Alastair Reynolds‘ books explore the territory of Hard SciFi. They are crammed with technical detail projected into a distant future. When he mentions ancient protocols I had to think of IPv4 or even IPv6. Are the protocols of the future much different? Maybe, but they must be at least as essential as they are today.
The Prefect is part of the Revelation Space Universe which is located at the Glitter Band above the fictional planet Yellowstone and its capital, Chasm City. The Glitter Band is a loose collection of autonomous living areas called habitats which participate in a united decision-making system which is referred to as polling. The union is administered by so-called Prefects which inhabit a place called Panoply. Prefect Tom Dreyfus is the main character of the book.
Things get interesting when Ruskin-Sartorius, one of the habitats, is destroyed by an engine beam of an Ultra starship. All the former inhabitants die. Tom Dreyfus is tasked to investigate the supposed accident. He finds out about the existence of Aurora, an artificial intelligence which was once a human child which was part of an experiment called The Eighty. She is now in control of a device called Exordium, a machine which can predict the future. She gets hold of the habitats, one after the other, kills the population and creates an army of robots which spread from habitat to habitat.
Earlier, Field Prefect Thalia Ng is tasked to update the polling cores of different habitats. Polling cores are essential for the inter-habitat communication and decision-making. The polling cores get infected which some sort of virus which causes the local servitor bots to turn against the population. The bots kill the inhabitants which is not clear in the beginning but becomes more and more evindent. Time is running out and something must be done to stop Aurora.
Enter Jane Aumonier. Jane is a passionate and wise politician which is widely respected by the population. She got in contact with The Clockmaker, an evil creature, which placed a device in her neck that won’t let her sleep. She literally was awake for years. She also has a team which is tasked to develop strategies to remove the device from her neck (without killing her, of course). One of the hightlights of the book is the description of a therapeutic decapitation of Jane Aumonier by technical means (her body gets reassembled after removing the device).
In the process it becomes evident that only the Clockmaker is capable of stopping Aurora. A team of Prefects is tasked to find the Clockmaker and convince him/it to stop Aurora. This is a great challenge for the team. After lots of fighting, they finally meet the Clockmaker which is a kind of intelligent metal fluid in a plasma reactor. In my opinion this is the weakest part of the book, because I expected something really evil, a powerful beast and not some liquid in a tank. But maybe I’m wrong.
However, the book is really good, interesting and entertaining.