on 28 April 2007
Once again Alastair Reynolds returns to his "Revelation Space" universe and is a glorious read. Field Prefect Tom Dreyfus is an agent of Panoply, an agency that ensures and protects the voting rights of the residents of the Glitter Band, ten thousand habitats which orbit the planet Yellowstone in the year 2427. When a habitat is attacked Panoply sends their best agent and his team to investigate and once he begins he will not stop until he finds the truth.
Reynolds further adds to his menagerie of characters and expands his colourful universe, having read all of Reynolds's other "Revelation Space" books its great to see an era that is in the golden age of man kind the but never been visited.
The Prefect stands well as a stand alone book and if you have read the other books in the series it adds another dimension. More please Mr Reynolds!
on 5 June 2007
For me this is without a doubt Reynolds' best work to date. It has the same gritty-space-operate flavour as previous Revelation Space novels, but the pace of the plot is considerably higher and there is less time spent on long introspectives. The Glitter Band pre-melding-plague is a great setting for those who know the series, and the book follows mainly just two plot-strands tracking Dreyfus and his deputy Thalia, so there's not too much to keep tabs on. Overall it reminds me a little of Ian Banks' Player of Games or David Brin's Startide Rising, which is a high standard indeed.
It is the year 2427. The place is the Glitter Band, ten thousand space habitats circling the planet Yellowstone, the golden heart of human space where a multitude of different cultures meet and trade, and a waystop for huge lighthuggers as they slowly traverse the distances between the stars at speeds just below that of light. This is the universe of Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds' critically-acclaimed gothic space opera which has now extended across five novels, two novellas and a short story collection. The Prefect is a stand-alone addition to this excellently-realised future history, taking place approximately a century before the events of Chasm City and Revelation Space itself.
Whilst the planet Yellowstone and its biggest settlement, Chasm City, deal with their own affairs, it falls to the prefects of Panoply to police the vast Glitter Band and its 100 million citizens, who practice the ultimate form of democracy, Demarchism. Every minute dozens of decisions, large and small, are put to the public vote and the people of the Glitter Band spend much of their time engrossed in politics, employing a form of VR known as Abstraction to talk to one another, or choosing to lose themselves in fantastical reflections of the real world. The greatest crime in the Glitter Band is an attempt to deny the will of the people. [...][...]And, as this is a mystery novel, to say any more of the plot would threaten to indulge in spoilers. Suffice to say that the links between The Prefect and the other Revelation Space novels are subtle and numerous. The Prefect in fact occupies a position within its larger series framework similar to the position Steven Erikson's novel Midnight Tides occupies in his Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence: generally a standalone novel, but with equal arguments in favour of reading the book before the others (events in the other novels are clarified by information provided in The Prefect) or afterwards (when the reader understands exactly what will become of this society in the future).
Reynolds is on good form here, although arguably he fails to recapture the immediacy of his finest work, Chasm City. The Prefect is a somewhat more straightforward novel. Although there are several startling, late revelations and plot twists, the reader is in possession of most of the facts reasonably early in the book. Tom Dreyfus also remains a somewhat less complex protagonist then regular Reynolds readers may be used to, but as usual the author has a few aces up his sleeve which force the reader to reassess the character during the novel's conclusion.
In The Prefect Alastair Reynolds executes an enjoyable and extremely fast-paced return to the universe that made his name. The story develops nicely and explodes into a furious page-turning pace in its second half that barely lets up. At the same time Reynolds' ability to conjure up vivid imagery remains intact (one plotline is not for the squeamish or for anyone with a fear of knives), as does his assured grasp of his universe and the remarkable cultures and ideas that make it up. The book is not without its flaws - in particular, those who have already read Absolution Gap and know of Reynolds' fondness for ambiguous endings may be better-prepared for the conclusion than others - and there is perhaps a feeling that we are being set up for a sequel at the end, but these are fairly minor concerns. The Prefect is Reynolds' best novel since at least Redemption Ark, and is an engrossing read.
A prequel to Alastairs much loved Revelation Space novels and one that will more than satisfy the already established fans. As a novel for the uninitiated it opens the gateway to the later tales and will also present a tale that whilst it seems to repeat many themes from Reynolds other novel, will thrill and excite the reader into forgetting about these errors. As an already established fan I can see how Alastair's writing has changed with each novel produced, as such its always good to see how an author tackles an already established history generating a tale, that whilst we know the outcome, will still keep us guessing as to how things will happen to pass. A sign of a good writer.
