Thursday, January 26, 2012

REVIEW: Empire State

I can't explain why I was so excited about EMPIRE STATE. Perhaps it's because I write superhero fiction and was elated to see someone else writing it. Perhaps it's because of the gorgeous cover.

I don't know.

I pre-ordered the book for my Kindle and waited eagerly until it was auto delivered on December 27th. It didn't take me long to finish it.

EMPIRE STATE is the debut novel from Adam Christopher published by Angry Robot Books. Adam was kind enough to submit to one of my "Take Five" interviews, which you will find at the end of this review.

First of all, I expected superheroes from EMPIRE STATE. And while the book includes superheroes, they're not the primary focus. The novel is a "mash-up" of various genres. Yet, at its heart, it's a noir/murder mystery with a lot of pulpy sci-fi thrown in for good effect.

EMPIRE STATE tells the story of detective Rad Bradley, your typical hard-drinking, trenchcoat-wearing private eye. When a mysterious woman comes to Rad's office and pleads with him to take on a missing persons case, Rad accepts. What follows is a trippy journey involving parallel worlds, superheroes, cults, robots, Prohibition-era New York, an undefinable "Enemy," and a doomsday plot.

Rad, you see, lives in the Empire State, a dark, atmospheric take on New York City. No one leaves the Empire State. Ever. It's always wartime, the city's always foggy and dark, and nothing seems to add up. Of course, Rad doesn't realize this until he begins investigating the case. He encounters his own doppleganger, travels to the "real" New York, and discovers the truth about the Empire State: it exists, but it shouldn't.

Turns out Rad is an echo of someone else...just like the Empire State is an echo of the "real" New York. Now, someone wants to destroy the bridge linking the two realities, an act that could destroy the Empire State, New York, and the world. Rad resolves to stop it, although it becomes abundantly clear that he can't trust anyone (not even himself!).

The tension builds throughout the book as the scope of the mystery becomes clearer. Rad encounters robots, great airships called ironclads, a strange cult leader, and two rocket-powered superheroes.

And, just when you think you and Rad have it all figured out, it turns out you don't.

Because nothing is ever as it seems in the Empire State.

The book shoots high and hits most of its targets. It's by no means perfect, but I don't think I've ever encountered a perfect novel. I found it fun, engaging, and nostalgic. I think it will appeal to fans of pulpy detective stories, science fiction lovers, and open-minded mystery lovers.

-Superheroes. With rocket boots.
-Thugs. With gas masks.
-atmospheric take on NYC via Empire State is terrific; both worlds are tied together but remain distinct
-good building of mystery and satisfying reveal
-a few nice little "nods" here and there to other works via locations and characters' names
-really liked the character of the Captain
-no one in the book is particularly trustworthy; readers should be prepared for a bounty of twists and double crosses
-fun, genre-bending, page-turning read

-the main "villain" seems to, in some ways, come out of left field
-some readers will be left scratching their heads at the origins of the Fissure and some of the inconsistencies between characters and their parallel universe alter egos
-things get a little convoluted toward the end
-be prepared for much "sniggering" -- although the word is not used excessively, I encountered it enough times that it stuck in my mind


EMPIRE STATE reaches the rarefied air of Field of Dreams on the Ray Liotta Quality Meter (a brief explanation of the Ray Liotta Quality Meter).

QUESTION: It's hard to pin down a genre for EMPIRE STATE because there are a lot of different elements woven throughout the book. Where would you place it?

ADAM CHRISTOPHER: I think it's a science fiction noir, but it has elements of steampunk and fantasy too. But the central concept is science fiction - it might be wooly, fantastical, unscientific science fiction, but that still counts!

QUESTION: I'm fascinated by parallel universes, and I don't think I'm giving much away by saying you juggle two distinct "worlds" in this book. What attracts you to parallel realities?

ADAM CHRISTOPHER: Parallel universes are a fascination for me too - I love the idea that there are other realities with an infinite number of possibilities. Every day we make decisions and have thoughts that take us down one path - but what of the alternatives? I my love for alternate realities actually came from Doctor Who, originally. I was introduced to this series when I was 7 and New Zealand television was starting a big repeat run, starting with the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. In one of his stories, Inferno, he travels sideways in time to an alternate version of Britain, where the Nazis won the Second World War and all his friends from UNIT are fascists.

Parallel universes are certainly a recurring theme in my work! Places that are the same, but not - here, but not here. I love that kind of concept!

QUESTION: Superheroes, it seems, LOVE New York (or some version of it). What made it the perfect setting for the novel?

ADAM CHRISTOPHER: There were a couple of reasons - I wanted to write a period detective piece and include Prohibition, so I knew it needed to be set in a big, familiar American city. New York in the 1930s was also the birthplace of modern superhero comics, so the two ideas came together and New York it was!

Plus New York is so familiar and iconic, and I love the state's nickname - the Empire State. It seems so grand and mysterious... and it makes a great name for a novel!

QUESTION: Detective Rad Bradley is the heart of the book. How did he develop throughout your writing process?

ADAM CHRISTOPHER: I was lucky with Rad - he appeared, pretty much fully formed, before I even started thinking about the book. The name came from a mistyped Amazon search - I was looking for Ray Bradbury, but as soon as I saw the typo I had this image of a tough private detective, maybe an ex-boxer who's a little older and out of shape. But someone tough, hardboiled, loyal, who would fight for what he thinks is right.

He was a lot of fun to write! I must say I feel sorry for him a little - the things he has to go through! His world is turned upside down and inside out in the course of the book!

QUESTION: What are some of the books/movies that influenced the feel of EMPIRE STATE?

ADAM CHRISTOPHER: I'm a big comics fan and obviously Empire State owes a lot to that - particularly the work of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, two fantastic writers who have worked in both superhero and crime genres (incidentally, the two genres I think work best in comics). There's a lot of classic detective fiction in there too - the likes of Raymond Chandler, etc. In fact, I see Empire State as sort of "Raymond Chandler meets The Rocketeer in Gotham City," which is a little long for an elevator pitch, but seems to sum it up quite well!

BONUS QUESTION: What's your next project? What are you working on at the moment?

ADAM CHRISTOPHER: My second novel, Seven Wonders - a big, spandex-clad superhero epic, is out in September 2012. Other than that, I have a number of other projects on the go, so we'll have to see - more information when I have it!

EMPIRE STATE is available at most major retailers and e-tailers, including and Barnes & Noble. You can also get it through the publisher, Angry Robot

Follow Adam on Twitter @ghostfinder

You can read Adam's musings on his blog HERE

I bought and read the Kindle version for this review and conducted the interview through email. Special thanks to Adam Christopher for his time!