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on 18 February 2013
The setting felt realistic, even the bits set in another world. The tone worked well, there was a bleak, oppressive greyness that suited the events of the book. There were parts that felt a little disconnected, but that fit with the tone and the setting, as the reader is aware from early on that something isn't right.
Empire State is a good book, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I think I was expecting something a bit different and that created a disconnect in my mind. There were a couple of sections early on -mostly involving female characters- which I thought were really great, but they weren't the focus of the plot. About half way through I found myself drawing favourable comparisons with Dark City, there's a similar sense of darkness and unease in both. The end made me feel a little confused, though it has since occurred to me that I am not particularly well-versed in the noir genre. This book is more an SF noir than it is anything else, and that might be part of what threw me off.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 February 2014
I picked this up largely on the strength of its intriguing cover and jacket copy, which seemed to indicate some kind of pulp fiction, noir, steampunk mashup set in 1920s New York. Unfortunately, although I gave it 100 pages to reel me in, it never did. You'd think that a book whose opening chapter features Prohibition-era bootleggers in a wild car chase that ends up at the scene of an epic superhero fight would be fast-paced and vivid, right? Well, it's not -- it just sort of tramps along at a steady pace in a moody, dark New York (aka Empire State) where everything's just slightly off (and as others have noted, it's hard not to think of the brilliant film Dark City). Characters are flat -- including the most implausible private eye I can recall reading, the plotting is dubious (at one point, characters just decide that the perpetrator of a murder must be a robot, and since there's a mysterious ship that just came into port, the robot must have come on that ship -- there's about a million other potential explanations, but since the plot requires them to head to the ship, that's what happens), and the writing slapdash. It's also kind of off at times, when there are American characters in an American setting and non-American English idioms are scattered about (the author is from New Zealand, I think). Anyway, it's not entertaining, it's not interesting, and after 100 pages, it's not for me.
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on 25 March 2012
Few books I have picked up recently have come with so many pre-publication endorsements. If the author of My Life as a White Trash Zombie things that Empire State is a great book, who am I to argue? Well, me actually. It's not a bad book; it's just not a particularly good one, and certainly one that doesn't live up to the hype. It's essentially a pastiche of superhero stories set in New York (which the author admits he has never visited) and tough-guy private eye novels. Its a capable enough first outing by someone who should do better next time, but I was looking at the clock for most of the second half, impatient for it to finish and for its complicated plots strands to be tied together. In fairness most of them were.
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on 23 October 2015
Laboured, unexciting and when the action comes it's somewhat confused. I loved the concept and gave it a lot of chances but it's just not a great read, avoid it if you can.
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on 21 December 2011
One of the most buzzed about debuts for 2012, ever since it was announced, Adam Christopher's Empire State is a much anticipated release around the blogosphere. Normally not given to reading superhero novels or comic books, I do enjoy a good noir detective, so I was curious to read the book and see why everyone was so excited about this book. While I really enjoyed the story, I did have some issues with it, but I do understand the buzz for Empire State.

What stands out most in this book are the atmosphere Christopher creates and the world building, which was very well done. You can feel the fog and the rain; see the gritty, yellowish light of the Empire State. The Prohibition vibe was laced through everything. I also really liked the idea of an alternate dimension NYC. The idea of doubles being created in this alternate dimension was pretty cool and I liked the way the author played with this conceit. What also spoke from the atmosphere and world building was Christopher's love for New York City, he lovingly paints its picture and that of the Empire State. In fact, the writing was such that I think the book would make for an excellent film, with leeched colours and lots of rain!

The character of Rad was well drawn; I really liked his everyman, good guy outlook, even though he is a bit of a PI gone to seed. He gives the reader a hook to understand what's going on, because he's discovering these facts for himself, thus for the most part staying away from the dreaded info dump. The secondary characters were good too, especially Captain Carson. I really liked this old gentleman and his companion Byron. I thought he was interesting and his back story would make for interesting reading as well, though by the end of the book, for reasons I'll explain later, he became a little exasperating to me. Much has been made of the superhero angle of the book, but to me they were the characters that came to the fore and to life the least. For most of the book they just seemed the means to an end - to give us a reason for the Empire State - only at the end of the book does their role really interact with the narrative.

