Wednesday 23 October 2013

The Age Atomic

(October 2013)

The sequel to Empire State which, you may remember, did a lot of stuff well but never quite recaptured the same WHIZZBANGWOW scale of imagination that marked its opening few pages. This is quite a different beast (and you should probably be aware there’ll be spoilers ahead).

The ‘superhero noir’ atmosphere has gone to be replaced with a more mid-century Cold War sense of paranoia: internal conspiracies, inter-agency power plays, marshalling of forces against an ill defined yet all pervasive ‘other’. You’ve got it all here. Or at least all in the ‘real’ New York; in the meantime in the pocket universe of the Empire State our hero Rad Bradley embarks on a breakneck smash and grab enterprise to save the universe as he knows it, which seems to unfold over a single night. The pacing is, as that would suggest, a little odd.

The Age Atomic feels like the ill-gotten lovechild of Watchmen and 24. The only real superbeing is a glowing blue monstrosity who exists outside of time and space and the human protagonist has to find, confront, and solve all his problems in an incredibly compressed timescale. The urgency of the latter is hard to sustain across almost 350 pages and slightly undermines that creeping paranoia of the former, which really should be allowed to stew for a while for full depth of flavour.

Still n’ all, I finished it in a weekend so that pacing clearly wasn’t that far off the mark. Plus you have to give Christopher credit for fashioning a climax that involves smashing an aircraft into an iconic New York skyscraper. It’s an alternate world, 1950’s New York to be sure, but even more than a decade after the September 11th attacks seeing them aped so obviously still takes you back slightly. Not a plot device to be employed by the faint of heart, that one.

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