Off the Bookshelf: The Prefect, Big Ships, Things from the Flood

I’m making slow progress on my Winter 2018-19 reading list, partially because I’m still working my way through Getting Things Done and mostly because I got Civilization 6 for Christmas.

Nothing devours time like a Civilization game. Nothing.

That said, “slow progress” isn’t “no progress” and while I haven’t been reading at my summer pace, I did finish a few books on my list.

The Prefect

I accidentally read the sequel to this book, Elysium Fire, as part of my 2018 Summer Reading list. That wasn’t a big problem; the book stood fine on its own and I was already familiar with Alastair Reynolds’ larger “Revelation Space” universe. That said, I wanted to go back and see what I missed. I’m glad I did; The Prefect complements Elysium Fire beautifully. Like the follow-up, it’s set in the Yellowstone star system amidst the 10,000 human space habitats (aka giant space stations) that comprise the Glitterband. In later books, the Glitterband has fallen into ruin because of a technological plague, but in these books, it’s still a shining example of humanity at its best.

The story revolves around Prefect Dryfus and his deputies. They work for Panoply, the closest thing that the Glitterband has to a police force. They are charged with investigating crimes related to the system’s ultra-democratic voting process and as the book opens they’re just finishing up minor voting fraud case. That setup may sound dry, but things quickly get complicated in ways that combine space opera, military sf, rampant artificial intelligence, posthuman ethics, and a touch of post-human horror.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

Alex White’s A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is a curious mixup of space opera and fantasy arcana, with a dash of military SF thrown in. I missed the “magic” bit when I was adding it to my Christmas wish list, and I was surprised when I read the first few pages in the book and discovered that a high-speed, high-tech racer was also an arcane engineer capable of bonding with her machine through spells.

It’s trippy and a little disconcerting if you’re expecting straight-up space opera, but as I settled into the book I found I enjoyed the hybrid approach, with a starship captain who protects his ship with summoned magical shields, technomancers who can speak to their technology, and the mundane pilot who’s one of the few without magical abilities (and suffers for it).

The book revolves around the quest for the Harrow, the book’s namesake starship. Wielding enough power to devastate planets, the Harrow rests … somewhere. The crew of the Capricious seeks to find it, aided by the aforementioned spell-less Boots as well as famous racer Nilah. They are pursued by Mother, a powerful wizard wielding powerful magic and commanding tremendous resources. She’s backed up by a secret society with its own mysterious aims.

It’s a fun read for cold winter nights.

Things from the Flood

The follow up from Tales from the Loop is grungier and more melancholy than its predecessor. That’s entirely appropriate given its set in the 1990s. The Loop – the high energy research facility in rural Sweden and the focus of the prior book – is shut down. Unemployment, divorce and angsty teenagers stalk the land, as do stranger things that escaped The Loop when it was flooded.

Simon Stålenhag’s signature art style returns, featuring realistic-looking landscapes and close up slices of life peppered with feral robots, horrific mutations, and the occasional dinosaur. Whereas Tales from the Loop had a very 1980s, Stranger Things sort of vibe to it, this book this book has an early-1990s, pre-Internet boom feel. Like the namesake flood, the optimism of the 1980s has receded, leaving behind wreckage and ruin.

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Cover art for The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds.

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