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on 30 June 2015
The galaxy spanning ‘space opera’ is a favourite term among marketeers of science fiction at the moment, probably because it promises Star Wars possibilities, suggests thickness and is in no way operatic whatsoever. Marketeers are this century’s great illusionists—Houdini had nothing on them.

Alastair Reynolds’s The Prefect, despite what the cover plug says, is anything but galatic, or operatic. It doesn’t cross light years like his other Revelation Space novels. It doesn’t even cross genres. The Prefect is a sci-fi crime thriller, with a dash of horror thrown in—not a ‘space opera’. Largely set in a single location, the title Prefect is Dreyfus, a man with A Past who is an investigator of sorts. He isn’t charged with protecting and serving the 110 million citizens of the Glitter Band—10,000 tamed space-rocks-turned-habitats in orbit around Yellowstone, one of the first planets to be settled outside of the First System—but upholding the Demarchist voting system that underpins the whole society.

The Demarchists, the Glitter Band and Yellowstone, as well as the Ultras (chimerics) and Conjoiners (think The Faculty but with nanobots and free will), are among the big ideas that the cover line is using to pigeon-hole this novel. A galaxy full of human factions separated by light years whose infrequent tussles with alien lifeforms threaten their survival—what should we call that? It’s a sci-fi crime thriller. With horrible parts. The big ideas are important, but they’re background noise to the central arc of the story—people die, society’s closest thing to a police force investigates, story unfolds–which Reynolds pulls off with aplomb, almost.

The crime elements are well played and plentiful without feeling generic. A habitat that is home to almost a million people is blown to pieces, killing everyone onboard. Dreyfus and his pig—yes, that joke is a good one—deputy try to find out what happened, and why. The prefects interview their only witnesses, computer simulations of real people, discover a prime suspect nailed to his own spaceship, all the while the lead character’s Past haunts him from afar. Where The Prefect excels is taking crime elements and glorying in their evolution and development. Where Chandler might misdirect, Reynolds reveals early on the identities of the main antagonists, because their power is so incomprehensible that anonymity wouldn’t do them much good.

Most of the leads are also well put together, with Dreyfus the perfect professional despite His Past, Sparver the wise cracking deputy and partner, and Supreme Prefect Jane Aumonier, the respected commander who happens to have an an alien artefact attached to her body that will kill her if she falls asleep. These and a few others push the story forwards, but they are tediously consistent save for one particular prefect who cannot be named because of spoilers. There’s little in the way of development or change where these men and women are concerned, pale as they do in comparison to the wonders around them.

Science is Reynolds’s bag—he used to work for the European Space Research and Technology Centre—and he uses it strictly here. Harcore science fiction, is what the full-time nerds call it. That’s sci-fi that’s true to accepted theory. This is best epitomised in the Revelation Space universe by the lighthuggers, which are interstellar spacecraft that can almost travel at the speed of light, because accepted theory has it that nothing can travel as faster than light. Despite what sceptics might consider to be a limitation, not pushing his imagination beyond physics as we currently understand it, Reynolds casts his net wide, creating the human factions, revelling in the possibilities of nanotechnology, and much more besides. A particular treat are the alien species, represented in spectacular fashion in The Prefect with the Clockmaker.

The hardcore sci-fi is also the biggest drawback in The Prefect, in large parts, because Reynolds hasn’t quite mastered where, when and how to place it. Where a conversation between characters is used to explain how a habitat will be sabotaged to escape a slowly approaching threat, Reynolds would’ve been better off using the character’s mind’s eye. The poor pacing of this overly technical conversation slows the whole story down, so much so that these passages can be skipped without missing much.

The Prefect is a solid crime mystery set in a universe of big but plausible ideas. It falters in its pacing and poor character development. But neither detract from what is a thoroughly enjoyable story set a in world that demands plenty more acts.
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on 13 August 2008
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.
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on 18 March 2010
The Prefect is one of those books which grabbed me and wouldn,t let go. Its been over twenty years since I enjoyed a sci-fi novel and despite trying various authors in that time I was always left at least slightly dissapointed. Alastair Reynolds has given us a gem which as far as i,m concerned is a seriously good novel regardless of genre. Believable, likeable characters and a storyline that keeps you guessing without being overly confusing. The plot cleverly knits itself together and you find the pages seem to be turning themselves despite wishing there was at least another 500 to go at! This guy will have you contemplating the future and also drawing parallels with our society today..he,s obviously a deep thinker who has the gift to relay his thoughts in a very user friendly manner. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys a story with plenty of intrigue..dont let the sci-fi label put you off, its much more than that.
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on 14 May 2017
Possibly the poorest of he Revelation series so far. Some good plotting, but one plot line just dragged and dragged. I hear a sequel is in the offing?, I will probably read this also as I just love the setting and complex world of shifting alliances that Reynolds has created.
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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!
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on 7 April 2015
Excellent world builder. This is a fine example of the small detective story getting into larger and larger conspiracies. People win, lose and die, sometimes unexpectedly. A bit discursive here and there, but you forgive that when the story is so big yet so intricate and intelligent.
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on 21 May 2014
I am a big fan of Alistair Reynolds and so, I suppose biased. I enjoy his style and his story lines and the story telling is always of a very high standard. I know other readers like to dig very deep into plots and meanings but I just enjoy a good story in this genre, so I have always been happy to read his work.
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on 21 January 2010
It's Colombo. Or maybe Kojak. In space. A very long time in the future. Our hero Dreyfus et al take off into a plot that just keeps on going and going - and it's absolutely terrific. It sets out the eventual demise of the Glitter Band and it's probably the Alastair Reynolds book I can most imagine being turned into a screenplay (it's true - I can). Just a shame Sparver wasn't involved a bit more but overall - great. One of the best sc-fi books I have ever read.
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on 19 November 2011
An enjoyable romp typical of Reynolds. I love his concepts and his characters, and the Revelation Space universe is so interesting, with all the disparate groups of humanoids and AIs. I don't always like how he treats his characters, but nothing to complain about really this time. The Clockmaker was great; more terrifying than the Aurora persona. I hope it comes up again sometime. The main bad guy was a bit cliched, but other than that, very satisfying.
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on 6 October 2012
This book drags a bit at times, but is otherwise sound. It fills in a number of gaps in the other Revelation Space books whilst delivering an absorbing read. There are the usual cast of less than nice characters mixed with some that you develop some sympathy for. Those unfamiliar with the RS series may get slightly lost at times re the tech discussed, but if you bear with it most things get some explanation.
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