Machine Vendetta – Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynolds' Machine Vendetta cover

It’s another bad day in the Glitter Band, and although with 10,000 habitats to supervise it’s always going to be a bad day somewhere, this is worse: a deliberate attack on Mercy Sphere and with it accusations, that it had been threatened and so the incident could have been prevented, that Panoply has been negligent in its duties, that they have been distracted since the Mizler Cranach incident only months before.

An unprovoked attack by one of their own Prefects on another habitat, the woodlands of Valsko-Venev were scorched and burned, the hull breached, the damage and deaths disproportionate for an incident which lasted only ninety seconds and remains unexplained but which has damaged the reputation of Panoply; are their abilities or systems compromised, or is Supreme Prefect Jane Aumonier simply not up to the demands of her role, unable to control her agents after Cranach’s betrayal?

Trouble seeming to arrive in threes, coinciding with this is another apparently unrelated incident, Prefect Ingvar Tench directed to the wheel habitat of Transtromer for routine Core monitoring and maintenance, only her ship instead has delivered her to the interdicted habitat of Stadler-Kremeniev, cut off from the rest of the Glitter Band, unsafe for all but the most heavily armed enforcement operation, leaving her stranded in what is considered hostile territory.

The third Prefect Dreyfus Emergency, Machine Vendetta takes place around six years after the Wildfire incident but finds those embers are burning still; where Ian Fleming structured Goldfinger around the idea that “the first time is happenstance, the second time coincidence, the third time is enemy action,” Alastair Reynolds throws Tom Dreyfus and Panoply straight to the traumatic cleanup of coincidence with enemy action simultaneously becoming an unavoidable conclusion.

A high-tech murder mystery taking place in the distant Epsilon Eridani system, home to the Glitter Band and Yellowstone, a hostile yet inhabited world, suspicion naturally falls on Aurora and the Clockmaker, rogue disembodied artificial intelligences able to insert their presence into any software or simulation, rivals which balance each other, not part of the Glitter Band but dependent upon it for their operating environment, meaning it should not be in either of their interests to cause catastrophic disruption unless a new factor has entered the complex equations.

Faced with a digital adversary which operates on an abstract level high above even the most advanced adapted humans, the possibility of compromised communications means incoming information is suspect, the very walls of Panoply possibly eavesdropping on conversations, a perfect storm of paranoia with layers of secrets and misdirections dating back decades coming to light, and it becomes less a case of defeating Aurora than mitigating impact, controlling her before her even more antisocial opposite and counterpart takes advantage.

The threat to the stability of the Glitter Band immediate if apparently low-key to begin with, isolated incidents rather than the existential threat predicted long ago and presumed to be the imminent Melding Plague which shapes the later novels, Machine Vendetta is a police procedural, the slow process of investigation, complicated when computer records can be overwritten or obliterated entirely, offering false accusations or concealing evidence, and while those long immersed in Reynolds’ stories may see the patterns forming ahead of time there are surprises, and when events push out of their predicted orbit the response is nuclear.

The eighth novel in total set in the wider Revelation Space sequence, many of the lead characters are familiar but there are new species and settings, the denizens of Valsko-Venev so adorable that it becomes easy to overlook their deeper feelings of outrage, forgetting that they are a wounded people, victims of an atrocity perpetrated by, like them, a genetically adapted individual, though Cranach was a hyperpig and they are collectively known as “the lemurs.”

Then there is Carcasstown, ostensibly named because it is where obsolete ships and shuttles are broken down and their components recycled, not because it is a manufacturing plant for glittering death machines, the lurking obscenity of the Clockmaker calculating advantage and reactivating its old routines of murder and chaos, a corruption which cannot be allowed to spread beyond that single orbital.

With sacrifices necessary to protect the larger interests, there is a bridge to be crossed in what is likely the last Prefect Dreyfus Emergency, for barring a miracle circumventing the speed of light there is unlikely ever to be another one, Machine Vendetta closing this chapter in what remains a wide universe, Panoply the presiding force which imposes order by majority consent but whose authority has now been profoundly shaken, the future an unpredictable minefield of possibility.

Machine Vendetta is available now from Gollancz

Alastair Reynolds' Machine Vendetta cover detail



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