Book Review: The Electric Church

I’ve been meaning to read Jeff Somers’ Avery Cates series for a while now.  I’ve heard good things about it from several trusted fellow bibliovores and one woman who takes odd pride in telling this librarian that she doesn’t read at all, “except for Stephen King and this other guy.  Somers?”*  All of them told me I had to start at the beginning.

But to be honest, I kind of lost The Electric Church in my reading pile until the fourth book, Terminal State, was released and I was subsequently introduced to Jeff Somers’ blog.  His “Ask Jeff Anything” segments are . . . just go look.  Now.  But don’t forget to come back.

See what I mean?

Mr. Somers actually reminds me of my cousin Tom, who is brilliant, acerbic, and has, as I recall, a similar affection for whiskey in rocks glasses.  There’s just something about the delivery and the slumped shoulders that send me back.

But while Tom taught me how to play chess over the course of several family gatherings,**  Jeff Somers gave me a lesson in phenomenal world building by the end of the first two pages of Electric Church.

Avery Cates’ world is 1984 cranked up into Clockwork Orange territory, sans a little of the old Ludwig Van.  I’d throw in a bit of Soylent Green and Escape from New York, for various reasons that do not include any campy elements whatsoever, and perhaps just a skewed touch of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The details of this gray, gritty, violent New York are amazing, seamless, and thorough—right down to the characters’ teeth.***

About twenty years ago, The System of Federated Nations achieved complete Unification, and the world descended into hell for the majority of the population.  They have no jobs, no food, no resources, and no point—and, as Avery Cates knows, no chance of real self-respect in a system where corruption and crime is a necessity.

The only escape from hunger, fear, and hopelessness is money or death—or transformation into one of the ever-calm, ever-smiling Monks of the Electric Church, whose living brains have been placed in metal bodies to guarantee an eternity for introspective prayer . . . and for converting increasing numbers into their cyborg congregation.

But Cates, an elderly 26-year old, has memories of pre-Unification.  He’s a killer-for-hire, but he has a code, of sorts, and a talent for survival—though he’s not sure sometimes why he bothers.  His hatred for the system is tempered by one indoctrinated rule:  never fall foul of the SSF, the arrogant, all-powerful enforcers of what passes for the law.

Except Cates has inadvertently killed an off-duty SSF officer during a job gone wrong.  He’s a dead man running—and just to complicate things, he witnesses something the Monks would kill—or forcibly convert— to keep hidden.   To survive, he’s accepts a contract from the SFN to assassinate the leader of the Electric Church.  Along the way, he learns a bit more about the system than the authorities intended . . . and a lot more about what one determined man might set in motion.

I wasn’t planning on doing a post so early in this series, if at all.^  But holy crap (no pun intended) this is good stuff.

Cate’s development is one of the best things in this book.  This is a man who believes he has nothing to lose, and uses that as motivation and focus.  You can see him honing down the things that are really important, and discovering that other people might be included.  And when it dawns on him that the SSF (and by extension, the system itself) are only invulnerable because everyone thinks they are . . . that’s the point where I saw him trade moment-to-moment existence for the possibility of a real future.

And there are three more books in mine.

Digital Plague is up next.


*Which, if you think about it, is a pretty good recommendation.

**Until I finally beat him twice in a row. Tom’s mistake was in attempting to counteract the intricate strategies he assumed I was deploying, when, in fact, I wasn’t thinking much past which way the horsie moves.  Never overestimate me—I will crush you with my ignorance.

*** Did I ever mention that my first novel was set in a dystopic future?  Well, Mr. Somer’s dystopia beats the living snot out of my dystopia while my characters say, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

^I don’t actually plan to review anything unless I enjoy it enough to run up to people and scream, “Read this book!” or “Read this author!”


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