Review: The Prefect

Posted: February 1, 2018 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Alastair Reynolds, Science Fiction

After reading Revenger last year, I remember finding out that the next book from Mr. Reynolds was going to be a sequel to this book. As I hadn’t read it yet, I decided to put it on my list of books to read “relatively” soon. I figured I had about a year after all. Color me purple, the sequel caught me completely unawares, and I suddenly realized that I either needed to get on the bandwagon extremely fast, or I was going to have to read that new one without having read the first in the series. Okay, so honestly that second option really wasn’t ever on the table, as the surprise I first felt at finding the sequel in my hands was quickly swept aside by the realization that I now had a valid excuse to read TWO Alastair Reynolds books in a row. Oh goodie goodie for me. So although this review is coming to you all a little late with respect to its actual publication date, I will be following it up with a review for the sequel in short measure. So check this one out, and then watch for my next review in the coming weeks.

THE PREFECT by Alastair Reynolds (Amazon) was originally released as what looked like a stand-alone, but has recently been republished under the new name “Aurora Rising” and labeled as being in the Prefect Dreyfus Emergency Series. Thus, I have to kind of assume that Mr. Reynolds is going to be writing more within this setting, and I have to tell you I couldn’t be happier. This one was sooooo good.

Tom Dreyfus is a Field Prefect of Panoply, a policing force set to enforce the law within the perfect democracy of the ten thousand habitats of the glitter band. Their job is mostly to ensure the democratic process of voting for every one of the millions of individuals living within the glitter band through the Polling Cores installed into every habitat, but also at times falls to simple detective and policing efforts.

The story begins with the event of one of the smaller habitats being torched by the main thrust drive of a large spaceship, and its nearly one thousand inhabitants killed. Tom Dreyfus and his junior, Deputy Field Prefect Sparver Bancal, a hyperpig, are assigned to the case. You may or may not be familiar with hyperpigs if you’ve read other Revelation Space novels from Reynolds. Essentially they’re pigs that have been genetically modified to look and act more like humans, but rarely ever have speech or intelligence levels that give them positions within society higher than common house slaves. Sparver is one of those exceptions though. In a seemingly unrelated event, it becomes clear to Panoply that someone has found a loophole within the Polling Core kernel that will need to be updated. Another of Dreyfus’s deputies, Thalia Ng, is tasked to fix the loophole and then goes to manually upgrade the core kernels of four separate habitats that have been identified as possible locations of upgrade difficulty. Overseeing all of Panoply’s efforts is Jane Aumonier (o-mun-yea, says the voice talent of my audio book), a woman that floats in the middle of a spherical room, never being allowed to sleep and never allowing anyone to come within seven meters of her body due to a threatening mechanical scarab that was attached to her neck eight years ago by a devious superior intelligence called The Clockmaker.

Although there are more characters that have POV time in this book, these are the major players, and despite this large number of characters, I still thought the book brilliant. So often when there are a large number of POV characters, each individual story will begin to feel restricted and diluted by all of the others. Not so here. And although I’d call Mr. Reynolds’s treatment of the characters as minimalist, they are still very much sufficiently-drawn for a fantasy-lover like me to enjoy each of them. That’s saying something. Still, for me to have so much good description for each of the few major characters should tell you that he’s done his characters justice.

Nearly every Alastair Reynolds novel I've read has blown my mind and engaged my soul, and for me, that is just about as perfect at it comes.

The large majority of the novel feels very much like a police procedural, as Dreyfus and Sparver slowly put together the details surrounding the destruction of the habitat of interest and the parties behind that wholesale murder. Yet the author also takes several opportunities to remind the reader that this is a science fiction novel. As such, we see how the structure of this perfect democracy affects the actions of its policing force in detail. Authority outside of a given set can be given, but must be justified by the leaders of Panoply and allowed by the people through a polling event that takes a relatively short amount of time to complete. Also, part of Dreyfus’s job is to interview several beta-levels, which are computer simulated instances of an individual’s personality that are occasionally updated throughout their lives. Thus, such as when they are killed, an instance of that self-same person can be interviewed to gain valuable information to the investigation that follows. These instances, however-much they may be simulations, can’t help but feel alive and register the lack of something as they are shut down between being called up for the numerous interviews usually associated with a given case. This idea of “are beta-levels alive?” is drawn throughout the book, and I fully enjoyed reading about how this impacted Dreyfus.

From the very first chapter, I was entranced, and it took very little time for me to get back into the book every time that I had to break myself away from it. There is just something that Alastair Reynolds does extremely well that binds me to his books, and it is present in great measure in this one. I’ve heard frequently that when authors are writing a book, that they should take out all of the boring parts. I’ll tell you: there are no boring parts of this book. And as a teaser for the sequel? No boring parts in that one either. In fact, fewer. Believe it or not: a negative number of boring parts!

I absolutely loved this book. From the first page to the very last. Once I’d finished, it became clear to me rather quickly that the author had left himself some very open pathways through which he might someday write a sequel to this book. And despite that, I thought the ending was prefect. Uh. Perfect. 🙂 If you enjoy science fiction, but frequently find character development lacking, look no further than Alastair Reynolds. This guy’s stuff is the goods. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever come away from reading one of his novels having been disappointed. They’re always the ones that both blow my mind and engage my soul, and for me, that combination is just about as perfect at it comes.

Thank you, Mr. Reynolds.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Mild for the large majority, but gets strong at times
  • Violence: Quite a lot of death and violence, but decidedly less gore
  • Sex: None

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