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Aurora Rising (SF) - Alastair Reynolds ****

Originally titled The Prefect, Aurora Rising is the first of the 'Prefect Dreyfus emergencies' books, already followed up by Elysium Fire - like its sequel it's a detective story with a hard SF setting. While I don't think it works quite as well as Elysium Fire, there's still a lot to like here - and given the choice, I wish I'd read this book first.

What is excellent is the complex future world Alastair Reynolds creates, complete with aspects of history, notably 'the 80' which are referred to several times before we get an idea of what was involved. There's a strong mix of cyber-technology - particularly in the form of two extremely powerful AI protagonists, each with their own agendas - and hardware that is in classic SF vein, but with some neat twists, such as the prefects' multipurpose weapon-cum-Swiss-Army-knife, the whiphound.

The main plot line, which involves significant moral decisions from whether it's okay to kill some of your citizens to protect many more, to whether it is best not to tell someone you're about to make them suffer terribly (for medical reasons) to save them mental anguish, is strong. Along the way, the developing threat puts the whole of the 'Glitter Band' collection of 10,000 space habitats at risk.

The only reason I'm not giving this book five stars as I did its sequel is that a couple of the sub-plots seem far fetched. One of these requires someone who believes himself to be one of the good guys to be persuaded it's okay to give over control of their entire civilisation to an unknown despot. It's hard to imagine any argument succeeding in persuading an intelligent person to do this. The other involves a prefect rescuing herself and a group of others from a situation so impossible that even Tom Cruise would turn his nose up at the chance to have a go.

However, despite these slight irritations (and being a little longer than it probably should have been), it's a great book, which I'd highly recommend reading before getting on to Elysium Fire.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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