The Prefect, Alistair Reynolds (US:Ace/UK: Gollancz)

Cover of "The Prefect"

Cover of The Prefect

 Grade: A (great book, must read regardless of what genres you enjoy.  Makes you think of things beyond the scope of the book)

 In Brief:

The Prefect is a stand alone novel and the most recent offering by Reynolds in his Revelation Space Universe.  It is also arguably his best novel to date.  It is effectively a police story with political ramifications that build upon the complex backdrop of his dark setting. With believable characters and the kind of realistic technology that one can expect from a former scientist with the European Space Agency, this book fully engaged me throughout. 


Set before the events that define the majority of that series, most of the story takes place in the Glitterband, a loose union of confederated space stations that orbit the planet of Yellowstone.  The crowning achievement of the ‘Demarchists‘ (democratic-anarchists), the Glitterband and Chasm City (the main settlement on the planet) are governed by a complex form of direct technologically dependent anarchistic democracy.  The eponymous Prefects are the enforcing organization that ensure the voting system is kept fair and above boards. Though not directly part of the main ‘Inhibitor’ story arch that defines the Revelation Space Universe, The Prefect is loosely linked into it, giving even greater depth to this dark world.  I suspect this will form the foundation of a new series.

 In Depth:

The story follows Prefect Tom Dreyfus and his two subordinates as they gradually uncover a plot set at overthrowing this anarchistic confederation. This is nothing new to the intrepid policemen, whose jobs are dominated by groups trying to influence the technology that controls the voting system, but this time the threat is greater than they have ever encountered before. As the story unfolds, layers within the conspiracies are uncovered and Dreyfus and his people are forced to choose which of several evils is the least threatening to the Yellowstone and its way of life.

 For those who have not the other books set in this universe, there is no need to do so; it stands alone on its own and is likely the start of a new series in its own right.  For those who are already fans of his work, this book builds upon its strengths and plays beautifully into his rich and complex ‘verse.

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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11 Responses to The Prefect, Alistair Reynolds (US:Ace/UK: Gollancz)

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    I’ve never read an Alistair Reynolds book (I tend to read 1950s/60s/70s sci-fi primarily). Should I start here?

    • Thomas Evans says:

      You can. This is a stand alone book, and so you can enjoy it on its own. It occurs chronologically first in his Revelation Space Universe, so it should float. Below, I’ve listed the order of the books by which they were published, followed by their chronological sequence. Ties are simultaneous and Galactic North contains stories that both pre and post date the series (I’d read it last):
      Revelation Space (2)
      Chasm City (2)
      Redemption Ark (4)
      Absolution Gap (5)
      Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Rain (two novellas) (3)
      Galactic North (Short Story Collection) (0 to 10)
      The Prefect (1)

      Having said that, the only ones you really need to read in order are Revelation Space, Redemption Ark and the Absolution Gap. The rest are stand alones.

      Hope you enjoy them!

  2. angelarimali says:

    How does Reynolds compare to Banks? I loved the Use of Weapons (boy you weren’t kidding when you said it was dark) and reading Consider Phlebas, which is very cool.

    Is Reynolds similar to Banks? I see you’ve given both Alpha ratings.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      Well, they are both British and what I’d define as post-colonial “New Space Opera” writers. They also both frequently use Epionage elements in their stories. Beyond that, however, I think they are quite different.

      Reynolds writes much “harder” science fiction than Banks. His science is based on fact which is in part explained, while Banks’ works seldom explain how the tech works (beyond it is a Handwavium drive).

      Reynolds is also much grittier, both in his writing style and in the worlds he portrays. Banks has a more lyrical style of writing, and his world is filled with super smooth Ultra-tech normally taking the forefront.

  3. Joachim Boaz says:

    If you could, please define “post-colonial New Space Opera” — haha 🙂

    tangentially —

    Ian McDonald’s work (especially River of Gods) has always struck me as emblematic of “post-colonial” sci-fi — i.e. the collapse of empire and hence, the continued effects of the distant colonial legacy.

    In that sense I’m confused about your definition — since, we are still talking about monumental empires and cultures thus, in no way “post-colonial.”

  4. Joachim Boaz says:

    OBVIOUSLY, post-colonial is a notoriously slippery word 😉

  5. Thomas Evans says:

    Sorry for the delay… but boy THAT was a good question!

    In this case, I’m not referring to the authors’ created worlds as being postcolonial, but the authors themselves (or at least the style they are writing in).

    Postcolonialism is a subset of post modernism that generally addresses the aftermath of colonialism. Within the realm of literature, it tends to focus on very dark tales that frequently condemn the colonial past of European (and/or Euro-originated) cultures. Even when these stories don’t openly condemn colonialism, they normally show the negative ramifications to both the colony and the core of the Imperial state. As a sub-genre of post-modernism, they also frequently turn the classical nature of tales on their heads, making heroes out of traditional villains and visa versa.

    Examples range from such obvious examples as the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (all of them that I have read anyway) and Matthew Kneal’s The English Passengers (2000; Penguin Books), to those of to less obvious examples such as George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series (HarpurCollins) and even A. S. Wyatt’s Possession (Vintage, 1990).

    In most literary fiction, the stories perform direct critique of colonialism and/or the Imperial periods. In Speculative Fiction, however, the fantastical nature of the worlds allow the authors to be much more subtle in their commentary. Indeed, it frequently allows them to leave more to the interpretation of the reader, and create more ‘grey areas’ in their commentary. Thus, Banks’ Culture is clearly imperialist in nature, but its very open society makes one question whether or not Empire can ever be a good thing.

    Another element common to many post-colonial stories is that they tell the stories from multiple viewpoints whose interconnection is not obvious at the beginning of the book. As the book progresses the various plot lines of the characters begin to merge until a single story is clear. While this technique is not confined to post-colonial fiction, it is quite prevalent within it, and as with other post-post modern stories, can result in the creation of multiple protagonists’ with no single “main character” within the book.

    One suggested reason for the frequent use of this technique in Postcolonial works is that it allows the authors to avoid the single authoritative voice symbolic of Empire. Another suggests it results from the impact of television on the writers and attempts to put it into a post-colonial framework is a bunch of hooey.

    Much like this overly long responce….

  6. Joachim Boaz says:

    Thanks so much!

    As a historian (and a medieval one at that!) my knowledge of what is post-colonial does not cover its seemingly rather broader literary definitions.

  7. Thomas Evans says:

    Medieval historian eh? That’s all modern stuff if you ask me. : )

  8. Joachim Boaz says:

    … so says the archaeologist 😉

    The earliest I go is Late Antiquity.

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