My life in outer space

The Prefect – Alastair Reynolds (2007)

The Prefect

Reynolds takes us back to about a century before the events of ‘Revelation Space’.
Surrounding the planet ‘Yellowstone’ and its famous Chasm City are the ten thousand orbital habitats known as The Glitter Band in which humanity can choose to explore whatever form of society they wish. The one aspect common to all societies is democracy. All habitats have a polling core via which they can vote on issues within their own small worlds or as part of the ten thousand. Law is maintained by Prefects, based on Panoply.
As much trade is carried on amongst the habitats and intersystem there is also a shoal of conjoiner ships.
Conjoiners, who feature heavily in Reynolds’ first four novels, are a loose network of extreme augmented cyborgs, some looking reasonably human and others quite monstrous.
Dreyfus is a dedicated prefect and his deputy a genetically modified pig. The Supreme Prefect, Jane, was the victim of a rogue artificial intelligence called ‘The Clockmaker’ eleven years previously who placed a biomechanical scarab on her neck before the Clockmaker was contained and destroyed. Since then she has not been allowed to sleep or to have anyone come within a few feet of her.
Suddenly, one of the habitats is destroyed, blasted almost in two by the drive of a conjoiner ship.
Dreyfus is asked to investigate. He begins to suspect that things are not what they seem. There seems no motive for the destruction, and further, a mysterious message sent to the habitat before it was destroyed appears to have originated from Panoply itself.
Whether or not it is deliberate, there is a theme of isolation running through, from the Clockmaker itself, which had to be kept isolated within an electromagnetic cage, to Jane, isolated from her human companions by the scarab on her neck.
Thalia Ng is isolated within Panoply culture as she is the daughter of a traitor and fighting to earn her own reputation.
Gaffney is isolated by the fact that he is working alone for Aurora, a digital copy of a young girl. Then there is Clepsydra, a conjoiner trapped inside an asteroid and forced to feed on her sleeping shipmates.
Dreyfus himself is still mourning the death of his wife, and his closest relationships are with Spaner, who is an augmented pig, Jane Armonier, who can have no physical contact with anyone, and Thalia Ng.
This is of course a prequel to ‘Revelation Space’ and although a wonderful read and a page-turning adventure, lacks the depth and detailed texture of ‘Revelation Space’ and its sequels.
The denouement is a little disappointing with much happening ‘out of sight’.
It does however, present an interesting moral puzzle since Aurora attempts to gain control of the Glitterband in order to prevent a ‘time of plague’, a time which was foreseen (how is not important) by the Conjoiners.
We know from the earlier novels that this is the melding plague. Ultimately Aurora was right, but the reader is left to judge the morality of saving billions of people from disaster by enslaving them.

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