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The Prefect
Alastair Reynolds
Gollancz, 410 pages

The Prefect
Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds was born in 1966 in Barry, South Wales. He spent his early years in Cornwall, moved back to Wales and on to university in Newcastle, doing Physics and Astronomy. Then it was on to a PhD in St Andrews, Scotland. In 1991, he moved to Holland, where he met his partner Josette, and worked as ESA Research Fellow before his post-doctoral work at Utrecht University.

Alastair Reynolds Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Zima Blue and Other Stories
SF Site Review: Pushing Ice
SF Site Review: Pushing Ice
SF Site Review: Century Rain
SF Site Review: Century Rain
SF Site Review: Absolution Gap
SF Site Review: Turquoise Days
SF Site Review: Redemption Ark
SF Site Review: Revelation Space
SF Site Review: Chasm City
SF Site Review: Revelation Space

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

A homecoming, of sorts. In The Prefect, Alastair Reynolds takes us back to the universe he has explored in most of his writing career, starting in Revelation Space and continuing through the series of novels ending with Absolution Gap, and including one collection of stories, Galactic North. The Prefect takes place earlier than any of the other novels, and is set in the Glitter Band, a collection of over one hundred thousand habitats orbiting in the same system as the planet Yellowstone. It's a near Golden Age for the Glitter Band, whose inhabitants have achieved a level of wealth and freedom seldom known in human history.

Panoply, and the prefects who work for it, are a limited police force that regulates some aspects of life in the Glitter Band. Their jurisdiction is limited to two issues, insuring the honesty of the voting process that governs decision making in the Band, and also protecting the communications net that both allows communications between habitats and supports the virtual realities that most citizens choose to live in. Other than those two issues, each habitat has complete autonomy when it comes to governing its own citizens.

It turns out that even such a limited jurisdiction is perfectly capable of causing problems. As The Prefect opens, Tom Dreyfus, the prefect of the title, and his team are investigating possible voter fraud in House Perigal. Almost immediately after their investigation is completed, another habitat is attacked and destroyed. All evidence points to an attack by an Ultra ship, and the case is quickly considered closed by almost everyone except Dreyfus, who suspects there is more going on than meets the eye. It is his suspicions, and the story he uncovers in investigating them, that form the core of the story in The Prefect.

And that story is a good one, eventually exposing a conspiracy against life in the Glitter Band, and also uncovering facts about Dreyfus' own life that had been erased from his memory. Along the way we meet several other interesting characters including Dreyfus' boss, Jane Aumonier, and two members of his team; Sparver, a hyper-pig, and Thalia Ng, a software expert and rookie prefect whose father was the only prefect ever executed for treason against Panoply.

These characters, and the problems they find themselves faced with, make for a fast-moving plot that also provides us with a few more details in the history of Reynolds' Inhibitor universe. Alastair Reynolds has developed real skill in mixing a detective investigation mystery with a background that is as thoroughly hard science as anybody's. In fact, it's that combination of elements; story, character, history, and a wonderful sense of the strangeness of the universe that human beings find themselves living in that continues to set his work apart and which form the basis for the argument that Alastair Reynolds is the most accomplished writer in the field of hard science fiction today.

If there's one problem with The Prefect as a novel it's that all the questions and complications eventually lead to the standard scene where one character explains what's going on to all the others. It's a minor failing in form, and, let's face it, one that almost all writers resort to at one time or another. It certainly doesn't change the fact that The Prefect is a book that fans of hard SF in general, and Alastair Reynolds in particular, should find eminently satisfying.

Copyright © 2007 by Greg L. Johnson

Given today's political climate in the United States, reviewer Greg L Johnson couldn't help but be drawn into an argument that occurs in The Prefect regarding the competing values of individual freedom, and safety brought by the establishment of an authoritarian government. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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