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Published May 14, 2013

The Electric Church is set in a dystopia where the nations of Earth have been forcibly united, and are ruled over by the Joint Council. The brutal Systems Police enforces order amongst the hordes of humanity who eke out a primitive existence in vast cities almost entirely destroyed by riots. Their reason for this primitive existence? As the protagonist regularly reminds us, droids have removed the need for workers and now only the rich have the luxury of playing at jobs.

The Electric Church falls very firmly into the category of dystopian science fiction; in fact, it falls so firmly into this category that it sometimes borders on farcical. The omnipresent Systems Police maintain order using the best technology available, combined with arbitrary beatings and executions. However, their exact purpose for maintaining order is left largely unclear. The protagonist, Avery Cates, often begrudges the rich, who are rumoured to live in small enclaves, but with the exception of one luxurious trans-Atlantic flight the reader is never exposed to them. This gives an impression of uniformed warlords masquerading as police, rather than law enforcement engaged in the protection of any kind of society. Although this might be intentional, there are sufficient hints about enclaves of luxury and high technology that I suspect the effect is more accidental. Furthermore, the regular tirades of the protagonist against "the system" can become wearisome. I frequently found myself rolling my eyes and thinking, "I know it's a dystopia, I can tell from how often you get faecal material on your clothes."

The two locations the novel is set in are New York and London, but unfortunately the author takes his dystopia so far there is little real difference between the two. With almost every building having been destroyed in riots, the picture readers are presented with is of two largely identical piles of rubble. Furthermore, despite having chosen two of the most iconic cities in the world for his setting, only three local landmarks are referred to, all of them in London. Whilst we might expect a global police force to be identical on either side of the Atlantic, the civilian populace is near enough identical as well, with the British simply being slightly more downtrodden and miserable (much like in real life).

On the positive side, the plotting is fast-paced and unpredictable, and whilst the conclusion is hardly earth-shattering, it is satisfying, with implications larger than what the earlier parts of the book lead me to expect. The action scenes are also well-written and enjoyable. However, the greatest accomplishment of the author is the characters. The villains in particular are enjoyable, with the "electric monks" of the titular Church being compelling and interesting enemies. The battle cry of "I'm gonna eat your kidneys, arsehole!" from a particularly persistent Systems Police officer will also likely stick in my mind for a while.

The protagonist's allies are lacklustre by comparison, with only a few stand-out characters; perhaps the author realised which of his creations were the best, as he kills off all the inferior ones by the end of the book. The protagonist himself is also a refreshing change from the all too common square-jawed hero types of many science fiction novels, though he is perhaps not as much of a "bad man" as the author would have us believe.

The Electric Church is a gritty science fiction novel eschewing an interest in technology in favor of action. The plot is serviceable, with an ending that surpasses its overall mediocrity, but the setting is poorly realised and unimaginative. The characters represent the novel's greatest strength, but whilst some of them are memorable none of them are outsanding. Despite these limitations, The Electric Church was quick, entertaining fun, requiring little thought for enjoyment - though I don't feel any particular rush to buy the sequel.

Vahl Ahashion
(No longer!) Perpetually broke pilot for Fidelas Constans. Send me an ingame mail if there's a book you think I should review.
Author: Jeff Somers
Publisher: Orbit
Price: $6.31