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The Prefect

April 20th, 2009 by jimm wetherbee in Reading EKScursions

The PrefectThe Prefect, by Alastair Reynolds (Ace Books 2008) [B&T Books] PR6068.E95 P74 2008.

Thomas Dreyfus is the Prefect in question. The world of the of The Prefect is a far distant future from ours but is set in the past relative to a number of Reynolds’ tales. This world is actually a band of settled asteroids (often called “Houses”) around a planet known as Yellowstone. This system is know as the Glitter Band. Besides the Glitter Band, there are other systems which are of some concern (the most prominent being the Ultras and the Conjoiners). With one exception, the citizens of the Glitter Band are networked to each other and exchange information and democratic decision making in a process called abstraction. Only members of the asteroid Panoply are excluded from abstraction. Panoply is in charge of keeping the system running and as such must not taint the process by participation. Prefects are the enforcers of Panoply.

As strange as the above summary is, Reynolds is remarkable in his clear presentation of the Tom Dreyfus and the Glitter Band. This is all the more remarkable when one finds the denizens of one House are radically different from that of any other House (one might recall Greg Bear’s Eon on this mark).

It is this very diversity, with its way of pushing what it is to be human to just about every limit, and its massive network need to support abstraction that at first subtlety and then suddenly threatens to bring the Glitter Band down in a system-wide holocaust. The Prefect is more a detective or thriller novel than third-wave science fiction (although it is shot through with that as well), and so it would give away the plot to be too specific about the nature of the threat to the Glitter Band. Still, the play between various human and quasi-human notion of value and one’s place in the universe will stay with the reader even after the loose ends are brought together and order is restored. Loose ends are important to the plot here, though Reynolds is sometimes too clever by half. Still, the corrosion that is silently undermining the Glitter Band is so subtle and the misdirection so thorough that at first, loose ends are the only indication of just what is amiss.

What really carries the plot though is the pace at which disaster accelerates and the maddening intelligence which thwarts our protagonists at every turn, usually just on the edge of a real breakthrough. I tend to be a rather plodding reader– snatching lines, turning back, ruminating here and there–but I found myself racing along trying to keep up in the final sprints of entertaining ride.

jimm wetherbee