My main issues with the book were that for me it was a bit of a slow starter - it took me a while to get into the story - and the last few chapters. During the last part of the book, there are lots of crosses, double-crosses and triple-crosses and at one point I just lost track and felt a little worn out by it all. Even though by the wrap up of the novel, it all made sense, during those last chapters I just felt needlessly confused and started rolling my eyes whenever people switched sides. I could have done with a few less switches and a more straight-forward denouement of the novel. Then again, your mileage may vary on this point, as I'm convinced there will be lots of people who will love the complexity of those final chapters, but for me, it didn't work very well.

In the end though, despite my reservations stipulated above, I had a really good time with Empire State. I really liked Rad and wanted to know how his story ended and when an author succeeds in investing me in a character that much, he's done his job well. I personally hope the book will be optioned for a film, because I think that would make for a fantastic flick! If you like a good noir tale, Empire State is a book you won't want to miss. For a full on superhero book, you might want to wait for Christopher's next novel, Seven Wonders, due out from Angry Robot Books in September 2012. Empire State will be released next Tuesday, December 27th, though it has already been spotted out in the wild!

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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VINE VOICEon 6 November 2013
It's the height of Prohibition in an alternate New York where the Skyguard and the Science Pirate, former superhero guardians of the city, now battle each other for supremacy. Rex is a racketeer shaking down midtown Manhattan when he witnesses the final, epic battle between the Skyguard and the Science Pirate and accidentally discovers the Science Pirate's secret identity ...

Rad Bradley's a down-at-heel detective in the Empire State. It's the year 19 and the State is at war but the ironclad battleships sent out into the fog to battle an unseen enemy never return. Until now. When Rad's hired by Katherine Kopek to find her missing lover, Sam Saturn, his investigation takes him into the Empire State's darkest secrets - secrets that threaten its very existence ...

Adam Christopher's debut science fiction novel is jam-packed with ideas - pocket universes, robots, superheroes and Chandler-style noir - but the story itself never really came together and was slightly too episodic for me. Rad's a curiously passive character, dragged along by events rather than driving them and I was disappointed that Rex, having started off so strongly, disappears from the page for too long, leaving him somewhat underdrawn. This is a shame because Christopher's New York and Empire State are fascinating worlds with some great concepts underpinning them and I desperately wanted to know more about the City Commissioners, the robots staffing the ironclads and the Pastor of Lost Souls but there's simply so much going on and insufficient pages to explore all of them properly. I did love the bonus interview with Christopher at the end and the creative commons licence is fascinating - all in all I'll read Christopher's next book even though this didn't quite do it for me.

The best parts of the book for me are the scenes involving Captain Carter, a scientist and adventurer whose always one step ahead of Rad and whose relationship with his robotic manservant, Byron, is delightfully ambiguous. Christopher puts Carter's ambiguity to good use such that you're never quite sure whose side he's on. Sadly the female characters are severely underdeveloped - barely more than names on a page in fact - and much as I wanted to root for Rad there simply wasn't enough there for me to feel involved with. That said, I kept turning the pages and while this book didn't quite work for me I will definitely check out Christopher's other work.
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on 4 April 2015
This is a great superhero retro science fiction story of an alternative history. Found this to be quite gripping and easy to read
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VINE VOICEon 6 March 2012
I so wanted to love 'Empire State'. With its vibrant Art-Deco style cover to its promise of super-heroes in prohibition era New York, and a Chandler influenced protagonist, it should have ticked every box. Unfortunately I rather had the wrong end of the stick. I had anticipated a light, thrilling read - 'Spandex and Speakeasys', if you will. Instead, at the centre of the novel is a tantalising dual reality, and a tale the true nature of which is elusive and hard to pin down. There are peculiar and inexplicable goings on that, until the trick was revealed, made my brain hurt. Unfortunately, the sleight of hand, once performed, was underwhelming.

