Empire State is the genre-bending debut novel of New Zealand-born author Adam Christopher, one of Angry Robot’s exciting new acquisitions. Empire State successfully combines science fiction, Prohibition-era detective noir, comic book superheroes, and nearly endless plot twists to create a fast-paced and unique saga of surprises that is sure to keep countless readers up into the early hours of the morning.
Welcome to the Empire State
Empire State primarily tells the tale of Rad Bradley, an out-of-work private detective who, despite bordering on middle age, can’t remember anything much further back than the last decade. The majority of the story takes place within Rad’s home city, the Empire State, which is not surprising, really, as according to the authorities, there is nowhere else. Seemingly, the only ones ever to have left the Empire State’s boundaries are the human-robot hybrids incrementally sent off into the surrounding fog to fight a mysterious and unnamed enemy. None of these have ever returned. The city itself is a dismal place where the majority of citizens struggle to make ends meet, relying on scant Wartime rations, and an authoritarian government uses their fear of the unknown as a tool of oppression.
However, a new case will see Rad caught up in a series of strange events and multilayered conspiracies with roots deep into the heart of the Empire State itself. Rad is about to discover that the Empire State is not the only place; in fact, it is merely a pocket dimension that was created in the image of the larger city of New York during a battle between two scientist heroes. Soon the fate of both cities may lie in Rad Bradley’s hands.
And now for something just a little bit different…
The first thing I have to say about Empire State is that it will probably not be quite what you are expecting. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Although Empire State deals with the concept of a multiverse and contains quite a number of other science fiction elements, it is not an example of hard science fiction. In fact, I would venture to say that Empire State is not really a science fiction novel. Nor is it really a superhero novel in the classical sense. The most adequate description I can find for it is a parallel world, Prohibition-era noir, detective novel with a superhuman twist.
Anyone for some Prohibition-era detective noir?
In my opinion, the noir elements are what really make the novel and give it pathos. The shadow of Wartime Prohibition lies over the entire narrative like a distorting lens, lending it a distinctive tone and aesthetic. Even when more immediate events take precedence and temporarily push these aspects into the background, their presence is still undeniably felt. Related themes of inequality and repression also underpin the narrative as do the concepts of self and other, belonging, and the temptation of something greater. The latter two are embodied in a grass is greener mentality that has the character’s constantly questioning whether the Empire State is but a poor reflection of the ‘real’ New York City and whether they would be happier on the other side.
The characters themselves are also complex and memorable, ranging from the strange and quirky to the creepy and morally reprehensible. In addition, their motivations are believable despite never being quite what you expect. Christopher’s protagonist Rad Bradley is a standout character throughout the novel, remaining likable and sympathetic despite his flaws. He is a man we can all relate to, just trying to get by and do the best he can in a world gone mad.
A nonstop saga of surprises
Christopher packs numerous little twists and turns into the novel, and Empire State contains all the elements to make it a rip-roaring read—from creepy religious cults, dark humor, murder, and intrigue to the concept of Wartime and a dash of aeronautical piracy. Once the novel gets started, it just keeps increasing in tempo, resulting in a fast paced revelation-fest that will continue to surprise even the most savvy readers.
So many surprises may occasionally come at the cost of clarity. Readers looking for a no-holds barred succession of surprises will no doubt be delighted, while those who prefer to have some idea where the story is going may find themselves a little lost. In addition, the reader is not made explicitly aware of the fact that the Empire State is a parallel world reflection of New York City until quite a while into the novel. Although this should be easy enough for most readers to figure out, and is stated quite clearly on the blurb, more literal readers may find it a little off-putting. As I discovered after a few failed attempts to read it late at night after a long work shift, Empire State is a novel you have to keep your mind focused on so you don’t lose track of what is going on and who is betraying whom. Nevertheless, those who give the novel their undivided attention will be well rewarded for doing so.
Why should you read this book?
Overall, Empire State is sure to provide an interesting and immersive read for fans of offbeat science fiction and detective noir or anyone simply looking to try something a little new and different from an up-and-coming debut author. Furthermore, it has also been selected as the basis for Angry Robot’s first Worldbuilder project, which allows readers to contribute works of their own based upon the world of Empire State. As a result, reading the novel may provide one with an exciting opportunity for their own creative endeavors. However, readers expecting a novel primarily involving super humans flying around shooting lasers out of their eyes may find themselves more suited to Christopher’s newly announced second novel, Seven Wonders, which promises all that and more.