Alastair Reynolds: The Prefect

Dreyfus took in the scene of the crime from the vantage point of a Panoply cutter. It would have been quick, he reflected, but perhaps not fast enough to be either painless or merciful. The habitat was a corpse now, gutted of pressure. When whatever gouged that wound had touched the atmosphere inside the shell, it would have caused it to expand in a scalding ball of superheated air and steam. There’d have been no time to reach shuttles, escape pods or even armoured security vaults. But there’d have been time to realise what was happening. Most people in the Glitter Band didn’t expect to die, let alone in fear and agony.

The Prefect cover

Why I read it

I was grouchy and in need of some escapist fiction. J put this book into my hands.

What it’s about

While this book is set in Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe, it reads fine as a stand-alone book – which is good, because I had absolutely no recollection of having read any others. My own blog proves me wrong, though. Apparently I loved Revelation Space.

The Prefect is a pretty great detective-story-in-space. Dreyfus is the eponymous Field Prefect in the police-like organisation Panoply, which administers the voting rights (and otherwise the full independence) of each of 10,000 diverse habitats called the Glitter Belt that orbit the planet Yellowstone. But two seemingly unrelated events – a case of voting fraud and the violent destruction of a habitat – send Dreyfus and his junior officer Thalia into an investigation that ultimately involves high-level corruption in Panoply, elements of Dreyfus’s missing past, and a fight for the safety of the entire Glitter Belt against powerful, mysterious enemies.

What I thought

It’s a good book. But my feelings are less effusive than last time. Perhaps it’s because I’ve read many of the Culture novels since then, but the intelligence and structure of the Glitter Band’s democracy and policing underwhelmed me. I spent a lot of time feeling frustrated with Panoply as an organisation, and various Prefects as individuals, for making what seemed to be naive or disastrously stupid decisions.

Crissel going on the ill-fated rescue mission to Thalia was a particular low point – is Panoply really so understaffed that he was their best option? The wisdom of allowing Jane to continue as head of the organisation when she’s been compromised by a poorly-understood implant designed by a hostile intelligence was another questionable state of affairs. And the general shemozzle regarding Gaffney and his corrupt cohort – well, it gets revealed that at least 1% of Panoply (about 10 out of 1000 staff) have been acting rogue for the last 15 years or so without the organisation being aware of it, or it even registering at the end of the story as a major systematic problem for Panoply that needs to be fixed. Not to mention that the Good Guys like Dreyfus can’t even stop Gaffney continuing to wreak major destruction once he’s in custody.

Apart from that – it was a good page-turner with interesting original ideas, particularly the different Glitter Band habitats we get to see through Thalia’s eyes. Shame about Panoply though. One of the Culture Minds really needs to come in, sack everyone and give the whole Epsilon Eridani system a fresh start.

This book was mostly read on the couch
Featured image by Enrico Ferrarini


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