Adam Christopher – Empire State

A new subgenre among science fiction novels and series of the past decade are alternative universes or realities. Not that they did not exist before, but they weren’t as popular before with books, TV-shows and movies and there wasn’t so much you needed to categorize them in a subgenre of their own. The danger with subgenres becoming mainstream is overkill, like with vampire and zombie-novels, there is more crap and average books than good ones, so when picking one up you have to gamble or go with your gut feeling.

Adam Christopher’s debut novel Empire State (2012) takes on the alternative universe subgenre with the extra twist that it takes place in a mid-twentieth-century noir setting, adding a slight steampunk feeling to it as the technological level is different than what we had expected. His concept for the alternative universe is different with some interesting nuances. Nevertheless he stays away from the scientific approach.

The story is mainly told from the viewpoint of a character who is likable, but only just so. The character is not really busy living a life and as a result his approach to events doesn’t follow the usual patterns. He is a bit slowish and not particularly smart which is reflected in Christopher’s style. On the backcover of the book it said the story was fast-paced, but this certainly is not the case. It is not slow. It is more like moderately paced. The characters take their time and their is no need to rush. The style follows this as well. Christopher is at times quite elaborate in using words to develop a scene. You sometimes get a bit annoyed, just like the main character, because other characters areĀ  paying attention to other things he wants. I can only assume this approach was the intent of the author.

I had two thoughts on the story development of Empire State. The first, as noted above, was an intended approach towards the scenes and the characters. The characters don’t really get fleshed out, to a certain extend they remain hollow. The same counts for the worldbuilding. We only see what the main character has attention for. Many details of the alternative universe remains a mystery. Like the characters it remains somewhat hollow. The second thought was an unintended approach. This would mean the author just hadn’t looked further than he needed to. Shallow characters and no more than a basic necessary worldbuilding. More detail and background could have given characters more depth and the alternative universe would have come alive more vividly. This would have an effect on the pace. The moderate pace would have become slower and the book much larger, or the pace could have changed to fast. I am not saying that the first or the second would have been best. The first approach has it perks as it reflects certain elements of the alternative universe. The second would have provided a much tighter story and a stronger connection to the setting.

The main concept of the novel is interesting and in itself good, mixing several ideas. The plot Christopher devised is in essence good. The main problem of the story is that he decided to add in several complexities to give the novel more body. I have been thinking about them for a while after finishing the book and have come to the conclusion that they don’t work and don’t make much sense. First of all is a certain amount of randomness to it, secondly a number of inconsistencies and thirdly are a number of flaws. The solutions the characters make up to explain it are no solutions at all. There is no logic and what they in fact conclude is that the current situation is how it apparently is and how it is possible they don’t really know. It’s just a plot device. I believe Christopher could have made up something easier while keeping the essentials, avoiding the serious inconsistencies and flaws, although some would still remain.

There are some good and bad things to be said about this novel. While the main plot is solid, many other parts are rather shaky. Different approaches were possible to tell this story and I don’t think Christopher took the best one. I did enjoy the book although I had no problem putting it aside. Due to the chosen approach and pace it’s no pageturner. It does not have to be as there are plenty of those and sometimes novels can use a different pace to enjoy them better. It is not a must-read and also not a let-down. My best description is ‘quite nice’.

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