Book Review: Terminal State

I knew there were four books (so far) in the Avery Cates series when I started reading it a month or two ago.  I’d assumed, as anyone would, that the main character would be around for that fourth book—or the person in charge of these things would have named the series something a little less specific.  The SFN Files, maybe, or Nietzsche’s Children.  Tales from FUBARworld.

It’s a testament to Jeff Somers’ skill that it still feels like a spoiler to mention that Avery Cates survived Fate’s last attempt to splatter him like a hissing cockroach under a combat boot.

But survival is pretty much Avery’s sole superpower . . . which brings me to Terminal State.

After Eternal Prison, Avery Cates is feeling every one of his past adventures.  He’s earning bed and beverage protecting a small no-horse town from people like him while he recuperates and plans a personal job:  going after legendary gunner Canny Orel, who played him, betrayed him, and left him to the mercies of the System Security Force and their mind-sucking Avatar tech.

Before he can do more than find a possible location, Avery’s swept up in a drafting raid by the System of Federated Nations Army.  Like the rest of the new recruits, he’s retrofitted with salvaged neurotech that augments his body’s systems.  The augments make him feel better than he has in his entire life . . . but as usual, he’s not in charge of the remote—or the kill switch.  Worse, his new CEO just sold him and his control box on the black market.  To Canny Orel.   

And now Avery Cates has two missions: break into besieged Hong Kong and rip the ultimate piece of neurotech out of its creator’s head . . . and live long enough to kill his new puppetmaster.

I enjoyed the hell out of this book, from the classic bit of Catesverse irony in the prologue to the forehead-slapping double reveal and triple betrayal near the end.   A Monk even has a great cameo as a Deus Ex Machina—how freaking cool is that?

There’s also an inside joke or two:  I don’t know if Mr. Somers has been waiting to use that particular Lewis Carroll quote or if its use was spontaneous, but he chose a righteous spot for it.

But as exciting as these books are, what sets the Avery Cates series apart for me is the psychological and emotional layers woven through the storylines.  Seriously.* Jeff Somers doesn’t phone this stuff in and it’s obvious that there’s a bit more to his prepwork than rewatching Escape from New York and skimming the contusion and gunshot chapters in the Writer’s Guide to Grievous Bodily Harm.

Avery himself may assume that he’s the poster child for nihilism, but he never quite manages it.  He’s not a nice person, he’s not altruistic, and if this were the Mikado, his “Little List” song would be the longest solo on record . . . but he isn’t a sociopath.  It would be a lot easier for him if he was—but nothing about Avery is easy. Or simple.  

There’s a center to Avery—call it a code, chutzpah, weltschmerz, whatever—that I think earns him a kind of respect, bordering on hero worship in certain impressionable age groups, wherever he goes.  He tends to discount this as a result of his reputation as a killer—“Avery Cates the Gweat and Tewwible”—but there’s a moment in Terminal State where he’s told that a very dangerous man believes Avery’s word is good. 

This may only mean that this man believes Avery will stay bought . . . but in Avery’s world, that’s not insignificant.

Neither is this series.

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*The appendices are a must read, too.  These are scenes from other characters’ POVs, explorations of Avery’s world, and other things that wouldn’t fit into a fast-paced, first-person narration.  Layers upon layers.