Monday, January 30, 2012

recent read: Empire State

Empire State by Adam Christopher

Oddly enough, the first quote I thought of when pondering a review of this novel was from Ralph Nader's running mate a few elections past, Winona LaDuke.  There was some commentary between her and a reporter, and the reporter said, "But isn't this America?  The Melting Pot?" to which she replied, "Yes, but do you want a bland puree of everything, or a nice chunky stew with all the individual elements clearly defined and contributing to the whole?"  (I am paraphrasing, but that was the gist of what she said.)

Empire State is definitely a pulp stew.  From noir-ish tinges of Chandler & Hammett, to wild contraptions of stories of The Spider, with rocketeering super-heroes and racketeers along for the ride.  Although even the author refers to the work as science fiction - the scifi only plays into the setting and background of the creation of the Empire State.  All else feels, smells and tastes like pulp - and that is fine with me.

There is nothing bland or pureed about it.

Although it is supposed to be one of the surprises, it is no secret now that the plot involves the Empire State - which is not the state of New York.  Rather, the Empire State is a pocket universe creation modeled on NYC (just Manhattan, really.)  The Empire State is in a constant war with The Enemy, the citizens are subject to severe rationing, faulty memories, and a strict Prohibition that includes tobacco as well as alcohol.  And no one dares speak out against the State or the City Commissioners too loudly.

Rad Bradley, a private investigator, is suddenly thrust into a world-endangering conspiracy.  As he learns eventually, not only is the Empire State under threat, but so too is the Origin - the real Empire State - New York City.  Ironclads, diving suits, airships, caped crusaders, cocky newspaper reporters, and damsels all become entwined in his latest case and his life.

One thing this novel excelled at was reveals.  The reader constantly learned, often surprised, as the story moved along, yet it never felt like a cheat.  It wasn't that Christopher was holding back information - it was more he revealed information when you needed to know it.   There were good twists, crosses and double-crosses, too - although they seemed to pile on a little heavy at the end (personal taste.)

I really enjoyed this one.  It is a great, fun romp and if any of the elements I've listed above appeal to you, you should give this one a read.

I'll be checking out Christopher's next novel (which involves full-on spandex superheroes,)  The Seven Wonders, for certain.