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The Prefect

The Prefect - Alastair Reynolds Alastair Reynolds is an author I keep coming back to like a regular customer, for the simple reason that he is among the top three best sci-fi authors working today (I have no idea who the other two are, I just estimate that if I were to do a top three ranking he would be in it).

The Prefect is set earlier in the Revelation Space timeline. This is not going to mean very much to anyone who has never read anything from Reynold’s epic Revelation Space series. That said this is a standalone book in the sense that the story is complete in itself, not part of an ongoing narrative from other books. However, to get the most out of it I would recommend that you at least read the original [b:Revelation Space|89187|Revelation Space (Revelation Space, #1)|Alastair Reynolds|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1405532042s/89187.jpg|219037] novel first to familiarize yourself with the setting. The Prefect starts off as a kind of murder mystery where the protagonist Prefect Tom Dreyfus is investigating the mass murder of the occupants of a space habitat. A Prefect is a policeman of sorts, part of a security task force that specialize in protecting the voting system of The Glitter Band (a group of 10,000 habitats). As the story unfolds it transpire that the murder is merely the beginning of a hostile takeover bid of The Glitter Band by an AI entity.

The worst thing about summarizing a Revelation Space book is that many concepts need to be explained to make any sense to the casual reader, a chore for the reviewer and the reader. It is probably more useful and practical to highlight the novel’s qualities in general terms. The Prefect then is a fast paced story of a race against time to save a huge group of space habitats from being taken over and the citizenry from being wiped out. It is an action packed but fairly complex space opera, fans of weird future tech will have a field day with things like semi-sentient whips, decapitation surgery, irremovable insect-like devices attached to people, robot weevils etc.

There are alien races in the Revelation Space universe but they are only mentioned in passing in this book. The variety of posthumans and AIs are weird enough. The characters are a little flat and generic by Reynolds’ standard, probably due to more emphasis being placed on the plot. There is an interesting exploration of the theme of what constitute a human being. Is an activated backup human consciousness a human being with rights and a soul? Or is it just software? The cases for and against are quite well presented and Reynolds leave it for you to decide.

Reynolds does not pretend to be a literary writer but I always like his clean prose style and believable dialogue. In his other books he sometimes wanders into more lyrical prose style territory but I did not notice any such passages in this book. He did however include an excellent explanation of a “ramscoop”, a sci-fi conceit I never fully understood so I would like to quote it here:

“A starship built around a single massive engine designed to suck in interstellar hydrogen and use it for reaction mass. Because it didn’t have to carry its own fuel around, it could go almost as fast as it liked, right up to the edge of light-speed.”

Generally Reynolds explains the science behind his sci-fi more successfully than most sci-fi authors. Always an advantage with this kind of hard(ish) sci-fi.

The Prefect then is another excellent piece of sci-fi from Alastair Reynolds who has yet to let me down. If space opera and sci-fi tech is your thing then this book can be highly recommended with the caveat that you have at least read [b:Revelation Space|89187|Revelation Space (Revelation Space, #1)|Alastair Reynolds|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1405532042s/89187.jpg|219037] first. For a completely standalone Reynolds book not connected to any other books, the awe-inspiring [b:House of Suns|1126719|House of Suns|Alastair Reynolds|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328058140s/1126719.jpg|2020929] is the best option and remains my favourite work of his.

(4.5 stars)