Archive for Empire State

Empire Weekend

Finally! A chance to review something other than comics!

Empire State by Adam Christopher

“Empire State” is a sci-fi/fantasy/superhero/noir novel by Adam Christopher that starts out with a couple of super-people in 1930s New York having a fight so big, it ends up creating a pocket universe called the Empire State. It’s a darker, rainier, bleaker, more film-noir version of New York City — and only New York City. There’s no Jersey, no Albany, no Baltimore, no California, no Texas, no England, no Bangladesh, no nothing.

Our main character is Rad Bradley, a booze-swilling private eye on the trail of a missing woman, all while under the watchful eye of an oppressive wartime government, a shadowy religious conspiracy, mysterious bruisers wearing gas masks, a mad scientist, and a superhero called the Skyguard.

There are lots of sci-fi and fantasy touches here — robots, parallel worlds, super-science, mega-sized blimps, time travel, interdimensional mindtrip war — and the entire story is kicked off by a couple of superheroes who hit each other so hard they create a new universe — but the bulk of what you’re getting here is good old-fashioned pulp-flavored film noir. Rad Bradley is an old-school gumshoe. He gets hired by a leggy dame, he hangs out with a cynical newspaper reporter, he’s got a bad relationship with the cops, he’s got a run-down office, he wears a fedora — and he goes out investigating mysteries, just like any good old-school gumshoe.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Characters are pretty good. Action’s good. It’s got a fantastic hook. The book even comes with extras, including an interview with the author, a suggested playlist, and something called “WorldBuilder” that lets others write stories set in the Empire State universe.

If I’ve got a complaint, it’s about the lack of female characters. I think I counted four of them — one is Rad’s ex-wife, one is a murder victim, one is the lover of the murder victim, and the only one with a significant part to play in the story is the Science Pirate (not a spoiler — her identity is revealed very early in the book). But the Science Pirate never does a whole lot — gets captured a couple of times and is otherwise kinda generically villainous. Even worse, everyone talks about what a badass the Science Pirate is — until they find out she’s a woman, and then everyone starts disregarding her — “Oh, she’s just a woman, she’s no threat.”

Now that might be something you could excuse for historical accuracy — back in the ’30s, a woman might not be taken seriously by a lot of people. Two problems with that — first, Rad Bradley, the hero, is a black man, and no one ever suggests that he’s not a capable private eye, which definitely wouldn’t happen in the ’30s; and second, if the reader can accept a world with pulp mysteries, robots, superheroes, and all kinds of amazing science-fictional stuff that never happened in the 1930s, you can bet that the reader can also accept capable, non-background female characters.

And that’s a couple big fat paragraphs of negativity — when, really, I definitely enjoyed the book. It runs at a good, brisk pace, and it kept me reading as fast as I could all the way through. The mystery has even more twists and turns than you’d expect from a good pulp detective yarn, and the identity of the villain was a solid surprise for me, even if I could see, looking back, where he was being telegraphed to the reader. It’s a fun book, and other than that point about the female characters, it was a very enthusiastic thumbs up. Go hunt it down and read it, kids.

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