Book Review: The Electric Church
In his debut novel, Jeff Somers attempts to create a 21st century cyberpunk novel
Reviewed by Rick Klaw, Fri., Oct. 5, 2007
The Electric Churchby Jeff Somers
Orbit, 384 pp., $12.99
In 1984, William Gibson's Neuromancer ushered in the cyberpunk era. Both a product of the Eighties and a movement steeped in the lore and tradition of the science-fiction field, cyberpunk, like the music of the punks before it, returned to the roots of the genre – albeit from a gritty, street level. Pop culture ran rampant throughout the works, and unlike its sci-fi forefathers, the future was tomorrow, not hundreds or thousands of years away. As cyberpunk pioneer Bruce Sterling so aptly put it, they were "writing fifteen minutes into the future." With the rise of personal computing, the advent of the Internet, and the proliferation of portable devices, that future has become our present.
Neal Stephenson's 1992 Snow Crash marked the last significant cyberpunk book. In the post-cyberpunk literary world, numerous works continue to be produced, influenced by the tropes and styles of cyberpunk, often under the guise of "near-future thriller."
In his debut novel, The Electric Church, Jeff Somers attempts to create a 21st century cyberpunk novel. His vision of the not-so-distant future, managed by the fascist System of Federated Nations and their powerful police, exists in economic chaos, spawning rampant poverty and a vibrant criminal element. Avery Cates, a gunner, thrives within this environment, until he accidentally kills a cop and attracts the attention of the Electric Church and its mysterious Monks, cyborgs with human brains.
Cyberpunk stereotypes abound with pop-culture jargon, computer-human interaction, near-future technology, and unsavory characters in an all-too-familiar tableau. Through most of the book I found myself one step ahead of our protagonist. Somers, clearly a gifted craftsman, writes in a clean, sharp style rooted firmly within the Chandler school but one that is utterly forgettable once the book is closed. His obvious talents intrigue and would work best in a less-formulaic story. Unfortunately, his next book will be a sequel to The Electric Church.