I am so behind on my Angry Robot subscription. It’s bad, guys. I read Empire State 3 years ago, and The Age Atomic came out half a year later. I barely remember the first book—no, that’s a lie; I had entirely forgotten the first book. I remembered exactly none of the characters when Adam Christopher reintroduced them here. But the vague memories that I stir up from reading my review suggest that these two books are fairly disjoint.
If Empire State was a noir mystery built into a pocket universe, The Age Atomic is nukepunk baked into a thriller crust. Rad Bradley teams up with Jennifer Jones, who has spunk, and they tangle with some humans-turned-robots, and bad things happen. Meanwhile, in the New York side of things, Nimrod tries to figure out why a Doc Manhattan wannabe, Evelyn McHale, wants to destroy the universe.
So it goes.
Whereas Empire State had a fairly deep mystery to drive it, the sequel lacks that energy. Despite the literal chill enveloping the Empire State, most of the urgency in this plot comes from the main characters running away from bad guys. Don’t get me wrong—that’s a great way to add a sense of urgency. But the plot, meanwhile, plods along in the background.
I never cared strongly about any of the characters or their problems. For one thing, even though Jennifer’s motive for slumming it with people like Rad is so she can find her brother, we don’t learn much about her beyond that. Similarly, aside from a few sentences to remind us of his backstory, Rad remains opaque. The character development here is underwhelming, at best.
I guess the most impressive part of The Age Atomic is the surfeit of wise-cracking crazy anachronistic atomic-powered robots. And that is cool. But it’s cool in the way sugary kids’ breakfast cereal is cool: it tastes good and fills you up but is bad for you and leaves you hungrier in an hour. There are so many fascinating ideas here, sure. Yet they all feel like echoes of ideas that have shown up everywhere else already and been explored more deeply by those authors. Ghosts and transdimensional fissures and robots and nuclear madmen? I shouldn’t be yawning, but the way these ideas burst at the seams of The Age Atomic means Christopher can’t spend much time on many of them.
I powered through this like one of Christopher’s robot creations: single-minded but disinterestedly. To say this is a bad book oversimplifies things. It’s not what I consider a good read, but it’s more like one of those movies where the writer/director has tried to do something cool and you’re just not into it. In my previous review I commended Christopher for taking risks even if they don’t pay off, and I’ll echo that comment here. The Age Atomic is not for me, and maybe Christopher himself is not the writer for me. But I’m open to trying him again, later down the line, and seeing if that changes.