“Thalia Ng felt her weight increasing as the elevator sped down the spoke from the habitat’s docking hub.”
Tom Dreyfus is a Prefect, a member of the policing force for the Glitter Band: ten thousand habitats orbiting the planet Yellowstone, housing millions of inhabitants. It’s not a regular kind of policing, though, as the only thing in their remit is ensuring voting rights across the Band. Each habitat is free to live as they please: immersed in virtual reality, back to an agricultural rurality, or even something resembling one of the seven circles of hell. As long as democracy is intact, just about anything goes.
There is such a richness to the world-building here, layers of technology and alienness and past events that we don’t need to know about, but which add that sense of history. Dreyfus himself has his demons, and we’ll learn about those through the book, but he’s dedicated to his job. As The Prefect starts, that job gets a little harder when an entire habitat and all its inhabitants are destroyed. It seems like a pretty obvious case – but a bit too obvious. But Dreyfus has no idea that he’s about to kick off a chain of events that make this mass murder seem like a playground robbery…
I’m a big fan of Alastair Reynolds’ brand of ‘space opera’, but quite a few of his books have been in my ‘must get round to reading that’ pile for too long. The forthcoming publication of the sequel to The Prefect (rereleased under a new title of Aurora Rising), Elysium Fire, made it high time to pick this one up.
While set in the same universe as the Revelation Space books – and indeed, references the location of Chasm City quite a lot – this doesn’t require any of the other books to have been read first. I did have to check that a couple of times, as there is a huge bit of backstory hinted at throughout this book, but it’s not actually referencing anything previously published – all with be revealed as we read on!
To be honest, I wasn’t desperately gripped by any of the characters here – the outstanding, should-have-been-promoted veteran cop, his something-to-prove young protege, and other stereotypes – but the story was so full of ideas that I didn’t mind too much. So much is just used as another layer of the richness: people’s consciousnesses uploaded to simulations, questions around their humanity; those choosing to spend life plugged into simulations; and then there’s the aliens: modified humans, weirder things still. It takes most of the book teasing us to find out what exactly ‘The Clockmaker’ is, and why it attached a device to the Supreme Prefect’s spinal column, turning her into a living bomb, incapable of sleeping – for eleven years…! All of this bubbles under a noir-ish detective story with plenty of twists and horrors.
Reynolds knows how to tell a story, that’s for sure, and there’s plenty here to keep you reading. And from a bit of ‘meh’-ness at the beginning, I’m really glad there’s only a few days to wait until I can catch up with Dreyfus again, in Elysium Fire.
If even those few days are too long, a short bridging story between the two novels is available for free online here.
Paperback: 502 pages / 33 chapters
First published: 2007
Series: Prefect Dreyfus Emergency book 1 / Revelation Space universe 0.1
Read from 27th December 2017 – 21st January 2018
My rating: 8/10