Thursday, 18 February 2010

‘The Eternal Prison’ – Jeff Somers (Orbit)

This week seems to have become a week where I’ve unwittingly found myself reading the kind of books that don’t demand too much of your time while you’re reading them. To be fair, a house purchase that has become more and more drawn out and petty (not from me though!) has been at the forefront of pretty much everything these past few days. There hasn’t been a lot left of me to concentrate on the good stuff...
I’ve been reading Jeff Somers’ ‘Avery Cates’ books since, well... since this blog sprang into life! The two preceding books demanded nothing more than my sitting back and watching hit men look very cool, while the bullets fly and stuff gets blown up, and it was this kind of mindless action that pretty much sealed the deal when I was looking for my next book to read.
‘The Eternal Prison’ certainly gave me what I was looking for, and in style! I couldn’t help wondering if something was missing though...

After surviving the worst bioengineered disaster in history (check out ‘The Digital Plague’) you would have thought that things would have to start looking up for gunner Avery Cates. You would have thought, wouldn’t you?
Not so; all Avery gets for his troubles is a one way ticket to Chengara Penitentiary, a prison where the survival rate is exactly zero. Avery wants out and he’ll get his wish, only at a price he might not be willing to pay.
Now Avery is back on the street doing what he does best and looking for a little revenge along the way. What he’s up against this time just might prove the end of him though, it’s only the biggest assassination of his career...

‘The Eternal Prison’ is one of those books where you open the first page and you find yourself being carried along effortlessly by the dialogue and the speed of the bullets flying past people’s ears. I found myself glued to the page simply because there is so much going on. If you blink then you will find yourself missing two or three things happening all at once. There’s also a mystery to be solved and the way that it gradually unfolds heightens the tension and keeps the pages turning.
Somers proves that the eye for spectacle that he’s cultivated, over the course of the last two novels, hasn’t left him in ‘The Eternal Prison’. If something can be blown up, crashed, shot or graphically maimed then you can bet anything you like that Somers will be doing just that and in great style. I think these books have been optioned for film (it might just be ‘The Electric Church’) and I’m looking forward to seeing how Somers’ prose makes the leap to the big screen.

Somers’ world is as brutally dystopian as ever, even more so following on fro mthe events of the last two books. This world is starkly painted in bleak colours, this is a place that you’ll love to visit but you’d never ever want to live there! It makes you wonder how anyone could survive this and that’s part of the point of the novel. Sometimes it all boils down to survival and ‘The Eternal Prison’ really lays it on the line as to what that can involve. When the alternative is death, humanity has the capacity to surprise itself with just what it will do to survive; Somers’ characters really capture this and in ways that will make you jump with their sheer brutality.
By the end though, you’ll see that there is still some hope for the future. Maybe Jeff Somers isn’t as tough as he likes to make out? ;o)

Avery Cates stalks through all this destruction and mayhem like a cyber punk god of death with a sharp line in wry inner dialogue. Here’s a guy who has all the moves but is starting to lose his edge through age. Not only that, Cates also has no idea whatsoever what is going on (at least to start off with). This air of vulnerability offsets Cates’ seeming invincibility and makes him a character worth sticking around with. You may know that he’ll make it through to the end but you don’t know what shape he’ll be in when he gets to the finish line. Talking of which, Somers has some surprises in store for Cates and the reader; these are worth the wait!

The only real problem I had was that while the separate plots came together in a crash of noise and blood there seemed to be very little cohesion about the affair as a whole. Why did Cates let petty revenge side-track him from the job that he was hired to do? How did the revenge sub plot link in with the rest of the tale? It felt like Cates was switching between one sub-plot and the other with very little rhyme or reason. There was nothing to hang onto; you just took the punches as they came.
Now I know that sometimes life just happens like that but in a book I generally tend to look for something a little more structure. If everything’s coming at me all at once then I find that I’m wasting time trying to filter stuff when I could be reading. That’s what happened here. Maybe I should have re-read the other two books first?

What I found in the end was that if I stopped trying to follow the plot and concentrated on the high body count instead… I had a whale of a time. ‘The Eternal Prison’ is a kick ass read in that respect and I don’t regret taking the time to read it at all. I can’t help thinking though that it could have been a whole lot better had Somers decided just what story he was trying to tell…

Eight out of Ten

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