The Empire State is dying. The Fissure connecting the pocket universe to New York has vanished, plunging the city into a deep freeze. 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
Given the critical success of Adam Christopher’s first excursion to the Empire State, it is no surprise that we find a sequel quickly arriving. The multi-genre mash-up was a favourite of mine last year as it combined pulp detective noir with bombastic 50’s style sci-fi all wrapped up in a rollercoaster plot.
Time has marched on almost a decade, and Detective Rad Bradley is more self-assured and confident than our previous encounter with him – to his and our benefit. No longer the skittish underdog, he has matured and becomes an active, and shrewd, participant instead of being uncontrollably swept along by events. He also is given a new dynamic in the shape of sassy Special Agent Jennifer Jones.
This isn’t Christopher’s ‘difficult’ second novel, in fact it is his sixth. But it is his first sequel, and that does show. Despite his best efforts, newcomers to the series will be baffled by all the references to Empire State. It is also a very different story, but crafted in the same recognisable universe.
There’s much here to enjoy – the marching armies of robots, the evocative description of their distinctively 50’s design, the crumbling decay of the Empire State. It’s just a shame that some of the twists and turns are predictable. But for those that are, there are also moments when the rug is swept from under you.
Christopher’s knack for combining real life with fiction continues as he brings us a villain in the shape of Evelyn McHale, who famously jumped from the roof of the Empire State Building before landing, almost perfectly, on a limousine below. I’m not going to discuss the circumstances of her return but for saying that she makes a remarkably striking and disturbing villain.
If Empire State was a love letter to pulp sci-fi then The Age Atomic feels more a homage to ancient creaky horror movies with its tales of bodily modification. The creepy legions of robots lining the streets of the Empire State feel like the walking dead. And with the decay of the Empire State, there’s an aspect of survival horror thrown in there too.
Like its predecessor, The Age Atomic doesn’t let up for its duration. Discussing the plot is difficult; such is the nature of the twisty plot as revelation after revelation comes to light. Frankly at times, it’s dizzying and exhausting – I had to keep referring backwards to remember what had happened. Not only do you have to juggle the plot, but also the doppelgangers of those who exist in the Empire State and New York. But the majority of readers will most likely lap up the action and be left hungry for more if the conclusion is anything to go by.
Overall, Christopher delivers again with an relentlessly entertaining, if packed, story that rightly builds on his success. Fans of funny robots, pulp detective novels and genre-bending will find much to like – so long as you’re already familiar with this new and exciting world.
The Fiction Stroker gives The Age Atomic four strokes out of five: