Jul 30, 2013

[Books] The Age Atomic

When I first read Adam Christopher's Empire State, I was rather impressed with the little world that he had created in this unique science fiction story. It felt like a return to more classic science fiction married with interesting touches of detective noir stories, superheroes and even steampunk. Thus by the end of the book, I was rather impressed with the novel and keen on seeing what would happen next.

Thanks to the Angry Robot Army review program, I managed to get a review copy of the next book in this series, The Age Atomic, which brings us back to the world of the Empire State as it exists it the isolated pocket universe attached to our own. And from the title alone, you can imagine that a fair amount of time has passed since the events in the first book, which does make for potentially interesting stories.

Of course this makes me wonder a bit just how many stories are left in this particular franchise. I love the premise of things, I really do, however I also see how things might feel a little limited in one tales there are to tell. I was already surprised that the first book had managed to inspire a sequel at all. And while this sequel was still pretty interesting, I'm not sure if it was truly necessary.

Synopsis: The Age Atomic is Adam Christopher's sequel to his debut novel, Empire State. The book still centers around Rad, our protagonist from the first book, although a fair amount of time has passed. Disclaimer: I was granted a free review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. No other form of compensation was received for this review.

The Empire State is dying as a biting cold winter seems to be without end. Their pocket universe appears to have been cut off from the original New York with the disappearance of the Fissure that had acted as a link between the two worlds. Captain Carson, who had stepped up to take control of the city after the events of the first book, has been missing for some time as well, leaving the Empire State to its own devices. Our detective friend Rad is still trying to solve the occasional crime, with his latest case taking him to discover some mystery in Harlem.

Meanwhile in New York, it is 1954 and the World War II has been over for some time now. Nimrod remains in charge of the special government agency in charge of monitoring the Fissure - which still exists on this side. However they too have lost contact with the Empire State and this fact worries him. But at the same time, a new government group called Atoms for Peace has come into being and is a bit of a rival to Nimrod's efforts. Their director is the mysterious Evelyn McHale, who appears to be some sort of ghost based on most descriptions.

This book sort of picks up the action fairly quickly - not bothering to go with the sort of slower-burn that we had followed in the first book. That may or may not be a good thing since this was in fact a sequel so I suppose we didn't need to learn all that much about the Empire State this time around - just the need to move forward with the plot and figure out what the heck was going on. I did kind of miss this being a bit more like a detective story though - as much as there were still mysteries to be solved, we just sort of found out the answers instead of feeling the satisfaction of various clues coming together for a greater conclusion.

I think the book could have used a bit more development work - a bit more discussion about how the Empire State itself had changed after the events of the first book. I kind of wanted to better understand how life had initially continued on once the corruption in the city had been resolved and Wartime declared officially over. What made the Enemy stop sending their own forces against the Empire State? If Prohibition was over, where were all the resources for the additional goods coming in? Was regular trade happening with New York before the Fissure closed up or something? There were just so many unanswered questions that I feel a whole book could probably fit in-between the two written thus far. And that sort of annoyed me, but in a good way.

The core adventure this time around centered on robots on both sides of the fissure - hence the cover of the book. I'll leave it to you as a reader to find out just what robots have to do with this story, but it still made sense given the role robots played in the Empire State during Wartime. The nature of robots in this universe is always a little disturbing and Christopher made sure to build on that concept within this sequel.

But I did enjoy the story for the most part. It had a good dose of action and adventure to go all around, nefarious plots and complicated ploys to maneuver forces on both sides of the Fissure. And how one event links to another did make for interesting reading as well, although I think the ending could have used a bit more work. Things sort of got wrapped up a tad forcibly, in my opinion, and naturally a lot of this parallel universe business immediately had a lot of echoes with stories like that of TV's Fringe.

The Age Atomic is a great follow-up to Empire State, but not quite as strong. It's still a pretty good book that has a lot of high points, but be sure to read the first one before diving into this one given the lack of explicit world-building this time around. It still rates a good 3.5 robots walking through the night out of a possible 5.

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