Alastair Reynolds writes an excellent sci-fi police procedural and prequel as well as a stand alone novel to his Revelation Space series. His world building is intricate as well as complex and explained mostly through characters actions and dialog. We are in the 25th century in the Glitter Band, a group of ten thousand habitats that circle the planet Yellowstone. Each habitat has its own unique government and culture and each habitat has a polling core that is regulated by a special police force know as the Prefect. The prefect make sure voting goes smoothly and legal. The millions of humans spread among the habitats vote through a computer link in their brain. They vote on laws and punishment and they vote on whether the prefect can use weapons.
The novel opens with Senior Prefect Tom Dreyfuss and Prefect Thalia Ng placing an entire habitat on lock down for voting fraud. As punishment, for one hundred years no one can leave the habitat and no one can engage in abstraction, a kind of communication and virtual reality. In order to prevent other habitats from tampering with the voting system, Thalia Ng creates a patch that she is sent to install on four other habitats. Against Dreyfuss' wishes, she travels alone. Thalia is new to the force and has to work hard to gain the trust of the other prefect. Her father was a traitor who committed suicide. So she is always viewed with suspicion.
Another path the novel takes is investigation of the destruction of the habitat, Ruskin Sartorius. Dreyfuss and his pig hybrid partner Sparver look for clues and the only useful evidence is the three beta level simulations of the memories of three humans killed in the blast. This habitat was blasted apart by a type of Conjoiner ship know as a Light hugger. The only light hugger in the region is the Accompaniment of Shadows. Before Dreyfuss can detain the captain of this light hugger, the Ultra's destroy it as punishment. Dreyfuss has a brief conversation with the captain before his death and the captain convinces Dreyfuss that his ship was under the control of some other force and he did not order the destruction of Ruskin Sartorius. So what seems like a solved case of the destruction of Ruskin Sartorius becomes a much more complex and sinister plot involving the entire Glitter Band.
The book moves back and forth between Thalia's adventures on four different habitats and Dreyfuss and Sparver following clues to find the killers of over 800 inhabitants of Ruskin Sartorius.
Through Thalia's eyes the reader taste some of the odd lifestyles of the individual habitats. One consist of just rows of heads wired to a virtual reality. One has a subset of the society that is horribly abused by the other members and there is nothing Thalia can do about it. One habitat does not want her to leave. And very soon you get nervous about Thalia's travels alone and unarmed.
Dreyfuss and Sparver, the trusted and much maligned pig human hybrid, go from one near death situation to another as they follow leads to the find out who was behind the killings and stop the killings from spreading to other habitats. At certain points in the book they are back at Panoply headquarters and the most senior members of the prefect weigh out scenarios of the least death and destruction. These debates are interesting as the political environment of Panopy is constantly changing.
One of the most interesting objects introduced in the book is a whiphound. The only weapon the prefects are allowed to carry. It consist of a handle and long extendable filament that can work as a whip, sword or grenade. It can also run ahead of the prefect and scout out the enemy. But the best role of the whiphound is during interrogations. The whiphound is almost a character in itself in this novel as its actions had me on the edge of my seat.
Reynolds has the beta level simulations in other books. And as always, other characters question the humanity of a computer generated simulation. The simulation thinks it is human but the other characters like Dreyfuss do not. But as the book progresses both Dreyfuss and the reader grow attached to these characters.
Another crucial element is the Exordium, something the Conjoiners use to predict the future. There is an event alluded to in this book that becomes a major plot in the other Revelation Space books.
A very unique thing in this book is the Supreme Prefect Jane Aumonier has spent the last nine years floating in a room at Panoply headquarters by herself making all the major decisions. She was the victim of the Clockmaker a maker of toys and clocks who one day went on a killing spree. He placed a scarab in the spine of Aumonier and if she sleeps, or comes in close contact of another person, or tries to remove the scarab she dies. The doctors at Panoply are working on a solution but it will not be easy.
Loved this book. The plot was intricate and imaginative. There were a few moments of prefect stupidity in the plot that you as the reader know will be a disaster but I guess you need that to keep the story going. And the characters don't know what the reader does. Thalia's character is given a major part of the story but then kind of drops off near the end. Dreyfuss is kind of a Hercules Poirot of the book piecing together the clues that only a brilliant detective could come up with.
Sci-fi, detective, cozy. Only give 5s to those books I think stand above the rest. 4 is a good solid book. 3 is average, nothing special.
Good characters, good world building, decent mystery and drama. Pacing was off in parts. Overall a very good book.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
In the year 2427 100 million people live on 10,000 habitats in the Glitter Band orbiting around the planet Yellowstone, the hub for the human Diaspora through space. The habitats follow every conceivable system of government/society, cohering into a culture via the super-computer polling cores at the heart of each habitat, for each Glitter Band citizen must be able to vote. Ensuring that the voting stays free, fair, and smooth is Panoply, an FBI/CIA-like police organization whose symbol is a gauntleted fist (protective or restrictive depending on point of view).
