Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Avery Cates Novels are Good Books

Or why you should read The Electric Church, The Digital Plague, The Eternal Prison, The Terminal State, and The Final Evolution by Jeff Somers.

The Avery cates novels are this kind of Crime Thriller/Noir Pulp mashed up with Cyberpunk Sci-fi series. The novels follow Avery Cates, a gunner1 of some reputation, in a dystopian future populated by filthy rabble, crooked system pigs,2 cyborg cults, psionic/telekinetic spooks
,3 nanotech plagues, android dopplegangers, augmented super soldiers, and a colorful array of vaguely and inexplicably Irish criminals. Basically, the Avery Cates novels are a bit like a televised street crime drama set in a Phillip k Dickian fever dream. If you enjoy these things, it’s a pretty satisfying mixture.

Now, these books are not capital L Literature and you'll be disappointed if you are looking for PKD4 existentialisms or Big Idea Sci-fi. What they are though, is an incredibly fun celebration of the aesthetics and tropes of Cyberpunk and Pulp Noir. I’d call them a CyberPulp romp series as much as anything. The Avery Cates novels are, thankfully, very well executed. Somers' writing is engaging and well paced and his characters are vivid and likable. Somers' plots are also surprisingly intricate with some pretty stellar twists, some straight forward ones you see coming as well as some truly unexpected and mind bending ones. At the end of the day it's still a Cyberpunk wankfest, but it is an exceptionally well crafted one.

Typically I avoid genre homage novels since they tend to not live up to the books they are riffing on. A lot of over-the-top genre romps fall into the trap of being as bombastic as possible and being transparently silly in tone or they take themselves much too seriously. Either way, these books come off as pointless (if it’s all for jokes, why do I care?) or as tremendously tone deaf and poorly thought out. Importantly, though, the Avery Cates novels know exactly what they are and play to that. Tonally, the novels take themselves quite seriously and commit to the material with a fiercely determined earnestness, while simultaneously winking at the reader to convey that yeah, these books are over the top and for fun. This manages, at least for me, to strike that rare and perfect balance of self-aware absurdity and total commitment that makes good rompy fiction fun.5

I’d recommend the Avery Cates books to anyone looking for a fun book where the protagonist calls an android doppelganger a “Fucking asshole” before emptying a clip into it from his Roon corporation automatic pistol. In other words, if you are the kind of reader who likes the odd smart but not particularly deep work of genre fiction, check it out.6

1: Hitman.
2: Police, basically.
3: Kind of a secret police/ espionage thing.
4: Phillip K Dick
5: Starship Troopers (the film not the book) does this very well. The book is just straight forward good.
6: I find the Avery Cates novels make for a nice bit of fun between super heavy, depressing books. I found The Terminal State (book 4) to be a perfect amuse-bouche between PDK’s Valis and Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five. See even snooty Sci-fi fans can appreciate these books.

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