(2007) Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, £17.99, hrdbk, 410pp, ISBN 0-575-0-7716-4
The planet Yellowstone is at the hub of human civilisation and home to the wonder that is Chasm City. But orbiting high above are the thousand habitats of the 'Glitter Band', each governed (or not) according to the wishes of their inhabitants. The only common rule is that all citizens have democratic voting rights, and the police force that guards those rights is Panoply. Tom Dreyfus is a senior Field Prefect in Panoply and it's his job to investigate the murder of one of the habitats and the thousand souls aboard. At first it seems an open and shut case - the only weapon capable of destroying the habitat must be one of the Conjoiner drives from a ship in the swarm of Ultra interstellar trading vessels nearby. It seems as if a deal over some artwork has gone drastically wrong, with lethal consequences. But when Deputy Field Prefect Ng is installing a software upgrade to four of the habitats, to close a loophole in voting proceedures, the habitats in question start to go offline and their dormant manufacturies go to work... Meanwhile a shadowy figure called Aurora has subverted a Senior Prefect, Gaffney, even though he does not know what she is. Furthermore, Panoply's Head Prefect, Jane Aumonier still has a device attached to her neck from an incident with a serial-killing artificial intelligence, the Clockmaker, from eleven years before. This device allows no one to approach her within a certain distance, nor does it allow her to sleep; and Dreyfus has a gap in his memory from the time of the incident. When Dreyfus attempts to unravel the motivation behind the killing of the habitat, he has no idea of how the investigation will lead him into his own past, and will stretch back all the way to the time of the Eighty and the 79 deaths that occured when they were uploaded to AI status.
The Prefect touches on nearly all aspects of Reynolds' densely-packed, almost infinitely rich universe (only the Pattern Jugglers fail to put in an appearance) and is a lovely addition to his 'future history'. Like Niven's Known Space and Baxter's XeeLee Sequence, there is layer upon layer of detail, and yet the story stands alone without causing any confusion to the over all space-time story-arc. The pace never lets up but, at the same time, does not appear hurried or rushed. The characters are all engaging, whether heroes or villains, and Reynolds does not dodge the bullet of having his heroes forced to make tough choices to do bad things for good reasons, and his villains to justify their own actions as being for the greater good, even if they, too, must do monstrous things. While certainly complex, Reynolds' story never loses its way or knowingly confuses its readers - though the central mysteries are kept as tantalisingly obscure as possible until the final revelation(s). Reynolds has been rightly praised by genre and mainstream critics alike, and I am more than happy to add my own plaudits to the chorus. If you have not encountered Reynolds before, then this book, as a standalone entry to his universe, is as good a place as any to start reading. If you have read him before, then I doubt you need my recommendation to pick this volume up. Let's all hope there is plenty more to come.
See also Jonathan'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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