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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"The Digital Plague" by Jeff Somers

Official Jeff Somers Website
Order “The Digital Plague
Read An Excerpt
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s
REVIEW of “The Electric Church
Read Reviews of “The Digital Plague” via Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist + The Bookbag

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jeff Somers is an American author whose bibliography includes “Lifers” (2001), “The Freaks Are Winning” (2002), “The Electric Church” (2007) and numerous short stories. Jeff is also the creator of the e-zine, The Inner Swine.

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s been a few years since gunner Avery Cates took down Dennis Squalor and The Electric Church, and in that time the assassin-for-hire has established himself as one of the richest and most feared criminals in post-Unification New York City. But right now, Avery Cates is in a world of trouble. Infected with a nanotech plague that is killing everyone around him, betrayed by his closet acquaintances, forced to ally with the hated SSF in hunting down his mysterious enemy, and with every moment bringing the human race closer to extinction, Cates finds himself in the role of both executioner and savior of the entire world…

CLASSIFICATION: Set in a dark and gritty dystopian future, “The Digital Plague” continues Jeff Somers’ violent brand of science fiction which mixes together cyberpunk and hard-boiled crime noir—imagine a cross between Blade Runner, Akira, Richard K. Morgan’s SF novels, and the action/thriller film Crank. So like “The Electric Church”, expect the profanity to be excessive, the humor caustic, and the action bloody & immoral :)

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 368 pages divided over thirty-nine chapters with the story taking place over ten days. Also includes an Epilogue that leads into the next Avery Cates novel “The Eternal Prison”, an extract from “The Eternal Prison”, and an Appendix featuring Excerpts from the Audio Diary of Tricia Amber Pollock. Narration is once again in the first-person via Avery Cates. Plot is largely self-contained, but draws on many events and characters from “The Electric Church”, so reading that book first is highly advisable.

May 12th + May 15, 2008 marks the North American & UK trade paperback publication of “The Digital Plague” via
Orbit Books. Cover art is once again provided by Jae Lee.

ANALYSIS:The Electric Church” is one of those books that readers either seem to really enjoy, or really hate, and while I can understand some of the reasoning behind the novel’s negative criticisms—the unoriginal setting, lack of character depth & world-building, various deus ex machinas, etc.—for the most part I was of the former opinion. After all, I’m a huge fan of both noir and cyberpunk, so while the book may have suffered from some flaws, I thought overall “The Electric Church” was a pretty solid piece of entertainment. Fortunately, I found Jeff’s sequel “The Digital Plague” even better.

For starters, I loved the setup. Instead of picking up where “The Electric Church” ended, its a few years later and Avery Cates—now one of the richest and most powerful criminals in New York City—finds himself at the mercy of an unknown assailant at the very beginning of “The Digital Plague”: “This is not an execution Avery. This is an assassination. Not yours. But an assassination none the f**king less.” And is then injected with a mysterious substance and left with a ton of questions. So immediately there’s this sense of intrigue and desperation that really intensifies when Avery learns that he’s become the originator of a mechanical plague that is killing everyone around him, starting with his friends. The real hook though is that anyone within a certain radius of Avery will remain unaffected by the infection as long as they stay in that limited range, which leads to some engaging alliances and circumstances ;)

Aside from the initial concept though, there is actually very little to the story in “The Digital Plague”. Essentially, the book is about revenge with a doomsday plot mixed in and a dash of Undersecretaries/System Security Force politics sprinkled on top. That said, the pacing is intense, the action scenes skillfully orchestrated, and Jeff delivers some unexpected surprises along the way. Characterization meanwhile is a mixed bag. Avery Cates’ caustic narration remains a highlight of the book—and is improved upon in my opinion—but he lacks depth and his motives are weak, especially when his morals come into question. Supporting players are much worse however, and it’s hard to care when someone dies, turns betrayer or is at the center of a moral dilemma, but at least Jeff does a much better job with distinguishing a side character’s personality, specifically with newcomers Captain Happling and Colonel Hense. As far as the setting, once again there’s very little info-dumping or world-building involved, which actually reminded me of
David Gunn’s Death’s Head novels. But like those books, it’s not really an issue.

CONCLUSION: More or less, “The Digital Plague” offers the same kind of gritty, cold-blooded cyberpunk/futuristic-noir that “The Electric Church” did, including the same strengths and weaknesses. Granted, the book is darker, better executed, the stakes are higher, the body count is off the charts, and Avery is put through nine kinds of hell, but basically if you were a fan of “The Electric Church”, then “The Digital Plague” should be right up your alley. I know I immensely enjoyed the book—even more than “The Electric Church”—and my adrenaline is already pumping for the next Avery Cates adventure…


heather (errantdreams) said...

This sounds like a fantastic concept, but I'd have difficulty hanging on for the ride if I didn't care that much about the characters.

Robert said...

Yeah, it's a pretty cool concept, and while the secondary characters get shafted, the focus is definitely on Cates...

Anonymous said...

This was a really good book. Not without flaws (like the first), but still an excellent piece of entertainment.

Anonymous said...

This was one of, if not my favorite books I've read. It never failed to deliver in more excitement. The ending was spectacular, although rushed... It sets up the beginning for the next book up perfectly.


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