The Electric Church by Jeff Somers
Published by Orbit
Salvation is something many people seek; a reason and meaning behind life’s great questions. Luckily, the Electric Church is offering people the opportunity for answers and salvation. Unfortunately, the price is your soul and individuality and an eternal life which becomes nothing short of a zombie. The Electric Church, as well as being the title of Jeff Somers dark and evocative novel, is the world’s largest and fastest growing “religion.” The street-wise characters in the story, specifically gunner Avery Cates and his circle of companions, know to become a part of the religion is to completely sever one’s ties with humanity
The Electric Church is just one problem in Somers’ dystopic future. The other problem, from Cates’s point of view, is the System. The System is the global governmental force that rules much like George Orwell’s Big Brother. Considering Cates is successful at his job as a hired gun, it should come as no surprise that after killing a System Security Force (SSF) officer, Cates is on the run from the authority. While on the run, Cates and his companion cross paths with a monk of the Electric Church who offers both Cates and his “sidekick” salvation.
Cates is eventually captured by the SSF and rather than incarcerated, he is recruited by the head of the organization (Dick Marin) to personally kill Dennis Squalor, head of the Electric Church. The System is threatened by the power the Church wields, especially considering its diplomatic immunity as an organized religion. Once this major plat element is introduced, Somers infuses more of a caper feel to the story. Cates spends ample (story) time pulling together his team, which provides the reader with more backstory of how the world we know came to be the world in which Cates lives. These hints are really not more than that, but they also offer a glimpse into the world – very few people seem to live beyond their thirties. Cates considers himself “old” and “seasoned” and he is only in his mid-twenties.
The novel is, for the most part, fast paced and Somers injects many of the action sequences with ample adrenaline. Told from the first person, the reader’s only true window into the world is Avery Cates, but he does seem a rather reliable narrator. Somers affects this very well through Cates’s deprecating internal dialogue as well as his interaction with the team he pulls together for the big kill. Even in the scenes where little action is taking place, Somers maintains a very effective narrative allowing for the pages to turn quite quickly.
The novel does have flaws, albeit minor. Rather, one flaw stood out to me – some paragraphs seemed to be repeated from chapter to chapter. In the way Cates describes the world and himself, I got the sense that a tighter edit would have made an already good flowing novel even better.
While I was reading the novel, I couldn’t help but hear some of Queensr˙che’s Operation: Mindcrime album. The feel of Somers book evoked much of the same feelings as Queensr˙che’s best known, seminal album. With a dark and untrustworthy future reminiscent of Orwell and Philip K. Dick and a protagonist who has the qualities Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs and Neal Stephenson’s Hiro Protagonist, Jeff Somers’s The Electric Church is solid title that should help to propel the US Orbit imprint and fit nicely on the shelves of most science fiction readers. This is not to say that Somers has cloned those previously mentioned writers and their characters, rather, Avery Cates and his world work very well as part of the greater cautionary and entertaining dialogue that is Science Fiction. The coda to the novel teases “Avery Cates will return in The Digital Plague, which is good news.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford
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