If you want to know why you should read Reynolds novels over say Star Trek, well lets face it, Star Trek only has the moral best of humanilty, here you get to see mankind in all his honest glory as he has been throughout history and as he is today, a self serving person who may tow the line because it's the right thing to do but if a better offer comes along well who knows. To sum up this book is probably best thought of as a Space Soap Detective tale blending the best of each genre into one giant book of fun.
on 10 August 2009
Having only read two novellas by Alastair Reynolds before beginning this book, I was very eager to sample one of his novels and chose this stand-alone story just in case I didn't find his writing style on a larger canvas to my liking. Now that I've finished this book I can happily concur with other reviewers who have noted how `The Prefect' acts as an ideal starting-point for newcomers to Reynolds.
Although I was ignorant when it came to the make-up of the Glitter Band, Chasm City, Yellowstone and the rest, and how they came into being; thankfully I discovered that a total understanding isn't necessary and Reynolds reveals all that the reader is required to know about these places in relation to the plot as the story progresses. But that isn't to say I wasn't curious and am not still curious about these places and other details, which is why I soon intend to read the earlier books set in Reynolds's `Revelation Space' universe in order to find out precisely how this universe was shaped and all the historical milestones that created this unique futurescape. The one detail that became very clear to me as the novel progressed (although one not explicitly mentioned) was that the planet Yellowstone must be the Earth (I'd guess). But even knowledge such as this isn't integral to an appreciation of the story- the author tells the reader all they need to know, so without any doubt this novel can be appreciated in its own right.
My only qualm with this story (and it's very small indeed) is that on one or two occasions our protagonist Prefect Dreyfus and his colleagues make some completely rudimentary and unlikely errors while dealing with prisoners/suspects, which jars slightly against their otherwise exemplary reasoning & general detective expertise exhibited throughout the course of their investigation. Clearly in these instances the story requires some lax judgment on the part of those in charge; it just mystified me somewhat that Reynolds didn't make more of an effort to present these scenes in a more plausible fashion, one that was more in keeping with the intelligence of the Panoply prefects.
If nothing else, this novel is a master-class in detective fiction, but it also happens to be a breathtakingly detailed, engaging example of science-fiction writing. The dual ability of Reynolds to articulate fascinatingly complex science and enthralling story-lines wrapped up in a gifted narrative style makes reading his work effortlessly enjoyable. `The Prefect' is such a superb example of Reynolds's talent that I doubt I'm alone in finding myself completely under the spell of the Glitter Band and its varied inhabitants.
At the risk of reiterating the responses of other readers to this novel, especially those whose first Alastair Reynolds novel this book represents (as it did mine) I absolutely loved this novel from beginning to end and if the two previous sample novella's from the author I had read & enjoyed previously hadn't sufficiently convinced me to start stocking up on the Reynolds back-catalogue, then `The Prefect' certainly has.
on 7 August 2009
The Prefect was my first foray into the realm of Revelation Space and reading out of sequence doesn't seem to have had an impact on my understanding and enjoyment one bit. The book has bags of pace and focuses on a small set of characters which helps keep the narrative punchy and uncluttered. This is a much better book than 'Century Rain' ( a non-Revelation Space work ), hanging together more satisfyingly.
Fundamentally, The Prefect is a Detective story set in space, overlain with a rich tapestry of interesting technological and philosophical threads. The narrative centres around Field Prefect Tom Dreyfus ( a kind of cop ) who works for Panoply, an emasculated pseudo police force that protects the voting rights of the residents of the Glitter Band ( a collection of ten thousand habitats which orbit the planet Yellowstone four hundred years or so in the future ).
The story kicks of when a habitat is attacked resulting in the death of all of its inhabitants. Panoply sends one of their best agents to investigate and in classic detective tradition, Tom Dreyfus refuses to rest until the mystery is solved and the Glitter Band is saved from what seems to be inevitable destruction. Although set in a fantastical future, Reynolds encourages us to build allegiances with the citizens of the Glitter Band ( the democracy fixated Demarchists ) to such an extent that he is able to portray the enigmatic Conjoiners as the exotic "aliens".
The book didn't take long to read at all, but before I'd reached halfway I went and ordered a batch of Reynolds's other work. In terms of scope and ideational innovation, comparisons with Banks are valid, however, Reynolds is far more accessible, far less literary - this is in turn, both for the better and for the worse. I'd sooner read Reynolds on a beach, but Banks will satisfy the inner literary snob more completely.
There are a couple of one dimensional characters such as Senior Prefect Gaffney, a classic misguided "bad guy" who might have been "good" under other circumstances, but I can forgive the lack of convincing character development and exposition of motive because of the basic, old fashioned entertainment factor. Likewise, the artificial intelligences don't grip the imagination and elicit sympathy like Jane in Orson Scott Card's Enders series for example, but this weakness is made up for by the more modern treatment. Indeed, as a programmer, the ending made me chuckle a little inappropriately ( in a way only a geek can ). Remember, the first law of distributed programming is don't distribute!
