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Literature / The Prefect

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The Prefect is a trilogy, of which two books Aurora Rising (2008), originally a standalone novel titled The Prefect, and Elysium Fire (2018) have so far been published, by Alastair Reynolds. It is set within his "Revelation Space" universe. Chronologically, it occurs before the main series and functions as a prequel, fleshing out the backstory of the fictional future history.

It is the Belle Epoque, the peak of human society. Around the planet Yellowstone a ring of ten thousand orbital habits called "The Glitter Band" is known far and wide. Each habitat is a society unto itself, with its own rules and culture. Uniting them is the political philosophy of democratic panarchy, where the one and only universal law is that no citizen be denied the right to vote. Thus, the Glitter Band contains a myriad of possible human cultures, ranging from idyllic egalitarians who consciously limit the use of technology, Matrix-style worlds where everyone is plugged into a virtual world, and “voluntary tyrannies”, where citizens live under hellish regimes and have virtually no rights - aside, of course, from the right to vote.


The closest thing to a governing agency is the Panoply, a quasi-police force whose main purpose is to investigate and prevent voting fraud. Despite having authority that’s limited by the voting will of the people, the Panoply wields enormous power in the Glitter Band, able to cut-off “abstraction” (Augmented Reality that most citizens rely on) to any habitat that decides to go rogue, neutering them. Though many Glitter Band citizens dislike the idea of the Panoply, most agree that the agency is necessary to maintain and protect the utter freedom that their democratic panarchy represents.

During a sting operation on a vote-manipulating scam, Tom Dreyfus, a high-ranking Field Prefect, discovers a loophole in a habitat’s polling core logic. Realizing that other habitats could take advantage of the same loophole, he tasks his rookie partner Thalia Ng to install an emergency code fix across the Glitter Band. Meanwhile, he is dispatched to investigate the destruction of a habitat called Ruskin-Sartorious. Habitat destruction is a rare and serious occurrence, but it appears that Ruskin-Sartorious was hiding something. Something so monstrous, someone was willing to destroy the habitat to hide it.


This book provides examples of:

  • Asteroid Thicket: Subverted. The Glitter Band is actually made of space stations and hollowed out asteroids and was constructed. Also, though it resembles a ring from a distance, the individual habitats are several kilometers apart from each other at the closest.
  • Bio-Augmentation: A fact of life, along with cybernetic enhancements such as neural implants. Kept to a minimum, for the most part. Conjoiners, for example, have spliced in chimpanzee muscle fibers into their bodies to give them superior strength. The extreme end of this are the "Ultras", a society of merchants who perform drastic and sometimes grotesque modifications to their bodies, often purely for aesthetic reasons.
  • Brain Uploading: Common in the timeline of the story, though there are many references to "The Eighty"-as in, the first group of people to upload their consciousness, who all died when their scans were corrupted due to the infancy of the technology. The main antagonist, Aurora, turns out to be the sole survivor of The Eighty. She did not get corrupted, but instead her mind was warped by the process and she became something other than human....
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  • Containment Field: Used to keep The Clockmaker imprisoned.
  • Cult Colony: These are a dime-a-dozen in the Glitter Belt.
  • Eviler Than Thou: The Clockmaker vs. Aurora. The latter is evil, the former is just bad, insane and bent on vengeance... maybe.
  • The Evils of Free Will: The ultimate cause of Gaffney's betrayal, after seeing how horrendous some of the voluntary tyrannies were.
  • Explosive Leash: Inverted: Jane Aumonier, the Supreme Prefect, must not get within 10 meters of anybody or the mechanical scarab on the back of her neck (courtesy of the Clockmaker) will kill her.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Panoply resorted to nuking habitats in order to stop their infestation by Aurora’s machines, killing hundreds of thousands of the Glitter Belt citizens.
  • Holding Back the Phlebotinum: The Panoply has extremely powerful weapons, but due to their democratic ideals, will not use them unless they put it to a vote and the Glitter Band to allows them to use them.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Clockmaker
  • Invisibility Cloak: Used by Gaffney to hide a body after he frames Dreyfus for murder.
  • It Runs in the Family: The general scrutiny of Thalia’s career is due to people’s fear of this. Her father was found guilty of corruption, and thus she’s had a particular tough time being accepted as a competent cadet due to this trope.
  • Killer Robot: The Clockmaker though it’s later revealed to be a deranged Man in the Machine who was altered by the Eldritch Abomination Invisible Aliens.
    • And the utility robots on board the habitat where Thalia ends up stranded, who start massacring the inhabitants wholesale to convert them into material to kick the factories into overdrive and create Aurora's tanks.
  • Losing Your Head: Happens to Jane Aumonier, to get rid of the scarab. Luckily, with the future technology, she gets better.
  • Meat Puppet: The Clockmaker does this late in the novel, controlling a recently-deceased body and fooling several people.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The Supreme Prefect, before Jane, committed suicide after “The Clockmaker Incident”.
    • Later, Jane and several senior prefects have this reaction after they start nuking habitats in order to stop the spread of Aurora’s machines, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens.
  • Rushmore Refacement: in the abandoned Amerikano base, Dreyfus sees some scenic panoramas, including
    "a rock face carved with enormous stone likenesses: eight vast heads, the fifth and seventh of which were women."
  • The Sleepless: The scarab on Jane’s neck, in addition to killing her if she gets within 10 meters of any person, will also kill her if she falls asleep. She’s been forced to use powerful drugs to keep herself awake... for eleven years straight.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian - Gaffney
  • Turn Out Like Her Father: Thalia fights this perception. She’s had to face a lot more scrutiny that most Prefects because of her father’s infamous corruption charge and subsequent shameful suicide.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Happens to Thalia, when her polling core upgrade turns out to be a virus that allows The Big Bad to take over several habitats. Slightly subverted in that Thalia, being naturally cautious, only installed the code in a few habitats as a test, as opposed to sending the update system-wide, as is standard procedure. This prevents The Big Bad from taking over in one fell swoop.
  • Was Once a Man: Aurora and The Clockmaker.
  • Weaponized Exhaust: Ruskin-Sartorius is destroyed by an Ultra's ship exhaust.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Gaffney, who betrays Panoply but honestly believes what he’s doing is ultimately moral.
    • Though he passes the Moral Event Horizon when he murders a prisoner in cold blood because they were going to reveal his treachery, and his actions later in the novel paint him as quite the Smug Snake.