Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Review of The Digital Plague by Jeff Somers

Yes, this is the third day in a row I've posted on the blog. After posting about that many times the whole rest of the year, you may interpret this as a sure sign of the apocalypse. Speaking of apocalypses, the dystopian future Jeff Somers created in his novel The Electric Church is back in a sequel called The Digital Plague. Apparently Somers has a science-fiction series on his hands, starring his character Avery Cates, former assassin for hire (called a "Gunner" in the slang of the novel). And, even though Cates is basically a scumbag, he has more honor than the rest of the corrupt society so he becomes our hero by default of everyone else being so much worse (I'll employ this same logic no doubt when I vote for the Democratic candidate for president this fall). In addition, Cates has a bit of gruff humor in the manner in which he narrates the novel that makes his charm grow on you. In this novel, we see him even growing more of a conscience, which for the reader just makes Cates more convincing in his heroic role. However, in the savage world of the book where civilization has fallen apart (this time around even for the very rich, who were a bit more insulated from the daily carnage in the last novel), Cates's conscience is a liability, making him less likely to survive, and, consequently, due to the effects of the digital plague (yes, it literally is a digital plague of nanobots infecting human bodies) in the novel's plot, everyone's chances of survival. As a result, Cates spends the book basically getting beaten up (in fact, if Mel Gibson was a bit younger, he'd be perfect casting for Cates in a movie version since he seems to love masochism). Will Cates save the day? I can't say; the book doesn't get officially released until May 12, and I don't want to spoil the many surprises of the plot. But I will leave you this hint: There's a third book in the works. Fans of Somers's longtime zine The Inner Swine will find much to like here, as will any devotee of cliffhanger thrills, futuristic action, brutal humor, and thought-provoking commentary on the future of society and technology. I hope Somers's fictional world remains a disturbing fantasy, but sometimes wandering around Cleveland makes me think it might be just around the corner.

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