Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

And here was me thinking of putting the science fiction on the back burner in 2012.  I'm glad I didn't - this is another stone cold cracker from Reynolds.

It's the Revelation Space universe again, but a couple of hundred years earlier, before the Melding Plague made everything all goth.  What will become the Rust Band around the planet of Yellowstone is still the (unfortunately named) Glitter Band, made up of ten thousand habitats containing millions of people, but with wildly different ways of living.  There are the Voluntary Tyrannies, the Permanant Vegetative State, and places where people fly about on winged horses.

This is all great, but what I really liked was the way it was all set out - this is a police procedural.  The Prefect, called Dreyfus, is part of Panoply which has great power in the Band, but limited jurisdiction.  In fact, they mainly investigate vote rigging and ensure access to the sci-fi internet, known as abstraction.  And they've got weapons/robots called whiphounds which are pretty cool.

So you've got the classic tropes of a detective thriller (two seperate cases - could they be connected?) on top of a fantastically inventive and brilliantly realised world.   And, in a nod to Revelation Space itself, you've got two mysterious and powerful non-human entities casting long shadows over everything.  It's plotted meticulously, with twists, betrayals, uncovered secrets, confrontations and denouments all used with the skill of a master.  And to give you a flavour of what's going on - in one section Dreyfus is plotting to decapitate his boss.....but he's not allowed to tell her.  I never saw that in Taggart.

I think if you're looking for a first book in this universe to read, this is the one to go for.  It's fairly straightforward, confined to one system, and self contained, but you still get a real taste for the world, and you learn enough about the different metasocieties - the Demarchists, the Ultras and the Conjoiners - to whet your appetite for more.  Reynolds has a new book out - hurray - but it's not Revelation Space - boo - and in fact looks like the first in a new series - double boo.  He should wise up before someone goes all Kathy Bates on him.

1 comment:

zungg said...

Read this a few weeks ago now; agree with your comments. Definitely the Reynolds I'll be nudging my wife towards. I think she'll find it very amenable, being fond of detective stories. I'm not but I still enjoyed this, though I have to confess that Dreyfus's tragic past was a genre trope too far for me. Still, love Reynolds's free association with possible worlds, and his creation of a world that allows this. He's opened up such a terrific writer's toybox with this universe.