The Terminal State: Avery Cates 4
Review by Ernest Lilley
Orbit Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 1841498750
Date: 01 May 2011 /
Avery Cates is your classic post-apocalyptic weaponized professional bad-ass gunner with a grudge. In fact, he's mostly made up of grudges at this point, four books into his saga. He's been stabbed, shot, brain-spiked, bitten, burned and blown up so many times that the fact he's still standing threatens to move The Terminal State out of post-apocalyptic-adrenaline-punk into dark-fantasy and be done with it. But what fun would that be? Besides, if Cates has had a hard time of it, you should see the other guy.
The Terminal State opens with Cates following the lead of worn-out gunfighters of every era, hunkered down in a dead-end town drinking himself into the future one glass at a time and killing the odd stranger that threatens the town's relative peace. This state of affairs lasts all the way through the prologue, which is fun, but makes you think that this is really a short story the author had lying around, and wanted to use before getting down to work.
When the real story gets going, we find Cates and his friendly townsfolk stuffed into a truck heading for a recruitment center after the army has mowed the town down looking to press every warm-blooded body they can find into service in the war between nano-juiced soldiers and robo-cops. The old world has fallen, and the new world is still trying to decide who's going to inherit it.
The army pumps Cates full of nano-tech and battle-drug reservoirs, turning his broken and middle aged body (old in post-apocalypse years) into something faster and stronger than he was when he was young, and the world hadn't yet gone to hell. But Cates isn't destined to be cannon fodder. It's not his body that makes him a resource, it's his singular ability to kill and not be killed, over and over, that makes him extraordinary in a era of instant warriors on both sides. So valuable, in fact, that he's sold off to a bidder who is looking for someone to do a special job, none other than Michaleen, the dark genius who conned Cates into helping him escape from a high security prison in the last book (The Eternal Prison) before abandoning him to be processed into a cyborg body. As Cates muses early on, he's spent entirely too much of his life strapped onto a table, or into a chair, or whatever, waiting for the bad stuff to happen to him.
One of the wrinkles in this series is that a small number of people have unlocked the PSI talents in their brains and this makes them very hard to deal with. Nobody, not even these Spooks, is very pleased to hear that a bright tech named Londholm has found a way to hack anyone's brain to provide the God-Augment--full access to all the PSI potential for anyone--and he's holed up in Hong Kong. It would be Hong Kong, which has sealed itself off from the rest of the world, and the battle for ownership between cops and army. Pretty much every professional killer and his brother are headed there to try and kill or capture Londholm for one monied interest or another. Michaleen has sprung Cates to get there ahead of all of them and destroy the technology. At least that's what he says.
For payment, he promises Cates freedom from the little black box the army wired to his brain that can a) send maximum pain through his body b) send him into a berserker fit that you'd pretty much have to blow his head off to stop or c) blow his head off (from the inside, anyway).
For friends, he sends along a pair of pros; the Poet, who has animated tattoos of all his kills flowing over his humongous arms, and Mara, a teenage girl who's wired directly into whatever information sources are in the air, though she's perfectly capable of pretty much any kind of lethal action the occasion calls for. Possibly the biggest problem the trio have as they fight, kick, shoot, gouge, and generally melee their way around the globe to Hong Kong, is that Cates has become, at this point, really well known, and really badly wanted by people he's pissed off, which is pretty much what he does to everyone he meets.
Though Cates starts off having been upgraded to perfect fighting form, he manages to erode that benefit away steadily through the book until at the end, when he's facing the Boss Villain, his needle is way below empty.
I seriously don’t know where Jeff Somers finds the adrenaline to write this stuff. Cates and his crew never get a break, and have to fight every foot of the way towards the building they've been warned is heavily defended by crack mercenaries. Somer's genius lies in not just being able to write a convincing slugfest, but in being able to track the small-group dynamics the characters work through as they go from hostile strangers to an effective fighting unit, dealing with betrayal and deceit at every turn along the way.
"You're like some sort of idiot savant," The Poet's voice said in my ear, "I swear I don't know how you've lived this long. Put you in a room with a gun and ten men trying to kill you and you're a genius. But you can spend two weeks with the two of us and not know what's going on."That's our boy, and thanks to the excerpt from the next book (The Final Evolution) you know he'll be back for more. We'll be waiting.