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The Eternal Prison (Avery Cates) by Jeff Somers
Cover Artist: Jae Lee
Review by Ernest Lilley
Orbit Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316022118
Date: 12 August 2009 List Price $12.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Short Story: Oldest Bastard On The Block / Show Official Info /

Avery Case is a killer, and a survivor, and one mean son of a bitch. He's made it through the collapse of the government, and its mutant rebirth in the form of Homeland Security gone wild, as well as an engineered plague that came within days of wiping out mankind. Which it would have, but for him, actually. Now he's just tired and spent. Unfortunately the powers that be aren't through with him yet, and he finds himself on a train with other VIPs heading for a prison which is more of a death sentence than punishment. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, they say...and there's so much stuff that hasn't quite killed him yet that he's got to be the strongest bastard alive. Which he's going to need to be, to escape from The Eternal Prison

The Eternal Prison is inelegant but articulate, prose. Avery Cates is a legendary gunner, which is to say hitman, who works for the system, at least sometimes. You'd have to have read The Electric Church and The Digital Plague to get all his back-story, but for now, he's worn out, cranky, tired, in pain all the time, perpetually pissed off, deadly as hell, and always walking a fine line between getting himself killed and encouraging others to die instead.

What I love about Cates is his general good sense, though if he was really sensible he'd fade into the woodwork instead of being a perennial person of interest. What he gets, that so few antihero's (and almost no heroes, by definition) get, is that when it's kill or be killed, not only do you shoot first, but you put another round into the other guy for insurance, which cuts down on the number of dead people who come back at you when you're not expecting it.

At least, that's the way it's supposed to work.

When Cates is picked up in a security sweep of the crumbling remains of blighted NYC, which is being bulldozed to make a really big shopping mall and suburban style wonderland, he's sent to Chengara Prison, a nice enough place if you don't mind dying of thirst or hunger, which are both pretty much guaranteed in the long run. Except that for some reason there doesn't seem to be a long run. Every now and then the prison population thins out and nobody quite knows how or when.

Everybody except the fat man that recruits Cates for an escape team. He knows that the prisoners are being cycled through a brain copying procedure that lets the powers that be create perfect avatars of the original, but set to do their bidding. Which is why some people Avery has been killing lately keep turning up.

Can Avery, the Fat Man, and a handful of talented societal rejects escape from a maximum security facility in the middle of nowhere? And if they do, where will that leave them, exactly?

Sure, I could dig up some more detail about the plot, characters, social conditions and all that...but you'll get them when you read the book. Heck, you'll get most of it if you just read the short story, "Oldest Bastard on the Block" (see links). Slipping into Cates' skin is as easy as reading the first line of the book. The hard part is peeling it off again after the last page.

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