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.

If it’s not one thing, it’s my mother. In a good way.

Four hours of sleep last night.  Not processing well today.

Blame for this current bout of sleep deprivation can be portioned out equally to  last night’s chapter attack, picking up Terminal State (by Jeff Somers) while brushing my teeth, and a determined toddler.

It certainly wasn’t my fault.

I have two chapters to finish by Friday, so I gathered my pile of notes and got to work after the kids were tucked into bed and told to stay put.  I meant to spend an hour on Fun Project before moving on to my “serious project,”* but I got caught up in the flow (Stephen King calls it “falling through the hole in the paper”) and wrote and wrote and wrote—until I blinked and realized it was past eleven.

Feeling tired but accomplished, I snagged Terminal State (by Jeff Somers), which had finally arrived, and went to do all the things one does in the bathroom before bedtime, while a psychic-powered train tried its best to kill Avery Cates.

It was a very good chapter.   So was the one after that.  And after that . . . and sudden I realized that it had been past eleven before I’d started reading and if I went to bed right that very minute, I’d get five hours of sleep.

I went like a load of heavy, sleepy things.

Ten minutes later, Sunny woke up, as they say, with a vengeance.  When she falls asleep in Mommy and Daddy’s bed—with or without their knowledge—it upsets her to wake up in her bed.  So she came in to complain, armed with her stepstool.  She climbed over her father—who didn’t seem to notice—snuggled in, and decided what she really wanted was to sing the pumpkin carols** I’d taught her last week.  It took me a while to convince her that we didn’t want to wake up Daddy and that sleeping wasn’t a complete waste of her time.

She finally said, “Okay, Mama,” closed her eyes, and fell asleep, leaving me to stare at my alarm clock as my darling child, curly-headed little stinkpot that she is, started to snore in my ear.

So I’ve been dragging my rear around all day, waiting for way too much caffeine to kick in and feeling, once again, like I should have had the kids ten years ago, when pulling all-nighters was a breeze.

I’ll also admit to feeling sort of noble about sucking it up and going into work anyway instead of calling in wretched . . . until about ten minutes ago, when I took my break and called Mom.

I asked her if she’d received the Halloween card I’d sent and the e-mailed link to our Halloween Pumpkins.  I might also have wanted a bit of sympathy for my rough night—not much, just maybe a poor baby*** and some gentle worry that I wasn’t getting enough sleep.  You know, Mom stuff.

She said yes to the card^ and no to the link.  “I haven’t checked my e-mail in a long time, honey,” she said.  The connection made her voice sound fainter than usual.

“Are you all right, Mom?”  I asked, forgetting poor me for a moment.  “I didn’t expect you to be home in the middle of the afternoon.”

“Oh, I’m fine.  I got up at 3:30 to do my shift at the animal shelter and I did laundry after I got back, and now I’m folding everything  before I go into work—I’m closing tonight.^^  But I can check the link before I go.”

“Great, Mom,” I said, feeling a lot wimpier than I had before and guilty for wanting to whine about how tired I was.   “I love you.  Bye!”

Mom is my hero for several reasons and I can only hope that I, too, will someday be able to give my daughters a pep talk and a guilt trip simply by mentioning my plans for the day.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to grab another diet Pepsi and get back to work.

Thanks, Mom!

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*By which I mean my WIP, and not beating Crush the Castle . . . if only because I’d already knocked down the last fortress with my mighty trebuchet while Janie was doing her homework.

** Twinkle, Twinkle little Pumpkin, Pumpkin Bells, the Brave old Duke of Pumpkin, Yankee Pumpkin, and, my personal favorite, Jeremiah was a Pumpkin.

***For me, not the actual baby, who was way too awake this morning.

^ The outside had a cat in a cowboy costume with hat and scarf.  The inside said, “No animals were harmed in the making of this Halloween card.  However, one cat was made to feel absolutely ridiculous.”

^^As I’ve mentioned before, Mom owns and operates two Curves locations.  She bought the first one because the previous owner, who was (I believe) younger than she, decided to retire and Mom didn’t want the place to close.  She bought the other one when it went for sale because they were the nearest competition.  I don’t think Mom has middle gears.

Random Thursday Thoughts . . . With Even More Random!

The Potty-Training Cold War appears to have reached détente.*  Sunny is running for the potty without reminders**—she even tells us to pause whatever we’re doing until she comes back.  Her, ah, solid output, shall we say, has also regulated itself, so that we aren’t all anxiously observing her from across the room on Day Three like a bomb squad, hoping our response time is up to sniff snuff.    It’s a glorious feeling of  (please pardon the pun) relief.

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Free ‘flu shots at the library today for city employees!  After filling out the form and standing in line for a while, I discovered two things:  they don’t give you the ‘flu shot if they hear you coughing like Violetta in La Traviata, so I have to go to an alternate location next week.    Also, it’s the largest, strongest people (think Public Works or Fire Department) who have both the worst needle phobias and co-workers who will never, ever, let them forget the time they fainted, wiping out the city nurse.***

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The books on Medieval Spain that I’m borrowing through Interlibrary Loan are starting to come in—I’m hoping to set my next story there.  It’s a fascinating time and place—beautiful architecture, music, poetry . . . and Muslims, Christians, and Jews all lived together in apparent tolerance and even harmony.  One wonders what they knew that so many of us refuse to?  Maybe I’ll find out.

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All the teachers on Janie’s report card stated that she needed to pay more attention to them in the classroom, with the exception of her art instructor, who said, “Janie is in her own wonderful, artistic world.” 

I like that woman.

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I just finished Jeff Somer’s Eternal Prison.  I’m planning on doing a review, because the Avery Cates series is holy cow amazing—but I just want to say that the last two pages of Part One dropped my jaw so hard it hurt. I’m not the world’s most gullible reader,^ but you got me, Mr. Somers.  It worked.

 

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My famous baked chicken nuggets tonight—or, I hope, my husband’s.  Same recipe, except in his version—and this is very important—I don’t have to cook.

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*That starving-woodpecker sound you hear is me knocking wood.

**Which had become a matter as delicately balanced as nuclear disarmament negotiations:  ask just once too often, and she’d close down talks, preferring to let her eyeballs float than set foot in the bathroom.

*** She remembers this, too, and has everyone taller than her sit down before she comes near them.  Smart lady.

^Stop laughing, you guys—I said reader.