Author: Adam Christopher
Publisher: Angry Robot
Published: Out Now
RRP: Print £8.99 – Kindle £5.49
The Empire State is dying. The Fissure connecting the pocket universe to New York has vanished, plunging the city into a deep freeze and the populace are demanding a return to Prohibition and rationing as energy supplies dwindle. Meanwhile, in 1954 New York, the political dynamic has changed and Nimrod finds his department subsumed by a new group, Atoms for Peace, led by the mysterious Evelyn McHale. As Rad uncovers a new threat to his city, Atoms for Peace prepare their army for a transdimensional invasion. Their goal: total conquest – or destruction – of the Empire State.
The Age Atomic, what’s that about then I hear you ask? Well it’s a gritty noire detective story, mixed with fantasy and science fiction and the subtly blended with smooth classic 1950s style robots. You take all those ingredients, mix them with alternate universes and a frenetic prose, and you have Adam Christopher’s follow-up to 2012s fantastic Empire State. There, those few brief sentences contain all you need to know about this book, but there’s more to it than that.
Rad Bradley is back as the hard bitten and harder nosed Private Eye from the Pocket universe, known as the Empire State. But things are not going well for Rad or his city. The Fissure – the spatial link that joins the Pocket to the Origin, New York – has vanished, and Rad’s city has been plunged into a hard winter that shows no sign of ending. To make matters worse the city is being rocked by tremors that are collapsing buildings and threatening to rip the city apart. Rad is also into it up to his neck, a new case, a madman building a robot army, his friend – and probably the only man who understands the nature of the Fissure – Captain Carson missing, and a pretty secret agent who has an agenda all of her own.
Things in the Origin are not too well either; Captain Nimrod finds his department under threat from Atoms for Peace and its mysterious director Evelyn McHale. The power he once wielded slowly eroded and his department seemingly under siege in a post McCarthy 1954. Plus for some reason all contact with the Pocket has ceased, and the agents he’s sent to investigate are missing.
As with the previous book the story takes place in both universes, but unlike last time here we get more of the action in New York. That’s not to say there’s not plenty going on in the Empire State; the fast opening first quarter is a breathless example of tight writing and multiple cliff hangers. If Adam is adept at one thing it’s his skill at keeping the reader hooked, constantly I’m reminded of the old black & white Buster Crabbe starring Flash Gordon or Buck Rodgers adventures, every episode ending with the hero’s in a dire predicament. That’s not to say every chapter is predictable in how it ends and the next starts. The thrills are unexpected and there are some interesting curve balls thrown in that Flash or Buck would have had a challenge sorting out.
All the surviving characters from the first book are back in play (including one who everyone would have thought they’d seen the last of), around them Adam has woven a densely complex web, multiple plots that all rumble along beside eachother, gradually throughout the course of the book these plots jockey for position until the endgame where you find out they are all intricately linked. Likewise Adam’s characters weave in and out of the plots, all have a part to play, and as before not all are as clear cut as it seems. Characters coloured a muddy shade of grey are nothing new, but here the grey is a little deeper. Double-crosses come, unexpected, that make already ambiguous characters, an even darker shade of grey.
The fantasy element is ramped up more this time round (ghosts, that’s all I’m saying), but it doesn’t detract from the science fiction but adds to it in the same way brown sauce makes a bacon sandwich complete. What Adam has done is taken both genre’s and moulded them into a hybrid that gives you something that may not be new, but is different enough to stand out from the rest, it all goes towards making the story dark and moody with some flashes of humour and plenty of action. There is a lot to like about Adam’s style, he is obviously a fan of classic sci-fi and fantasy stories, and here he’s melded them onto a hardboiled Mike Hammer style crime story.
Adam Christopher has grown as a writer and the growth shines through here, his prose has become stronger, his characters more real; his ideas, settings and themes bright and full of depth. There were times during Empire State where for me the pace became bogged down; like we were treading water waiting to be rescued. I suppose it was expected for a first novel, the writer still finding his way around a story, still trying to find his voice and that of his characters. Adam has learned his trade since; he’s grown to a stylish and exciting writer, with ideas that are full of adventure and mystery.