Elysium Fire (2018) is the sequel to Alastair Reynolds’ The Prefect (now renamed Aurora Rising to designate it as part of the PREFECT DREYFUS series), a complex and detailed police procedural set in the Glitter Band of his REVELATION SPACE series, set before the Melding Plague that destroyed the 10,000 orbitals that sported every conceivable political system, all run by real-time neurally-based electronic democratic voting systems that allow citizens to weigh in on each issue and decision on how to run their societies. This democratic utopia features few formalized rules among the orbital other than keeping the voting systems inviolate and this is enforced by a police force of Prefects based on the world of Panoply, armed with versatile “whip-hounds” in place of an armed military.
Many of the characters from the first book reappear, including Deputy Tom Dreyfus, fellow Prefect Thalia Ng, hyper-pig Sparver, their boss Supreme Prefect Jane Aumonier, and Aurora, the AI that goes psychotic in the first book. You can read this book as a stand-alone, but it makes much more sense to have read Aurora Rising first, and you’ll get even more if you have read the much later books in the REVELATION SPACE series, such as the main trilogy and Chasm City in particular.
This time around there is a mysterious plague appearing at random among citizens in the orbitals that overloads their cerebral implants and fries their brains. There appears to be no connections among the victims, as they are scattered throughout different parts of society and worlds. As Dreyfus and his colleagues investigate case after case, they struggle to find any meaningful leads to understand the source of the “Wildfire” virus.
Meanwhile, there is a new voice of discontent arising, a critic of Panoply named Devon Garlin, essentially a demagogue who claims that the Glitter Band orbitals have no need of the Prefects and encouraging to secede from the group and go independent. So Dreyfus and his fellow Prefects are racing against time to contain the Wildfire virus while also fending off the growing criticism of Garlin, who sows discontent everywhere he goes among the habitats, making the investigation that much harder.
There is also an important subplot in Elysium Fire about two twins, Caleb and Julius, who grow up in a strange family environment and appear to have telekinetic abilities to manipulate quick matter and, later on, polling stations, that most fundamental tool that underpins the Glitter Band’s democratic system. It is not clear what their connection is with the Wildfire or even the timeline they are operating in, so Reynolds keeps their significance to the main story wrapped in mystery even as he fills in their stories and it is only much later in the book that we start to understand who they are and the connection to the Wildfire plague, the AI Aurora, and the demagogue Devlin.
All the complex storylines do get tied up eventually, and the Caleb and Julius relationship gets a surprise reveal that I didn’t see coming. Like all Reynolds books, the storyline is complex and the overall tone is dark, and the characters are far more like real people with flaws and hang-ups and personal issues. Elysium Fire is narrated by John Lee, like all of Reynolds’ books, and his dignified British gravitas is a good fit for the tone of the books.