Alastair Reynolds, The Prefect, Gollancz, 2007.
This novel is a stand-alone story set in the same universe as the author's previous novels, Chasm City, Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, and Absolution Gap. I haven't written here about these books, and will do so in the future when I re-read them, but they are among my favourite books and I highly recommend them. I was also thrilled to hear recently that Reynolds has received a contract for his next ten books, to be written during the next decade, worth one million pounds. As a reader of all his published books, I consider him worthy of this sort of financial security, and look forward to his next books.
The Prefect is set in the Glitter Band, a society occupying thousands of habitats orbiting the planet of Yellowstone. The political structure is a demarchy, where citizens can vote on all public issues. They are constantly online and connected to the system through their nanotech implants.
The protagonist is Tom Dreyfus, a Prefect in the Panoply, a sort of police force responsible for maintaining the demarchy. Along with his deputies, Thalia Ng (an expert programmer) and Sparver (a hyperpig), he investigates an attempt to overthrow the demarchy and form a dictatorship. The plot thickens and involves members of the various groups readers encountered in the previous books: the space faring Ultras and the advanced, almost post-human, Conjoiners. There are also the familiar themes of beta-level simulations of human consciousnesses and advanced AIs. A grim future has been predicted for the Glitter Band (which readers of the other books understand), and the misguided attempts to avert it create new risks.
Reynolds excels at creating a vivid, rich and convincing setting, and I enjoy the time I spend in his universe. This novel fills a gap in the chronology of the previous works in the series, and although it can be read alone, readers already familiar with the other stories will appreciate many aspects that new readers might miss. The characters are sympathetic, the story maintains its tension and reaches a satisfying conclusion which is not really an end, since the universe continues developing in the ways readers can see in the other books.
My recommendation to readers is to read all the novels more or less in order of publication.