A great audiobook consists of two needed ingredients, one obviously being the story itself, the second being (also obviously) the narrator. As to the story, Reynolds is among the best writers of sf I’ve had the pleasure to encounter. The Prefect is the first of two novels involving Tom Dreyfus, Prefect for the Panoply, the law enforcement service that oversees matters in the Glitter Band. That’s the ten thousand orbital habitats circling the planet Yellowstone in the Epsilon Eridani system, and the height of human civilization at the time (some four centuries from now), a civilization richly detailed by the author in sometimes excruciating detail.
(If you’ve not read the other novels in this series, to wit Revelation Space, Chasm City, Redemption and Absolution Gap, I advise you read or listen to The Prefect novels first as they do contain spoilers.)
The Panoply ostensibly exists to oversee polling, the constant consent that citizens of the habitats give to the governance of these communities. Panoply gets involved in a case where the polling for one habitat has been tampered with; that habitat gets lockdown (banned from all contact with the rest of system-wide humanity) and Panoply has to patch the polling code for the entire Glitter Band.
Something goes horribly wrong. An alpha level intelligence that has engineered a crisis takes over four habitats that get the patch first with the intent to remake the Glitter Band to its needs. Need I say humanity isn’t high on its list of things it cares about?
Reynolds has created a believable setting that is neither dystopian nor utopian though many of the characters think it’s the latter. Each habitat is fleshed out as one of the characters interacts with it such as the one where sleeping to dream required a horrifying decision to be made; another habitat earns needed revenue by advising lobbyists on how a given vote in the Glitter Band is likely to go.
Panoply itself is fascinating, as on paper it derives all its power from the Glitter Band inhabitants who are polled before they can carry weapons except their whip hounds (semi-sentient devices that can do a lot of needed tasks) outside of the Panoply habitat. I must note I was puzzled by the fact that Panoply had a very large stockpile of nuclear weapons, as Reynolds didn’t explain why they exist.
To tell any more would be to spoil the story that runs now across six novels and a number of shorter works. The story herein is told quite brilliantly with characters such as Tom Dreyfus being well-crafted, as are the other principal characters. The major antagonist beyond the alpha level intelligence is believable and completely obsessed in the rightness of his actions no matter how unpleasant they are.
John Lee, who narrates, is perhaps my favorite male narrator. His work on China Mieville’s The City & The City is the audiobook I’ve listen to the most. He has unique voices for each character, which allows me to recognize them from his voicing.
Bravo to author and narrator alike. If you like science fiction written with intelligence and that feels quite original – a neat trick in that crowded field – do give this your attention as I feel you won’t be disappointed.
(Hachette Audio, 2018)