Aurora Rising by Alastair Reynolds (book review).

It always seems like a strange decision to change the title of a book, even if it is being reissued ten years after its original publication. ‘The Prefect’ was the original title of this book when it debuted in 2007. It may not have sounded as exciting as the current one, ‘Aurora Rising’, but it does encapsulate the essence of the book. While a publisher may provide a variety of logical reasons for the change, the new title may confuse readers, particularly those who are enthusiastic about Alastair Reynolds’s work, as it suggests a new novel. Granted, there is a label on the cover stating the original title, but that still doesn’t excuse it.

‘Aurora Rising’ takes place in the same universe as the ‘Revelation Space’ series. Those familiar with the series will know that in this distant future, there are three kinds of people: baseline humans who are relatively unchanged from current stock; ultras who have elected to enhance their bodies and brains with hardware; and conjoiners who live in a mentally connected state with others of their kind. Yellowstone is the planet on which Chasm City is the population center. The Glitter Band, comprising ten thousand habitats, orbits around it. Each habitat is different. Some citizens have opted to live in a permanent vegetative state in their habitat. Others have chosen a tyranny, a democracy, or a theocracy. If enough people want a particular lifestyle, they can have it. All, however, have the right to vote. Panoply and its prefects are in charge of overseeing and policing the Glitter Band’s habitats.

Tom Dreyfus is a field prefect. We first meet him when his team is enforcing a lockdown in one of the habitats for polling fraud. They are disconnecting from the band-wide communication network. The case has exposed a loophole, prompting Thalia Ng to offer her assistance in installing the new software in four habitats. As she embarks, the engines of an Ultra ship destroy a habitat, triggering another crisis. Then Thalia’s upgrade triggers a takeover by Aurora, an alpha-level simulation. The entire Glitter Band is now under threat, and its citizens are facing death. Dreyfus’ investigations bring him closer to Aurora, but at a crucial moment, they arrest him on suspicion of murder.

Characters also crucial to the unfolding of the narrative include Sparver Bancal, Dreyfus’ deputy. He is a hyperpig, a genetically modified, intelligent being who, although thoroughly trusted by Dreyfus, does meet some prejudice. Jane Aumonier serves as the supreme prefect. Nothing can come within three and a half meters of her confinement in the center of the room, or else the mechanism around her neck will kill her. An entity known as the clockmaker deposited this object there eleven years ago. Despite the assumption of its destruction, the clockmaker appears to have indirectly caused the next crisis.

The plot’s threads lead back to a number of previous incidents, whose consequences come together at this junction in time to exacerbate the crisis. To complicate matters, Dreyfus must face the consequences of his own past actions, and there is a traitor within Panoply determined to thwart him.

Although the Ultras and Conjoiners only play a small part in this story, their presence is critical to unraveling the complex situation. Reynolds expertly weaves together the elements of his plot. He brings out the characteristics of Dreyfus and his colleagues, showing their failings as well as their strengths. They make mistakes, and some are misguided in their beliefs. There are even hints of sympathy for those who have chosen the wrong side.

For those unfamiliar with Reynolds work, this is a good place to start.

Pauline Morgan

June 2024

(pub: Gollancz, 2017. 502 page paperback. Price: £9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473-22336-3)

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