Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: The Age Atomic

Photo Credit: Adam Christopher/Will Staehle/Angry Robot Books

I’ve had numerous projects that I’ve been working on for the last several weeks, one of them being the continuous marketing of Fool’s Illusion. This includes contacting book reviewers to review my book. If any of you out there are book reviewers and care to review Fool’s Illusion, let me know by emailing me at and we can talk about it.  Please indicate “Book Review for Fool’s Illusion” in the subject line when emailing me. I’m also in the middle of pitching Fool’s Illusion to local bookstores hoping they’ll sell it on their shelves for me and so I can get a cut of the profit. All this while I’m still trying to keep on top of writing new fiction as well as articles that I write for both and here. And so now that brings us to my newest book review of another author’s work that I have posted here at the Fantastic Site in which I’m hoping to post many more in the near future. So take a look at my most current below and feel free to leave any comments or questions in the box.

Book Review: The Age Atomic
Book’s Author: Adam Christopher
Publisher: Angry Robot
Year Published: 2013

For almost 30 years science fiction literature has seen the rise of punk. It started with cyber punk in the mid 1980’s, which resulted in steam punk in the latter part of the decade, and then many lesser known punk subgenres such as splatterpunk (which is more of the horror genre), biopunk, dieselpunk and atompunk. While cyberpunk speculates cyber culture of the future, steam-, bio-, diesel- and atompunk speculate culture and society through alternative histories and time streams. They re-imagine certain periods in history using elements of today’s society, science and technology. They also speculate retro futures and so imagine futures that are more directly derived from particular eras. Steampunk does this with 19th century Victorian society, dieselpunk with society of the 1910s through ‘40s, and atompunk with mid 1940s to mid 1960s society (though it can be debated that it covers a longer period). While steampunk imagines history with today’s computer technology powered by steam as opposed to electricity, silicon or transistors, dieselpunk does this with early 20th century industrial motorised technology and atompunk with atomic science and cold war politics. Atompunk re-imagines history with robots, mad scientists, and ray guns along with today’s speculation of parallel universes, alternative histories, and even internet and social media to a degree. It also involves many of today’s social issues at a suggestive or superimposed level. British author Adam Christopher’s novel, The Age Atomic, utilises many of these elements well, even though its quality of writing isn’t the best.

The Age Atomic is a sequel to Christopher’s Empire State, which I have actually not read but wouldn’t mind doing so. My reason for reading Age Atomic first is because since it takes place in the 1950s, while Empire State is set in the ‘40s, it’s more reminiscent of the atomic sci fi drive-in movie culture that I love. But because Age Atomic was so good as far as story goes and because it is a result of the previous novel, I would be willing to read Empire State and learn more the background story for Age Atomic.

Although Age Atomic starts with a brief scene in the late ‘40s, it speeds up to 1954 and introduces Rad Bradley, a detective who is on an assignment investigating a mysterious scientist called “The King of 125th Avenue”. At this point, we are in a New York City of a parallel universe in which that city’s name is the Empire State. There has been an over-freese of the city which was caused by the closing of the portal (called the “Fissure”) between that universe and our own. The over-freese adds to the novel’s apocalyptic theme along with an oncoming armageddon. The freese also suggests today’s concern with climate change and global warming. The armageddon is a war between the King’s army of robots he creates from real people and those of a leader in the New York of our own universe: Evelyn McHale of the radical organization, Atoms for Peace (don’t let the last word in this name fool you!) The twist here isn’t only that McHale is a feminist character that breaks 1950s status quo, but also that she is the ghost of a young woman who committed suicide by jumping off the Empire State Building. Rad discovers that a fellow detective, Jennifer Jones, is looking for her missing brother suspected of having been abducted by the King. The two eventually meet up with Captain Carson who had also been missing and last seen piloting his airship, who in turn meets up with his double of our own dimension’s New York, Captain Nimrod. These four with many other characters team up to put a stop to the oncoming robotic war that threatens to destroy all human existence in both dimensions.

Elements of film noir,1950s science fiction, today’s science fiction involving parallel universes and alternative histories, and even certain modern computer tech terms make Age Atomic the atompunk story that it is. Even the New York of our own universe, referred to as the “Origin” in this novel and also as a template for the Empire State (the “Pocket”), is an alternative history within itself by the very nature of the plot: the doorway between the Origin dimension and the Pocket dimension which, needless to say, recreates history.

