Aurora Rising - Alastair Reynolds

Aurora Rising - Alastair Reynolds *****

There are various sides to Alastair Reynolds's work, although personally - with the exception of Pushing Ice - I've yet to find anything that measures up to his initial Revelation Space trilogy of novels (and even there I'm not quite as fond of Chasm City as the other two books). One interesting recent development however is his YA novel Revenger, which seems to be continuing in the forthcoming Revealer, but just as promising is the author's expansion of the Revelation Space universe in his Prefect Dreyfus Emergencies series.

Be warned however, this first book in what is now being extended as a series was originally published in 2008 as The Prefect. At the time, The Prefect didn't strike me as one of Alastair Reynolds's best books, but perhaps that was judging it by the expansive scale and rather more imaginative ideas of the other Revelation Space universe books. The Prefect is more in keeping with the pulp-SF origins of Reynolds's short-fiction and on a level of action and entertainment it was nonetheless a thrilling read. With a new book featuring Prefect Tom Dreyfus on the way in January 2018 - Elysium Fire - it's perhaps worth looking again at The Prefect, now renamed and repackaged as Aurora Rising.

There is at least a good underlying premise for a Prefect Dreyfus series. As the overarching series title 'A Prefect Drefus Emergency', there's something of a criminal investigation and crisis management role to Tom Drefus's position as a prefect for the Panoply law-enforcement agency. Not quite a police force, Panoply are responsible for ensuring that the automated democratic voting process for the hundred million citizens of the ten thousand habitats of the Glitter Band is maintained. The investigation in Aurora Rising starts out with what appears to be a fairly serious but isolated incident - the destruction of Ruskin-Sartorious, a small habitat resulting in the deaths of 960 individuals with Ultra involvement being most likely - but the case soon expands into something on another scale entirely.

On re-reading, Aurora Rising still seems very much a pulp SF book, but it's also perhaps a little more than that. On the one hand you have a habitat of Futurama-like disembodied heads in glass cases, an uprising of killer robots, a parasitic device attached to the neck of the supreme prefect Jane Aumonier that could kill her at any minute and a "psychopathic machine" known as the Clockmaker; there's espionage, sabotage and factional rivalry within Panoply and a global threat to the whole system from an ominous megalomaniacal agency known as Aurora; all of which presents plenty of scope for action and intrigue. On the other hand, Reynolds does indeed expand on some of the darker science-fiction themes that were developed in Revelation Space.

The fate of Philip Lascaille and his encounter with the Shrouders remains an enigma, but it ties in nicely with the activities of the House of Sylveste in their attempts to go beyond the beta-level uploads of personalities to create almost god-like and effectively eternal alpha-level consciousness. Reynolds also comes up with a good overview of how individual habitats function in relation to citizen votes and law and order, and tries to look at how such matters can be resolved when irregularities creep into the system, or indeed when there is an attempt to usurp or corrupt it. All this now seems a little bit premonitory in the light of the US elections and rumours of Russian influence.

What however proves to be the strength of Aurora Rising, and is clearly behind the idea to expand further, is the figure of prefect Tom Dreyfus. He's a no-nonsense character, methodical, officious to a certain degree as a stickler for rules and protocol, but that's because if you can't believe in the integrity of the system then you have nothing. His protege Thalia Ng is very much of the same mindset. What is interesting in Aurora Rising is that these rules are tested to the limit and it becomes clear that there needs to be some flexibility to be able to adapt to extraordinary circumstances. The pulp SF side of the novel ensures that there are plenty of extraordinary circumstances in Aurora Rising, and Reynolds finds a terrific balance between ideas and action that makes this first Inspector Dreyfus outing very entertaining indeed.

Aurora Rising should stand alone to read even if you aren't familiar with the Revelation Space series (it's a long time since I read it), and it's worth re-reading again, even if you just go back and re-read The Prefect. It will be interesting to see where the author takes these ideas in Elysium Fire, but certainly further exploration of the Glitter Band (and beyond) is a very welcome development for anyone who considers the Revelation Space universe to be one of the most interesting science-fiction creations of our times.

Aurora Rising (formerly published as The Prefect) by Alastair Reynolds is published by Gollancz.

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