvar Tench is doing. Alas, he arrives too late and, long story short, she is dead.

So starts Drefus' investigation. Complicating matters is that shortly he is separately contacted in quick succession by the Clockmaker and Aurora. They are both artificial intelligences (AIs) that usually keep out of human affairs as they are busy engaged with each other to ensure one does not get an upper hand over the other. The resulting peace is an uneasy one for humans as one day this balance will surely become unequal. Both the AIs warn Dreyfus that someone, or some thing, is threatening their balance and may even be trying to take both the AIs out. Neither are happy and they want Dreyfus to investigate. Could it be that this interfering agent was somehow mixed up in Ingvar Tench's death…?

Let's cut to the chase, the question you, the reader, will want to know is given that this novel is set within Alastair Reynolds' 'Revelation Space' series of novels – there are seven to date – can this be read as a standalone novel?  The answer to this is at a pinch you could come new to this despite there being a number of references to events in other books. Having said that, you would be advised first reading The Prefect (also known as Aurora Rising) and then Elysium Fire, as Machine Vendetta is the third in what the publisher and author would now like us to call the 'Prefect Dreyfus Emergency' sequence of books: these (so far?) are a connected trilogy. Consequently, if you have read a fair bit of Reynolds and like him (he has a distinctive use of tropes in his space opera) then you would be advised to read the previous two 'Prefect Dreyfus Emergency' books first as these really are all one single story, even if at a pinch you could leap in at the end. (Spoilers sweetie.)

This is not a chore for readers new to prefect Dreyfus as you get to read the books in quick succession: it's a kind of time travel. Conversely, for us old fogies who came around the long way, it has been over half a decade since the last Dreyfus book and over one-and-a-half decades since the first novel. Having said that, if you are a reader curating a library and an old fogy, then this is one of those excuses to do what we rarely do (there being so much new stuff out there) and have a re-read of the first two novels.

Now, it is no secret that I like Reynolds' Revelation Space novels, even if I did find Inhibitor Phase (2021) (currently his latest Revelation Space novel since this one) a little relentless to my taste with its reveals. Some may say that here I am being a bit harsh but then Alastair has himself set the bar to a high standard. However, Machine Vendetta is a return (if ever there was really a departure) to full Reynolds' excellence, and his fans will love it.

It is also no secret that Reynolds has a very solid fan base. I recall at 2014 SF Worldcon in London (a decade ago now) that his signing queue reached down the gallery walkway and out of the building: a signing queue at that convention that was, as far as I remember, only outdone by that for George R. R. Martin.  Reynolds' sales can't be bad too, as back in 2009 Gollancz gave him a £1 million, ten-book deal. Indeed, his popularity may have since increased given, among other things, his two-part interview by Moid Moidelhoff over at YouTube's Media Death Cult (the first interview is here).  I mention this because in Machine Vendetta Reynolds gives Moid a Tuckerisation with a mention of the 'Moidelhoff total nucleation' space drive – what larks.

Machine Vendetta once more demonstrates that Reynolds is at the top of his game, and he seems to do it so effortlessly too…

And there is possible good news(?)!  Though Machine Vendetta comes to a distinct conclusion, not all matters are settled – there are players still out there. Could we have another 'Prefect Dreyfus Emergency' novel in the future? One, perhaps, that takes us beyond the Glitter Band…?  There are many possibilities.  Watch this space for revelations.

Jonathan Cowie


[Up: Fiction Reviews Index | SF Author: Website Links | Home Page: Concatenation]

[One Page Futures Short Stories | Recent Site Additions | Most Recent Seasonal Science Fiction News]

[Updated: 24.4.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]