Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
The Terminal State is the fourth Avery Cates novel, following The Electric Church, The Digital Plague, and The Eternal Prison. It is very much in the same mode as the earlier volumes, and as such will please readers of the earlier novels but be only a moderate success with new readers.
Avery Cates is a hitman, and in earlier novels he has been careening through a future world in which society is rapidly breaking down; by the time The Terminal State opens, Avery has inadvertently provided considerable assistance to the people who now seem to have reached the point of utterly destroying the world. Ordinary people live in terror of being press-ganged into one or other of the military or police forces struggling to gain nominal control of the ruins. And in chapter one, Avery is press-ganged.
This is a particularly fearsome prospect at this point in time; when you’re press-ganged they insert controls into your brain which force you to do what your commander tells you. Desert? If you move too far away from your commander then the software kills you. Assassinate your commander? Try it and feel your head explode – literally. When Avery wakes up, he finds that they’ve inserted these controls into his brain – but a senior officer is making himself a nice little bonus by selling Avery, and his controls, to one of Avery’s enemies. And there’s very little Avery can do about it.
In any case, Avery decides not to try to fight – yet. He’s been bought by Canny Orel, his oldest enemy, and so Avery might at last get a chance to kill him. Avery would die in the process, but hey – what’s he got to live for anymore anyway?
This was a very bleak vision of the future, which left me wondering what any but the most powerful had to live for. Most of the cities had been reduced to rubble, many people had been replaced with electronic avatars, a lot of the people remaining had electronic controls in their heads, and starvation, illness and death were rife. Sure, you’d probably fight to survive from instinct, but there didn’t seem to be much left in the world.
In that sense, the fact that Avery was living only to kill someone kind of made sense. The trouble is, that’s really all that drives Avery, and so it’s hard to empathise with him. There isn’t anyone he loves or really cares for, and no-one he’s trying to protect. He’s only trying to kill Orel because he double-crossed him. Avery had virtually nothing when the series started, has nothing now, and has no prospect of having anything even if he achieves his murderous goals. For a reader, that doesn’t leave a lot to hang on to.
This is, however, a fairly well written novel. The action scenes are well choregraphed and convincing, and they take centre stage for most of the novel. The writing moves along well enough, and the plot is brisk and well worked out. The world has moved on a little since the last novel, and it’s a convincing progression given the events outlined.
There is really nothing much wrong with this novel; it’s just that there isn’t anything that stands out a lot either. It is a pleasant enough read, but hardly engrossing, and it isn’t memorable. If you like action oriented science fiction you’ll find things to enjoy here, but I wouldn’t expect most readers to get overly excited about it.