The other alternative history is the New York of the Pocket (the Empire State) described as “an imperfect duplicate of New York”, hence the term “template” applied to the New York of our own universe and suggesting today’s software technology. Other suggestions of today’s computer technology are ones referring to internet and social media. An example of this is a scene where two of the King’s robots, referred to as “Ratings . . .  chattered excitedly, their shared words piling over each other. . . .” Terms such as “ratings,” “chattered” and “shared” suggest internet and social media concepts such as rating tools on websites, chat boxes and sharing of posts. And so like what steampunk does with Victorian society and technology, Age Atomic is an intelligent example of what atompunk does with the cold war era’s society and technology to criticise our own internet/social media era.

Besides the superimposing of the two periods’ technologies, there’s also the superimposing of their social issues. A disaster scene where an airship crashes into a sky rise suggests our own 21st century’s 9-11. Similarly, the 1950s communist scare, especially through the threat of Atoms for Peace, compares with the concerns of today’s homeland security act which grew from 9-11 and the War on Terrorism.  Returning to the novel’s analogies of internet technology, the politics over control of the Fissure--a connection between universes like internet is a connection between computers--compares with today’s battle between net neutrality and corporate net control.

While the characters in Age Atomic tend to be somewhat typical, this is probably intentional to fit the novel’s pulp fiction nostalgia. The novel reads like a detective noir as well as a sci fi horror tale and even an epic sci fi adventure movie serial of the 1940s. Rad is the main detective who investigates a robot war scheme and searches for a missing person in connection with it. He is depicted as film noir’s and pulp fiction’s detectives are: a private eye type with his own office and agency. Along with this, the story contains themes of film noir’s interplay of darks and lights but also of gothic horror which is a genre that merged with science fiction elements in the 1930s’ and ‘40s’ horror films. These elements can be found in the book’s mad scientist labouratory scenes.  Rad’s young friend, Kane Fortuna, is a comic book super-hero type character--he wear’s a rocket propelled uniform consisting of a helmet mask and cape. Jennifer is depicted as a film noir/pulp female character in that she is in the victimised position at times, a damsel in distress, but she is also a stronger feminist type: she carries a gun like Rad, but a high tech one that wards off the robots. Also, as indicated earlier, she is a pro investigator like Rad.  

Christopher’s writing style is done well in that it goes with the theme of pulp nostalgia and so is more straight forward than interpretive. However, aside from a clever plot, the writing quality needs improvement. There is wordiness in some parts. There are some grammatical and mechanical errors which may be simply due to misprints and/or typos. Although these aren’t constant, they are a lot considering most other novels written by well known authors such as Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, Ursula Le Guin and William Gibson.

What’s most noticeable is the epilogues. That’s right, there appear to be two of them at the end of the book which is very rare for a novel of any sort, and it is not indicated that the second one is an alternative ending and so this can confuse a reader a bit. Either this was a heading misprint due to poor editing (as in final proof reading) or it was intentional since the ending switches between the two dimensions and so an epilogue was needed for each dimension’s ending scene. But couldn’t Christopher simply put both these scenes in one epilogue and just divide it into two parts?

A couple chapters before the first epilogue, the resolution to the mystery, even though it makes sense and concludes the story well, is done in too speechy a manner and seems a bit rushed. This is done through one character, Nimrod, who explains answers to the questions that the story poses earlier. However, both the final chapters and two epilogues bring a satisfactory ending even if it is a somewhat dark and ironic one that leaves the novel open for another sequel.

While the writing quality of Adam Christopher’s Age Atomic can be better, the conventions of atompunk that consist of elements of our own time and that of the atomic era’s are used cleverly to tell a great story. In doing this, Christopher reflects our own era’s problems while showing a desire for a more innocent, more simple age and how it dealt with its own social and political fears. He brings back elements of a past speculative culture while yet relating them to our own time which is what alternative history subgenres such as steampunk, dieselpunk and, of course, atompunk do. These criticise science and technology’s impact on society, science and technology that hasn’t occurred yet such as mass robot wars and discovering doorways to other universes. This criticising should be the minimum that all good science fiction does, regardless of subgenre.

Note: The copy of The Age Atomic reviewed here was purchased by your faithful blogger. The book’s author or publisher has not paid me a penny or any gifts for this review nor do I expect them to.

Until next time . . .