The Electric Church by Jeff Somers

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The Electric Church by Jeff Somers

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A gun-for-hire is charged with helping destroy a massive cult of cyborg-style immortal religious believers. The originality is hampered by a narrator I would wish to change, and a lack of surprise, and change in pace.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 368 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841496160

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In the future, post-apocalyptic world Avery Cates is living in, everyone is his enemy. This isn't helped by him being a gun-for-hire, paid by anyone with yen (the global currency) handy and a target somewhere in the offing for an offing, but at least he knows his trade and all the tricks of survival in the ruinous mega-city centred on New York that is the eastern US seaboard. Why, he's reached the ripe old age of 27, without dying, without using medical rebuilding - legal or otherwise, but with little bank balance, little future, and little way out of the ultra-violent, potty-mouthed milieu he finds himself in.

However there are two major enemies he faces in this world. The first is the SSF - the more fancifully armed, less open to bribery and both more vicious and successful half of the police force. The second is the titular Electric Church, a massively successful global religion, that deems the human life-span eminently too short to atone for human sins, and come to know God, and that converts its members into full cyborgs - leaving only the brain in a metallic carrier to provide the possibility of immortality while approaching their idea of nirvana.

After a first chapter that pretends to put Cates in peril (dull, surprise-less) and a second that shows him to be good at the basics of his work (better) he comes to set both major enemies against each other, on a small, saving-his-hide scale. This, however, leads to a huge mission, as one side employs him to infiltrate and undermine the other.

The interesting premise is provided by a milieu that smacks of revisiting recent Hollywood (the SSF descend on vertical zip-lines from aerial hovercraft just as in Minority Report, and the movie of I, Robot is also borrowed from) but does provide some invention, however clichéd the post-apocalyptic world appears. Unfortunately, it is rather let down in the approach.

Given a world of such grittiness, where you should feel anything can happen to the hero, why saddle him with a first person narrative? For sure this allows us to witness up close the blasé approach of Cates, as he points guns and gets them pointed at him in return, but we want to feel the edge that he might not get out of this alive, and having him report back to us from some future time kills that as successfully as Cates himself assassinates people. It also keeps us removed from the other characters, and their interchangeability has perhaps been influenced by the gung-ho life Cates leads too strongly.

Cates is also a rather repetitive narrator, too, and not only in revisiting dialogue from the end of one chapter at the beginning of another, in the misguided opinion a cliff-hanger had been in between. He has a cinematic description, so we can see, say, the scenes where he goes to a local Mr Big and selects a gang for the mission, but he and Somers are here and elsewhere guilty of showing us what we have seen in the cinema, on TV and in other books too often. By the time the story has succumbed, through a quickly-read sprint that offers very little in the way of surprise, true grit, and certainly not a change of pace, to reveal its true colours - inspired by any zombie shooter video game you care to mention, you wish a different narrative style had been used.

I appreciate the effort used to create the macho bluster in Cates's voice, and what was original about his world - which for the most part is the Electric Church, part of whose religious tract we get as a bonus at the end. However with too strong a recycled feel this book could never be highly recommended. It gets a bonus half a mark for the bit where the hero is put through the worst of the worst, with what I take for a successful bit of realism, and for the DVD extras as I call them at the end, but otherwise would be a most illaudable effort.

I would still like to thank the publishers for sending a copy for the Bookbag to sample.

Jeff Somers' Avery Cates Series in Chronological Order

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