Thursday, May 30, 2013

What We’re Reading: Speculative Fiction

In Empire State, Adam Christopher introduced us to a pocket universe with a near (but only near) perfect copy of New York City, and all of its inhabitants, tethered together by a fissure of energy (the aftereffects of a superheroic battle). Once private detective Rad Bradley unravels the mysteries of the Empire State and its mysterious “wartime,” life settles into something wonderfully peaceful. But in The Age Atomic, that period of post-war bliss has ended abruptly. Rationing is back on, the spring has turned to a harsh, unrelenting winter, and the city is plagued by earthquakes and tremors. And the fissure--the connection between the Empire State and New York City--has vanished.  

Simultaneously, in New York City, it is 1954 and both the city and country are besieged with political turmoil over the threat of communism and the possible use of atomic weapons. A governmental department, headed by Captain Nimrod, has been studying the fissure and the Empire State. Nimrod has become aware of changes in the fissure, but is unsure of the cause, or of how to reverse the effects. Worst of all, he has lost all contact with the Empire State. Now, at the worst possible time, Nimrod and his department are being challenged by a new adversary known as Atoms for Peace. Despite their moniker, this group, lead by the mysterious Evelyn McHale, seems to have plans of a decidedly unpeaceful nature. For Evelyn McHale, acting on  reasons known only to her, has decided to raise a robot army and wage a war that could destroy both cities and, quite possibly, the world.
As in his earlier novel, Adam Christopher creates in The Age Atomic a fusion of elements from crime/detective novels, comic superheroes, some of the defining elements of the film noir genre of the 1940s, and both pulp and contemporary sci-fi (with just a dash of steampunk). While inside the Empire State the time frame seems to be akin to a post-World War II United States, in New York City the time is the early to mid-1950s with all of the political and cultural turmoil that resulted from the discovery and use of the first atomic weapons. Unlike Empire State, which was a slow build as Christopher created the world(s) for the reader, The Age Atomic  starts with a horrific and mostly unexplained (until later in the novel) death, and then proceeds at a breakneck pace. Many of the characters from the first book are here (even ones readers might not have expected to be present in a sequel). The writing is an even more skillful homage to earlier genres/types (“His name was Cliff and he had a face to match.”) and they are wonderfully fused. And the mysteries to be solved are compelling and satisfyingly resolved. If you enjoyed Empire State, The Age Atomic is a must-read! If you haven’t yet read Empire State, what are you waiting for?

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