Christopher is undoubtedly an author to watch, but with 'Empire State' I felt he'd tried to be too clever. There is so much crammed into the novel's 400 pages, it's hard to gain a sense of what the novel is really about. Whilst this is in no way a bad read, had I at some point lost my copy, I could happily have gone through life never knowing how the book finished.

It is almost impossible to review 'Empire State' without letting a few things slip, so if you don't want to know anything about the story and structure of the book, then look away now...

The settings for the novel are great. New York proper is barely in the book but it is well-drawn nonetheless. Taking centre stage is the Big Apple's sinister alter-ego, 'Empire State'. A city that coexists with the real New York, Empire State is a police state, overseen by the shadowy 'Chairman', who resides on the 101st floor of the Empire State Building. The novel's protagonist, Rad Bradley, is a gumshoe, cast from the same mould as Philip Marlowe. He is hired to investigate the disappearance of a woman. Very soon a body turns up, but there are inconsistencies. Rad must work out what is going on; if he doesn't, the consequences for the Empire State will be traumatic.

The book has two main problems. Firstly is the sheer number of existing works that Christopher borrows from. His overlapping cities are very reminiscent of China Miellivile's The City & The City, as is the peculiar sense of detachment in the first half of the novel. The wisecracking PI is obviously straight from Chandler. If the Empire State is Gotham, then its superheroes are Batman (well one of them is anyway) and one of the villains will be all too recognisable to fans of the Bat. These are big boots to fill. All three represent masterworks of the genre, and Christopher just can't compete. It's a shame; inviting comparison to such works show inadequacies in the novel that would have gone unnoticed had the author not attempted to be so ambitious. When you add in alternate realities, doppelgängers, robots and airships, there are just too many balls to keep in the air.

For me though, where the novel really fails is with its characters. They are to a man, flat and uninteresting. My detachment from the novel was, in part, caused by my inability to empathise with any its players. I found it hard to care whether their world survived or not. So bland are the ensemble cast, I struggled to remember who was who, making it even more difficult to work out was going on. This problem was compounded by the fact that most of the characters in the book had similar but not identical doppelgängers, one for each world. Separating the characters in my mind, was like trying to arrange differing shades of beige without a colour key.

But these rather damning indictments paint too bleak a picture of what is great concept urban sci-fi. The execution may be clumsy, but at the heart of 'Empire State' is an intriguing story about trust, identity and state control. Despite being over-ambitious, Christopher should be applauded for the depth of his vision. I'm sorry I didn't enjoy it more, but having said that I am still excited about Christopher's next novel Seven Wonders.
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The Empire State is the other New York

It's a parallel-universe, Prohibition-era world of mooks and shamuses that is a twisted magic mirror to our own bustling Big Apple. It's a city where sinister characters lurk around every corner, while the great superheroes who once kept the streets safe have fallen into deadly rivalries and feuds. Not that its colorful residents know anything about real New York...until detective Rad Bradley makes a discovery that will change the lives of all its inhabitants.

In a story of sprinkled with doppelgangers, parallel realities and pocket universes it's the characters that really capture the readers imagination. Rad Bradley, a slightly down-at-heel detective, is tasked with what initially appears as a straightforward case, finding a missing woman. It quickly becomes evident that nothing in the Empire State is ever that simple and Rad gets a whole lot more than he bargained for. Rad's air of world-weariness makes him a great protagonist. He has worked the city streets for as long as he can remember and has a dogged tenacity and determination that are infectious. Rad's has a somewhat cynical point of view and this makes for a great counterpoint to all the wonders that are on display.

During the course of his investigation Rad meets a host of colourful characters, each one fitting perfectly into the unfolding plot. The enigmatic Captain Carson and his New York equivalent, who I'll leave un-named to avoid unnecessary spoileriness, are two of my favourites. They both tread the fine line between hero and villain. The ever-sneaky Mr. Christopher invokes the rules of film-noir and keeps the reader guessing about their true intentions right up to the wire. I guess it wouldn't be a mystery without some proper intrigue now would it?