Even though it is set in the Revelation Space universe there is a sense in The Prefect that this is Reynolds in sci-fi pulp form rather than the hard literary science-fiction and expansive scale of the other books in the series or of the remarkable Pushing Ice. It does at least mean that the book is certainly more accessible, rarely faltering in pace and managing to hold the reader throughout.
The plot is not an intricate one, although it does initially start out as one kind of police investigation by the Prefect Dreyfus of Panoply (the law-enforcement system or at least the authorities in charge of the upholding of the democratic process of the ten thousand habitats of the Glitter Band), looking into the destruction of one of the habitats and over 900 people and finding that behind it there is a threat on another scale entirely.
With megalomaniacal computer entities, killer robots, invading forces threatening to sweep across the whole of the Glitter Band, internal rivalry, espionage and sabotage, there are plenty of challenges for Drefus and his associate Thalia Ng to face and lots of plot-holes for Reynolds to plug with deus ex-machina devices, but this is still entertaining stuff, if not Reynolds at his best.
Set in the Revelation Space universe but long before the melding plague struck, we get a chance to see the glory (or perhaps the hedonistic pointlessness) of the Glitter Band in its heyday. The story chronicles the evolution of a seemingly simple vote rigging investigation into a massive conspiracy that threatens to overwhelm the Glitter Band and, although this book can be read as a stand-alone novel, some prior knowledge of the earlier Revelation stories is useful. As the plot twists and turns in classic Reynolds fashion, the main protagonists, Prefect Dreyfus and loyal sidekick Sparver, provide a solid Sergeant Vimes / Corporal Carrot base for the complex narrative. Having recently read Redemption Ark, I was a bit puzzled by the reappearance of the Exordium device; it can't be the same one which Galliana uses centuries later so the Conjoiners must have built another one (not impossible, obviously, but I had the impression that there was only one - I'll just have to read Redemption Ark again). I also kept expecting the threat from Aurora to be the melding plague; surely there has to be a book explaining the source of the plague.
Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book; Reynolds has not produced a poor story yet. Set in a consistent hard sci-fi universe carefully plotted and populated with plausible characters, The Prefect adds further depth and solidity to the Revelation universe.
More Alastair Reynolds, now!
on 27 February 2011
This was my first Al Reynolds novel. Having heard so many good things about him, I was a little disappointed by The Prefect, but not enough to stop me trying another of his novels. I mention this because many other reviews describe this as a welcome return to the setting of Revelation Space. The Prefect works well as a standalone, in the sense that I did not feel the text made any assumptions about my knowledge of other Revelation Space stories. On the other hand, I failed to get the buzz that other reader may have experienced from reading a story that gives a new perspective on a much loved earlier set of novels.
I found the plot and the characters rather pedestrian. Not bad but nothing that especially intrigued me. That for me was the essence of my reading experience: competently written but nothing original or notable.
At 512 pages, I felt The Prefect got lost somewhere in the gap between a shorter and more focussed novel of, say, 375 pages and the 'doorstoppers' I relish of 850 pages. There was a long middle section that was largely a police procedural, albeit in an interesting setting, where the plot and characters advanced very slowly. There must have been enough there for me, though, because I did keep reading until the end, and that I did enjoy.
Plenty of other reviewers rate this higher than I did, so I think I will mine some of Reynolds' earlier works.
on 25 April 2007
Whilst the Prefect isn't perfect it did remind me of those good old Asimov Bailey detective novels, which is praise indeed as far as I am concerned.
There are plenty of twists and turns, some of which I anticipated, although I didn't foresee how they would tie in with other parts of the Revelation Space universe. The reader isn't led by the nose through the plot. I had a few 'a-ha' moments as the protagonist pieces the mystery together, something I savour. I'd much rather have this than be screaming at blind supporting characters for fifty pages.
The characters on the whole are well drawn and I found myself wanting to rush onwards and finish the book in a single sitting - which I didn't manage due to time, it took me three visits.
I am eager to see if Al rolls out the main character again in the future as I would love to see more like this if possible. Having just finished Galactic North and Zima Blue my Alastair Reynolds apetite has been quenched for a short while, but sadly I'm going to have to wait for another fix for a while whilst we give him time to write some more delicious morsels for us to devour.
This book now sits proudly next to my other Alastair Reynolds hardbacks on my bookshelf. If you've read him before and liked his stuff make sure you get this book too.