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August 6, 2007 | by  | in Books |
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The Prefect

Astrophysicist turned science fiction writer Alistair Reynolds is best known for his Revelation Space series – sweeping, galaxy-spanning affairs, with action occurring over multitudes of light years. The narrative wanders between the points of view of all of the fractured elements of humanity, and beyond – the scheming, near immortal Ultras, the super intelligent hive mind of the Conjoiners, the teeming masses of ordinary humans, and the ancient, ruthless Inhibitors which are stalking them all.

Unfortunately, The Prefect, Reynolds’ first full length novel since the stand-alone sci-fi thriller Pushing Ice, has almost none of these attributes, and reads more like a B-grade crime novel set in orbit than the space- operas Reynolds is admired for writing.

It does, however, share characteristics with many operas of the musical variety – the unconvincing storyline, ragged plot, underdeveloped characters, and predictable deus ex machina finale – all of which make it a disappointing addition to Reynolds’ thus far successful future history.

Set around 100 years prior to the events of Revelation Space, the story begins with an investigation into a mass-murder, the guilty parties of which are decidedly not what they seem (gosh, whoever would have thought). Tasked with unraveling the intrigues and underhanded goings-on is Tom Dreyfus, a grizzled, world-weary cop, who, when not tied up with endless amounts of paperwork, battles with the fact that he can’t seem to remember whether he killed his wife eight years ago.

Along the way Dreyfus and his trusty partners Thalia (beautiful, computer expert, troubled family history) and Sparver (loyal, not too smart, good in a fire fight) encounter rogue machine intelligences, crooked cops, killer robots, and an attempt to overthrow democracy! Naturally, Dreyfus overcomes all of these obstacles with gruff humour and grim determination. His propensity for taking the law into his own hands is justified in the end when he saves the day, while only sacrificing the lives of a few million civilians (all for the greater good, of course).

Reynolds has a demonstrated talent for combining elements of noir and hardboiled crime thriller with his science fiction, Chasm City and Century Rain being excellent examples. Unfortunately The Prefect misses the mark, and the insight it provides into the history of the Revelation Space universe fails to make up for the predictable outcome and shallow characters.

ALISTAIR REYNOLDS

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