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Review of The Prefect

Title: The Prefect

Author: Alastair Reynolds

Ace, 2007

ISBN 978-0-441-01722-5

Trade paperback, $12.99

563 pages


Reviewed by D. L. Parker

When I read 500+ pages at a single setting, I can guarantee the book’s interesting enough to be worth a significant eyestrain headache. I’ve been on a Brit kick since discovering Neal Asher and his Bond-in-space Cormac novels. Banks was the second I sampled, and Alastair Reynolds, my lucky third. Ow! This headache, though…

“The Prefect” starts as a detective story and expands into a space opera thriller with lashings of super technology. Tom Dreyfus is the Prefect, in other words a cop. For the most part, his department’s business is stamping out election fraud. He and his fellow officers of the Panoply police a huge artificial environment called the Glitter Band.

The Glitter Band is full of hundreds of independent self-governing “habitats”, which can do what they like, so long as it’s by majority vote. Plenty of habitats have voted their citizens into self-destruction, but that’s okay by the Panoply, so long as the vote was clean.

Of course the folks we have to look out for the most are those who intend to save us from ourselves. Here in the US, we remember the Great Mistake that masqueraded as the noble effort to Fight Demon Alcohol. Organized crime never had a better deal.

Dreyfus too has a superior officer─Super Prefect Gaffney─determined to save the citizens from themselves. All Gaffney needs to inspire him is a superhuman benevolence to keep everyone in line. When Gaffney meets his goddess-in-the-machine, he’s found his cause. He’s not sure who or what Aurora really is, but he firmly believes those deluded clichés (you know, The End Justifies the Means, I Know What’s Best for You, etc.). Ah, if only he had a sense of humor.

The story begins with young Thalia, a protégé of Dreyfus, out fixing a fairly routine case of electoral fraud with some software patches. Dreyfus himself is diverted into a more serious investigation. The Ultras, outer-space-dwelling cyborgs none of the baseline humans particularly like, revenged a business deal gone sour by nuking one of the habitats and its nine hundred plus human inhabitants.

Only nothing is as it seems on the surface. Thalia’s simple job turns into the means of destroying the Glitter Band, and the made-for-it-villains, the Ultras, turn out to be victims too. Pretty soon the detective investigation escalates into a war. The past Dreyfus shut away crawls back to bite him, and two monsters of a time no one wants to remember rear their ugly heads. One of them is Super Prefect Gaffney’s goddess-in-the-machine, and the other, the mad machine that killed Dreyfus’ wife…

For the most part this was a great book. Where it failed was in the detective thread. Tom Dreyfus, old and smart and experienced, is too dumb and slow to catch on to clues that hit the reader over the head (i.e., the existence of a traitor in their midst). He fails to catch on until Gaffney has him trussed up like the dunce he is. Similarly, his boss Jane fails to see the light until the smack of the bar’s making stars in her eyes and it’s too late. But wince over the occasional logical lapses (a few in the techno babble too, as reviewer on Amazon rightly points out) and keep going.

That’s not hard. There’s enough thriller in this story to carry you to the climax. Just have a bottle of aspirin and some cold drinks on hand to alleviate the eyestrain of five hundred pages at one sitting. Enjoy!

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