Empire State is the début novel of the talented author Adam Christopher, combining a superhero tale with an alternative reality prohibition era noir-esque New York.
Throw in gangsters, private investigators and a rogue robot and even a slight nod to steampunk then you have one daring mix.
The parallel dimension of Empire State was birthed by an energy blast given off in the last great science hero fight but when this rift begins to close both realities become threatened and must fight for the right to exist.
Combining all these different styles is a pretty brave thing to do for a début novel - I am reminded very much of a Masterchef final where the contestant combines flavours and ingredients in a dish that even the judges don't know will work. It's a real make or break idea that requires good attention to detail, a confident voice and great skills as a word-smith.
The question is though is Empire State a masterpiece creation of subtle flavours and enticing aromas or is it a steaming pile of confusion, a gelatinous mess?
I am glad to say that it clearly is the former, a delight to the literary palate with a richly woven narrative, interesting ideas and above all a great story. I am a big fan of the noir style, especially when it's combined with a science fiction edge and the prohibition era of the 1920's and 1930's in New York is a genius of an idea and it does manage to combine well with steampunk-esque automata and airships, along with the "science hero" edge and the parallel world.
There are a few rough spots, as you'd find with any debut novel and in places the narrative does feel a little flat but not enough to put you off or spoil the story; however the pace does also stall in a few places which gives the reader the feeling of running on the spot - I do suggest you keep going past though as it really is worth it.
There is also a certain chandler-esque "pulp" quality to it too, never attempting to be too high brow or take itself too seriously, which for me is a big plus point, including a few tongue-in-cheek references to other science fiction novels and comics. The most obvious of these is the "Seduction of the Innocent" which in the Empire State universe is a religious tome rather than the poorly written diatribe of an an out of touch psychiatrist that almost caused the destruction of the comic book industry.
There are so many ideas being crammed into this story, some of which work really well (along with the odd one that doesn't quite make it) while the narrative can be a little unforgiving at times; you really do have to pay attention or get lost when the perspectives switches from one paragraph to the next. To be fair though I prefer this than being molly-coddled and if you've read a few Philip K Dick novels you will be used to it anyway. The main protagonist of Rad Bradley (which according to the author has nothing to do with Ray Bradbury) is a colourful chap however some of the background characters by contrast do seem a little grey and would have benefited from a bit more flesh on the bones.
For all those little niggles Empire State is a fantastic piece of fiction, it's like one of those people that you just want to be seen with because they are so cool, radiating so much style, charm and charisma that if harnessed could power Hollywood for a century.
Ultimately most of us read to be entertained and this is without a doubt highly entertaining; if you let it, it will show you all the best places, buy you the best drinks and by the end of the night you will feel like you had one hell of a time.
Written on 05 January 2012 by Antony Jones.
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