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The Electric Church
Jeff Somers
Orbit, 384 pages

The Electric Church
Jeff Somers
Jeff Somers was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. As a child he imagined he would be a brain surgeon, until a spirit-crushing experience convinced him that in order to be a brain surgeon he would have to actually attend school, work hard, and master basic mathematics. He chose instead to write stories and learn the high art of cocktail mixing, and spent the next twenty years in a pleasant haze of fiction and booze. He is the creator of the zine The Inner Swine, and the author of the books Lifers, The Freaks are Winning, and The Electric Church, not to mention numerous short stories. He currently lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Jeff Somers Website
ISFDB Bibliography
The Electric Church

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

The geopolitical slant lately with near-future SF seems to require the nations of Earth being coerced into an unworkable unified government, a textbook dystopia. So goes the back story for this novel, but the resulting setting may look familiar to cyberpunk readers of the last generation. Unification into the System of Federated Nations has divided the world's population into a tiny number of haves, and a great unwashed sea of have-nots, policed by the System Security Force, and local cops. The resultant urban turmoil has left Old New York, our setting, a sprawl of grubby, trashed buildings and grubby, trashed people.

One of these is our narrator, Mr. Avery Cates, Gunner: security expert, sometime bodyguard, and assassin-for-hire. At the hoary age of 27, ("I was old. I'd been old for years.") Avery knows his days are numbered -- unless something big happens to change things.

Unfortunately, inevitably, change comes, thanks to a screw-up. Mistaking a target, Avery kills the wrong person. And not just any wrong person: a cop. A System cop. Bad luck, since "Hostile assholes with badges ruled the world, case closed." Once caught, Avery finds himself facing SSF Chief Richard Marin, director of the Department of Internal Affairs, who gives Avery the quintessential noir "choice": execution as a cop-killer, or a job that's 99% certain to kill him anyway. Marin wants Avery to assassinate the founder of the Electric Church, Dennis Squalor.

The Electric Church is the sixth-largest religion in the world, and growing by the hour. Its hallmark are its Monks, its street missionaries, people who've abandoned human flesh for immortal cyborg shells. The problem with the EC, however, is that most of their members didn't become Monks willingly -- something Avery's just learned the hard way, when a Monk "recruited" a friend of his by killing him and running off with the body. Turns out, the EC converts by murdering people and transplanting their brains into Monk bodies, with special hardware to override their free will.

Marin thinks taking out Dennis Squalor will weaken the EC enough to bring it down. Avery isn't his first choice for the task; the previous Gunners all died without even getting close. But what choice does Avery really have? He agrees, and mayhem ensues.

Jeff Somers has added some nice twists to the used-furniture setting. Psionics -- people with various psychic abilities -- exist, enough of them that the government insists they all be registered, or hunted as rogues. Most of the really successful crime lords, black market tech, and security crackers were once scientists, engineers, and economists put out of work during Unification. The black market tech itself is pleasantly less-than-perfect. Take the underground lab-grown muscle augments: "They weren't strong muscles, and they didn't last forever... but for a while they looked good, and for some suckers, that was all that mattered."

Somers writes with assurance and style. This is fun, cyberpunky noir SF with just the right mix of fatalism and attitude, seasoned with plenty of bullets and black comedy. He promises a sequel, The King Worm, to follow. Check out his website ( and the series site ( for more information.

Copyright © 2007 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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