Another couple of characters that feature highly are two superheroes (or possibly villains?), called the Skyguard, and the Science Pirate. Their epic rivalry and constant dueling have a direct link to the very heart of Empire State. After finishing the novel I have to admit that I'd love to learn more about them both, there is a back story that the author only briefly alludes to. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to know more.

What I wasn't prepared for was a host of truly memorable moments that ended up totally catching me off guard.

In one moment, Adam Christopher knows how to amuse with the slightly surreal.

" Hell, one time everyone with the surname `Johnson' disappeared, then came back the next day. They say it was the Science Pirate and the Skyguard fighting."

And then tug at the old heartstrings the next.

"The Empire State was cold, grey, fogbound and as quiet as the grave. Rad realized now that his city, his home, was merely a shadow of New York, a bad knock off, a worn-out second-hand copy. Rad felt odd. His chest was tight, not just from the breathing. His mask goggles steamed more, and he recognized the feeling. Sadness."

If I asked you to name the most famous city in the world there is a pretty good chance that New York would be at the top the list. It strikes me that there aren't many other places that are quite as iconic. Taking such a well-known location and then creating an ever so slightly skewed version of it is great deal of fun. Everything is familiar and unrecognizable all at once.

Empire State is the rarest of things - a great genre novel that weaves together a multitude of different ideas and incorporates them into a seamless narrative. The story elements that the author plays with all riff off one another like a free form jazz tune, and create a wonderfully eclectic adventure. I found myself comparing elements of the novel to many other existing genre comics, books and films - The Wizard of Oz, Dark City, Watchmen, The Philadelphia Experiment and the rather splendid short story from George R R Martin's first Wildcard anthology Thirty Minutes Over Broadway by Howard Waldrop. All these pop culture references sprung to mind at various points in the plot. That's not to say that Empire State is derivative, quite the reverse in fact. Christopher's debut expertly blends together the old school detective conventions with some classic golden age science fiction to create something new and utterly readable.

Empire State is published by Angry Robot and is available now. I'm willing to concede that I'm a bit late to this to this particular party but I urge you, if you haven't already, to check it out. Highly recommended.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 6 March 2012
It must say something interesting about the possibilities of science and technology and our attitudes to them that the science fiction of the 40s and 50s was forward looking, optimistic, visionary, whereas in contrast today there is a strong and growing sub-genre of retro science fiction set in a dark, reimagined claustrophobic past. It is a style which started with steam punk but while Empire State features that staple of steam punk, the airship, it has moved on in time and could be characterised as internal-combustion-punk, or, without wanting to become too convoluted, internal combustion-punk noir. The author, Adam Christopher openly acknowledges the influence of Raymond Chandler on his work.

While noting the shadow of Philip Marlowe, the clearest overview I can give of the book is to say that if you imagine a direct cross between Alistair Reynolds' "Century Rain", and China Mieville's "City and the City" you will have a pretty clear view of what you are getting here. The extra feature, and perhaps Christopher's USP, here is the addition of duelling superheroes to the mix.

This is primarily a concept driven novel with pretty standard, derivative, characters, the hard-boiled detective, the mob heavy, the feisty damsel in distress, and a plot which is in part convoluted and part non-existent. The interest is in understanding the realities of the world (or worlds) in which the book is set, rather than trying to follow the ever twisting but slender plot thread, peppered with betrayals and shifting allegiances. Having finished the book a couple of days ago, and had time to reflect, I'm still not entirely sure what the different characters are trying to achieve as they frantically double-cross each other as the story reaches its climax.

There are some story lines in and features of one of the realities in which the book is set which are not fully/ and/or coherently explored and one hopes these will be expanded in the promised sequels.

So, this book in itself does not do enough to stand out in its increasingly crowded sub-genre. Later books may develop things more satisfyingly, but taken by itself, Empire State is "OK".
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