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The Age Atomic by Adam Christopher
Review by Drew Bittner
Angry Robot Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780857663146
Date: 26 March 2013 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

The Empire State, New York City's otherworldly and microcosmic twin, is dying. The Fissure that kept it alive and attached to the Big Apple has gotten disconnected; it remains in New York City but has gone from the Empire State, leaving it dying a frozen, entropic death.

But even though Wartime is over and her heroes are gone, the Empire State is not giving up that easily. And in its streets, the hints of rebellion stir.

In The Age Atomic, Adam Christopher follows his first novel Empire State by showing the demise of a city. Rad Bradley, private eye, struggles to stay warm as much as he does trying to figure out where human-looking robots are coming from and what they want. In partnership with Jennifer Jones, an agent of the city's Commissioners, he investigates the enigmatic King of 125th Street and his worrisome activities.

Meanwhile, a suicide named Evelyn McHale wanders through New York City, transformed into a quantum-powered demigoddess nicknamed the Ghost of Gotham. The handful of people in New York who know about the Empire State debate what to do about her--especially when she starts a movement called Atoms for Peace that might well take over New York.

With Skyguard and the Science Pirate gone, the Empire State is short on heroes to save the day. But as Rad and Jennifer dig deeper, they learn that not all the heroes are gone, nor did their stories end as they expected. Indeed, part of their quest demands that they find their missing friends, even if it means venturing into the fogs around the Empire State from which no one has returned... or braving the dangers of the enemy city that waits beyond.

Assuming they survive that, there are still big questions to answer, including: why doesn't anyone remember the last fleet's departure from the harbor at the end of Wartime? And what happened to all the robots that were built for the war, when the war ended? Answering these questions will lead Jennifer Jones, in particular, to a shattering realization about her own agenda.

Written with verve and a neo-noir sensibility, packed with superheroics and science fiction that feels delightfully retro, Christopher has produced a worthy successor to his strange, thrilling earlier book, Empire State. Pitting the characters against a threat that seems comprehensible--until suddenly it isn't--keeps the reader guessing up to the very last page, when old heroes confront new villains and even the definitions of those words go up in atomic flame.

Sturdy and redoubtable, Rad Bradley is the book's protagonist but far from its only major character. He's a classic PI, brave and determined to find answers, even when the story under those answers gets murky. With Jennifer, who has her own angle in all of this, he discovers what really happened to the bygone champions of the Empire State, and how the microcosm itself might be affecting all of them.

It would be a spoiler to say which characters reappear and how, but suffice it to say that Christopher has not pared down his cast as much as readers might think. And their reappearance will be both timely and ingenious.

Readers who want "that little bit more" from their storytelling should check this out. It's definitely not your run of the mill "parallel world on the verge of robot annihilation threatens our real world via a metaphysical connection" type of story.


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