The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

Gollancz, 2008, 502p.

I thought this one might be a bit of a slog. I know readers nowadays want a lot for their money but 502 pages is pushing things a bit. I buckled down, though, and got through over 100 pages a couple of nights so it wasn’t too much of a struggle.

Tom Dreyfus is the Prefect of the title, an agent of Panoply, the police force of the Glitter Band,* an agglomeration of diverse habitats orbiting the planet Yellowstone, a satellite of the sun Epsilon Eridani, the environment where the bulk of humanity now lives. Another detective novel, then, but with Space Operatic aspects.

The setting is a return to the universe of Reynolds’€™s previous Revelation Space novels but in this one the action takes place solely within the Glitter Band; apparently an ultra-democratic polity where votes on anything and everything take place all the time – including on whether Panoply may deploy weapons.

Someone has used a spaceship drive to destroy the Ruskin-Sartorious habitat thereby killing hundreds of people. The obvious culprit is punished but Dreyfus’€™s investigations lead him to believe this is merely cover for a much wider conspiracy. One of his assistants, Thalia Ng, is sent to begin software upgrades to the voting protocols on four habitats but when the last one is completed the constant contact (known as abstraction) the voters have with the centre is broken. A takeover of all four habitats ensues. The rest of the book is concerned with the efforts of Panoply to counter this insurgency and to prevent its spread to the whole Glitter Band. On the way this leads to the unmasking of two mysterious figures from the past, Aurora and the Clockmaker. The latter has put Panoply’€™s chief into mortal danger.

Once the set-up is over with and the plot gets into gear, the narrative flows nicely. There are plenty of twists and turns, with shifts in the balance of power, plus wheels within wheels, inside Panoply. Dreyfus is your standard good cop but is convincing as such, as is Thalia Ng. Some of their antagonists are a little less convincing, however.

A possible spoiler follows.

The main problem with the book is that the story merely stops. After those 502 (small font sized) pages the final conflict which the narrative sets up remains unresolved. Perhaps the book was too long already. Or is Reynolds going to give us a sequel? Whatever, while enjoying the ride, I was left somewhat unsatisfied.

*Since the disgrace of Mr Gadd I wonder if Reynolds regrets the name he gave this cornucopia of habitats?

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