The sequel to Adam Christopher’s 2012 debut Empire State didn’t arrive until much later in 2013, and it was a rather frustrating wait since I really liked the first novel and wanted more of the same from someone I considered to be among the best debut writers of 2012. But unfortunately, The Atomic Age seemed to exemplify the faults and negatives of Empire State far more it did the good things. The difference between the two is a phenomenal one for me and I was extremely disappointed by it.
This review is a repost of the original review on The Founding Fields, which can be found here.
“Quite simply, this was disappointing in the extreme.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Reading sequels is often an experience filled with trepidation. They have the ability to annoy, to frustrate, to amaze, to stun beyond expectations. Sometimes they will meet your expectations almost spot on, although that is a rather rare case. As much as I wish otherwise, The Age Atomic is a sequel that falls in the category of “too complicated, too confusing, too aimless”, or, to use the previous terminology, “annoying and frustrating”. Empire State was a fantastic novel. It was the first such cross-genre SF novel that I had read in a long time, and I was completely taken with the world and characters that the author had created. The undercurrents of mystery and thrills that are threaded through the narrative made for a reading experience that was as intensely satisfying as it was fun. But, The Age Atomic failed to live up to that same standards set in Empire State. Most of all, the novel lacks a heart, that element of excitement and thrill, that was so prevalent in the debut.
One of the hallmarks of Empire State was that the novel managed to incorporate a lot of different concepts, characters, events into a cohesive whole. Almost all the story-arcs progressed well enough and got a satisfactory conclusion that also promises a lot for the future adventures of these same characters. In The Age Atomic, characters and events were too disparate to ever come together for a satisfactory conclusion. Rad Bradley, one of my favourite characters from the previous novel and the protagonist in both, felt completely flat and dull to me. He went about his investigations as if he was on auto-pilot, just going through the motions and no interest in anything beyond “I need to do this”. That’s not a character I can get behind and root for. If the character lacks any kind of excitement, then that’s not going to get me worked up either. For me, the vibe that I got from the character was that he has remained completely unchanged from the previous novel, that The Age Atomic represents a character reset, sort of.
This extended to Nimrod’s character as well. We saw him in Empire State in final third of the novel, and he was a fairly major character at that point. Where The Age Atomic is concerned, he is almost as important to the narrative as Rad is since through him we see how things are progressing in the real-world New York since the concluding events of Empire State. There were occasional flashes of adrenaline-pumping excitement in Nimrod’s arc, but they were too few to make any significant impression, and ultimately, his arc felt dull and uninspiring as well.
And so on and on it continued, with the entire cast coming across as dull in the extreme. In some cases, such as the Robot King of 125th Street, I repeatedly facepalmed at the character’s dialogue. I get that the author was going for humour there, mixed in with some psychopathic serial killer vibe there, but it was a mix that just didn’t work for me. His was a character that made me go “really?” again and again. Evelyn McHale, who initially came across as a character with lots of promise failed to live up to the expectations that she created. She was treated as a reverse Arthas from World of WarCraft: The Rise of The Lich King MMO. To give some context, the designers of the third installment of the game had the Lich King, the ultimate expansion boss, in almost every single zone, across numerous storylines. In fact, he showed up so much that the whole mystery, suspense and thrill about him just fizzled by the end. Where Evelyn is concerned, she shows up far too less, is far too mysterious, and is far too incomprehensible as a character. I didn’t find out her motivations until right at the end of the novel, and even then, I was left feeling confused.
If there’s any one thing that defines this novel, it is the sense throughout that the author is attempting to repeat the complexity of Empire State. In and of itself, its not a bad thing, especially when its done well, but that’s not the case here. There are too many things going on, too many characters with unclear, nebulous motives, and a pacing that stumbles again and again.
The Age Atomic was just not the kind of novel that I can appreciate to any degree. It started off decently enough, but after the first three or four chapters, everything began to head downhill. There is very little here that makes up for all of its deficiencies. Unfortunately, the unequivocally best thing about the novel happens to be its cover, which is just plain gorgeous, similar in style to Empire State and at least just as good.
More Adam Christopher: Empire State.