Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Electric Church

I picked up a copy of The Electric Church by Jeff Somers because I read and loved one of his more recent novels, Trickster. Now, this is only the second book of his I've read, but I'm about this close to throwing in the towel, changing my handle to jeffsomers4lyfe and just straight up turning this blog into some kind of Jeff Somers fan club.

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The Electric Church is nearish future science fiction, set mostly in the remains of a New York City that has seen better days.The world is populated with three kinds of people: a few ultrawealthy citizens, cops, and criminals - aka, the hungry poor. And then there are the monks: cyborg religious fanatics comprised of a human brain inside a mechanical body. The real crux of the novel is that the monks' religion, The Electric Church, is one that strongly encourages conversion.

The world building in The Electric Church is some of the best I've read. It's lean and spare but powerful. Even with almost no backstory at all, we're effortlessly brought up to speed on more than two decades of radical political, social, cultural, and technological change. Everything we know about the world we understand through the main character, Avery Cates', perception, and Somers masterfully uses the reader's own preconceptions to hammer home the grim reality of his fictional world. It's his deft use of small, well placed details that sketches a much larger picture and really brings the world to life.

Another thing that works very, very well in this book is that the monks are consistently creepy. That is, they're creepy throughout, but never in the same way twice. As what we know about the monks changes, so too does their presence in the story. Just about every time one shows up on the page, it's chilling; each time, the stakes change and the tensions rises, and I start squirming in my seat and holding my breath. This was one of those books that I had trouble keeping to myself. I read it over a week long trip back home to visit family, and would ramble on about the book and how great it is to anyone would listen. Practically the second I finished it, I ran into the next room and put the book in the hands of the nearest willing person and said, "Read this. Immediately." I can blame this unbridled enthusiasm partly on the concept - it's been a while since I've read a really good sci fi book, and once I started getting into it, it fell right into my very favorite nightmarish future robots territory. But man did Somers do it well.

I'll say it was an interesting exercise, reading Trickster and The Electric Church not quite back to back. While the protagonists are superficially quite different, at their core they are very similar Noir Protagonists - good guys in bad situations, doing bad things for the right reasons, often in the general direction of their own destruction. And, without giving away any details (or having read the second book in either series), both books end in similar places - with the stakes raised and the playing field dramatically altered. As with Trickster, I'm incredibly anxious to see where Somers goes from here - and thankfully this time I won't have to wait too long for the next book. And I think his latest novel, Chum, just got bumped up from make sad eyes at the librarian to time for a trip to the book store. Seriously, guys. 4lyfe.


  1. That is some seriously great things to say about an amazing writer. I haven't read Trickster yet but I can tell you, you're in for one hell of a ride with the rest of the Avery Cates series. Oh and if you need a laugh, go check out his videos on YouTube.

    1. I think I actually originally found Jeff Somers from his youtube videos! If you liked the Avery Cates books, it's definitely worth checking out Trickster - I know I'm looking forward to continuing both series. Thanks for the comment :)