Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book Review: The Electric Church by Jeff Somers

This Saturday we will be joined by writer Jeff Somers at our monthly Face the Fiction event at the Borders Books & Music in the Ramsey Interstate Shopping Center at 8p.  Unlike many of our Face the Fiction events, I have recently had the chance to read Mr. Somers' fantastic new book The Electric Church and am looking forward to reading the sequel, The Digital Plague in the near future.  What is really amusing, though, is that due to a quirk of scheduling both Suspense Central and the Beam Me Up Book Group of Watchung are going to be discussing this one at their events.  To say that I am looking forward to all three is an understatement.  Enough about the groups, though, let's talk about the book.

When I first started reading this journeyman effort by Mr. Somers, I was struck by how easy it was to get into.  Unlike many books of violent cyberpunk SF, The Electric Church contains no massive info-dumping, no 'How did we get into this mess' dialog, and no 'if only /X actual event/ had never happened' monologues to explain to us how the world came to its current woeful straits.  Reference is made to the good old days of pre-Unification, but mostly the characters are too busy living their hardscrabble lives to worry over might-have-beens or historical interests.  About the only real data that we have is that 95% of the people of the Earth live a bare bones subsistence life with 5% taking what's left of the jobs and enforcing the Laws of the Joint Council.

The story itself is very reminiscent of several recent British works, most notably Ken MacLeod's Star Fraction and Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovaks series, with violence and gritty action around every corner.  An interesting meme that crops up here is a very Darwinian cyberpunk society where augmented humans are looked at as petty failures who will likely be dead from their own attempts to better themselves.  This is generally the antithesis of most augment features, where augmented people are the cream of the crop.  Additionally, going against the grain, the story does not demonize Science, or even the applications of technology that are downright vile (i.e. the Monks), but rather cites that it is not the concept that is grotesque but how it is applied and for what reasons.

Of course, I suppose that I must talk about the book itself at some point.  Avery Cates is a Gunner, a hired killer whose only goal in life is to retire wealthy at the ripe old age of 27 (in most scenes he is the oldest character there).  Unfortunately, Mr. Cates is having a bad month: accidentally killing a System Security Officer (detective), witnessing another System Officer get killed by a Monk, putting a psycho System Officer in the line of fire of several other Monks, etc.  As in all things, Avery Cate's luck is about to change... sadly it is a change for the worse, as he is hired to take out the most powerful religious leader in the Unified world: the head of the Electric Church.  Hiring a team of crack miscreants, Avery Cates sets about executing a plan of such fiendish complexity it cannot help but succeed, after all it is so clever you could cut yourself on the edges.  Sound like fun?  Well, toss in psychotic cyborgs, a mysterious employer, factions of the System Security Force that want to either help or murder him, psychics with a bad case of Les Miserables, and a team so far south of trustworthy that they cannot even get it stamped on their travel visas, and you begin to get the picture.

Fast paced, action packed, thoughtful, groundbreaking, and fun, The Electric Church is a romp through a degenerate and horrible future in which you really cannot help but agree with Parker from Leverage: "Some times bad guys are the only good guys you get."

THAC0: 5
If you are a fan of Cyberpunk in all its manifold glory, then this is a must read for you.  Fans of the standard thriller will be highly entertained, and the techno-jargon and SF-isms are kept to a minimum so pure mystery readers will not be lost in the shuffle.  If Day of the Jackal and Strange Days had a baby it would be The Electric Church.

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