Alistair Reynolds’ The Prefect (2007) begins with veteran Panoply field prefect Tom Dreyfus and his two deputies, Thalia Ng and Sparver Bancal, visiting House Perigal to lockdown its habitat (confining everyone there incommunicado for up to a hundred years) to gather evidence that the polling core has been tampered with. Novice Thalia sympathizes with House Perigal and its guests, but the more senior Sparver says, "They screwed with democracy. I'm not going to lose much sleep when democracy screws them back." (Granted, Sparver is a "hyperpig," a porcine chimera-human.) And then the deputies find Dreyfus standing amid "unspeakable carnage" caused by resistance to the lockdown. It's not difficult to see why the Glitter Band citizenry do not love Panoply and its prefects.
Back at Panoply, Dreyfus learns that another habitat has been cut in half, killing all 960 inhabitants. The prime suspects are Ultras, cyborgs who belong to a Swarm and possess light-hugging spaceships far in advance of what baseline humanity can muster. Off Dreyfus and Sparver go to investigate the scene of the crime, while Thalia starts installing polling core upgrades on four habitats as part of an impending upgrade of the entire Glitter Band system. Reynolds quickly introduces more complications. Eleven years ago, just before it was supposedly nuked, the hostile alien AI called the Clockmaker attached a mechanical scarab to the neck and brain of the supreme prefect Jane Aumonier, and the device may be about to Do Something. Meanwhile, the senior prefect in charge of Panoply security, Sheridan Gaffney, and a mysterious entity called Aurora, are setting Thalia up to play an unwitting part in their scheme to put the Glitter Band under the rule of a benevolent tyrant. Soon enough the apparently unrelated cases are intertwined, and Dreyfus is "embroiled in . . . a crisis upon which the future existence of the Glitter Band rested." The space opera detective story has morphed into a space opera suspense thriller.
Unfortunately, several narrative flaws decrease the suspense. First, apart from justice-guided Dreyfus, most of the characters are unlikeable. Thalia is unpleasant, Sparver is a lost opportunity, and a "beta-level" (software recording of a human mind) is more appealing than most of the people. Second, too often Reynolds has his characters give each other lengthy explanations and summaries after he's already revealed enough of what’s going on to render the information redundant. Third, too often Reynolds' characters speak corny or clunky thriller and police procedural type dialogue like: "We’re not done, Gaffney, you and me, not by a long stretch," and "It's a lead. Since I've nothing else to go on, I'll take what I'm given." Although at first Reynolds establishes a compelling reason for Gaffney's perfidy, the traitor quickly becomes a typically crude villain saying things like, "You're shit out of luck, Tommy boy." Fourth, too often Reynolds reveals his authorial hand by contriving for his characters unbelievably to do stupid things to generate plot complication and suspense. For instance, senior prefects running Panoply are intensely obtuse at key points, Panoply fails to properly guard highly dangerous or important prisoners, and veteran, capable, and alert field prefects on a vital mission get snuck up on and captured. Fifth, the ending is too much deus ex machina and cliffhanger.
The above flaws may have made me critical of the usually trusty audiobook reader John Lee. His pauses, emphases, voices, etc. enhance the story, and he does fine outre characters like a disintegrating beta-level and a man with a lacerated larynx. But his accents! Apart from a man said to speak with a "burr," I believe there are no signs in the novel for different earth accents, but Lee does Russian, French, and English etc. ones, according to character family names, even though it's 2427 and humanity has been living far from earth for centuries. He's helping the audiobook listener tell the many different characters apart, but Reynolds' dialogue tags suffice for that.
There are many good things in this novel! The question of whether beta-levels are sentient and deserve human rights or are merely software routines to be "invoked" at will (reminiscent of Philip K. Dick's Ubik) becomes quite moving. Some interesting concepts about art and the artistic mind and creation and what is human and so on get developed a bit after Dreyfus initially dismisses a giant sculpture of a man’s head expressing ecstasy or dread as "only art." Reynolds' sf often pointedly exaggerates or transforms our real world, as when Thalia notices "people . . . behaving oddly, clumping together as if they wanted to talk" instead of communicating by network, or sees in a cybernetics museum "the apple with a chunk missing, which . . . commemorated the suicidal poisoning of the info-theorist Turing himself." The different ways in which humanity and technology might develop are thought-provoking. And he writes fine sf sublime, ranging from the wonderful (e.g. the Glitter Band) to the horrible (e.g. an Ultra punishment).
Finally, unlike when I read Reynolds' House of Suns and Revelation Space, I noticed too many flaws in The Prefect to fully enjoy it, but fans of contemporary space opera should like it, and I will try another novel by him (though I worry that I'll be too aware of such flaws in his other books).
This is my favourite story in the Revelation Space story so far. It has all of the wonderful strangeness we have come to expect from Renolyds and comes with so much action!
The first time I started this story I got a bit lost in the universe he created, but the second time around I couldn't put it down. Wonderful book.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The ending was very satisfactory and in my opinion better than the ending of the next book in the series. I believe that book is called the blood spire? in any event, the narrator, John Lee was at his usual best and was able to perform multiple characters in a way that made them different from one another what was not so different that it was jarring. in my opinion, some narrators try too hard with other voices and I find it distracting. John Lee is one of my favorite narrators.
Great story and a great narrator, John Lee! I've enjoyed all of the books that Mr. Lee has narrated by Mr. Reynolds.
Geeky, weatherman, birdwatcher, ultra-marathoner (if you've never run 50 to 100 miles for fun you wouldn't understand)
It was a little confusing as the events in this book obviously take place prior to the Yellowstone plague. It fits in the same universe but should come before Chasm City