Gollancz | 2018 (25 January) | c.460p | Review copy | Buy the book
I’m sure I’m not the only Alastair Reynolds fan to be thrilled that Prefect Tom Dreyfus has returned to duty, policing the polling democracy of the Glittering Band colonies that ride the orbit of the planet Yellowstone. Elysium Fire is the second so-called ‘Prefect Dreyfus Emergency’ following on from The Prefect, which was first published in 2007 and recently reissued as Aurora Rising in November 2017. It’s a fair few years since I read The Prefect but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of Elysium Fire. There are hints in this book of what went before, as well as returning characters, but I think Elysium Fire can be enjoyed as a stand alone with no trouble at all.
I’m a huge fan of Alastair Reynolds’ novels that take us into Revelation Space and the Prefect emergencies take us back into the history of the Yellowstone system, before the melding plague turned the Glitter Band into the Rust Belt. The countless democracies of the Glitter Band are controlled by the ability of their citizens, through their brain implants, to vote in limitless polls. Unfortunately, those implants are now causing the brains of some of these citizens to melt and the Prefects have worked out that, at this rate of increase, in a few months or years not a soul will be left alive.
This alarming news coincides with the emergence of Devon Garlin, an evangelical speaker who is touring the Glitter Band, preaching against the Prefects and urging the settlements to break away from their control. It’s working. Dreyfus takes it personally, especially as Garlin seems to keep popping up wherever Dreyfus is, and he’s determined to silence him, even if it interferes with his duties to discover the truth behind the malfunctioning or sabotaged implants. He has two proteges, though – Thalia Ng and the hyper-pig Spaver, both of whom are soon deeply immersed in fighting arguably the greatest threat ever to face the Prefect world. The dangers are immense and the path they are taken on is twisty, surprising and dark.
Elysium Rising is a pleasingly complex novel, with several storylines co-existing and affecting the others. It moves between two tales in particular – one as it affects the Prefects and the other, which involves the upbringing of two extraordinary boys within an isolated geodome. All we know for sure is that the two stories will coincide at some point.
For me, though, there are two highlight of this novel and one is its characters. Dreyfus is a fascinating figure. There’s something rather dark about him. History has not been kind to Dreyfus. But this novel doesn’t, for me, have a ‘space noir’ mood about it, despite the cloud that follows Dreyfus about. And that’s probably because of the other Prefects Ng and Spaver. I loved them both – their heroism and bravery as well as their quirkiness.
The other aspect of the novel I loved is its technology. The Prefects are armed with whiphounds, incredible, almost sinister snake-like robotic truncheons or whips that assist with policing, especially crowd control, even surgery. You would not want to get on the wrong side of one of these, especially if you value your limbs at all. They have a life of their own in this novel and are so vividly described. I was also intrigued by the beta-level simulations of the dead that don’t quite understand what happened to their living bodies. And all of this exists within the Glitter Band. I’d have liked to have seen more of it but this is largely a character- and action-led novel. Having read most of the other Revelation Space novels, I know what is to come for Yellowstone and the Glitter Band. That sense of foreboding adds a certain something…
The list of reviews below suggest what a thrill a new Alastair Reynolds novel is for me and Elysium Fire started my new reading year off in fine form (this was the first novel I read in 2018). I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Dreyfus and his other Prefects again in the future facing another emergency, not least because of the tantalising glimpses we’re given of something else, much larger, that threatens from the shadows.
Blue Remembered Earth (Poseidon’s Children 1)
On the Steel Breeze (Poseidon’s Children 2)
Poseidon’s Wake (Poseidon’s Children 3)
With Stephen Baxter – The Medusa Chronicles
Beyond the Aquila Rift