Category Archives: superheroes

Return to the Empire State in The Age Atomic

The Age Atomic
Adam Christopher
Angry Robot Books
UK Print
ISBN: 9780857663139
Format: Medium Paperback
R.R.P.: £8.99
US/CAN Print
ISBN: 9780857663146
Format: Large Paperback
R.R.P.: US$14.99 CAN$16.99
ISBN: 9780857663153
Format: Epub & Mobi
R.R.P.: £5.49 / US$6.99

The Age Atomic is the sequel to Adam Christopher’s debut novel, Empire State (reviewed here).  Since that book was published, he’s also produced a superhero novel, Seven Wonders, which has been in my TBR pile since last summer.  (The Great Move happened just after that and really threw my reading schedule off; I still haven’t caught up.)

The Age Atomic continues the story begun in the first installment of this series.  When the tale opens, private investigator Rad Bradley is in the process of stumbling on a plot involving an army of robots.  If that weren’t bad enough, the Skyguard has disappeared.  So has Captain Carson.  The Fissure has as well, cutting off the Empire State from New York.

And speaking of New York, a dead woman named Evelyn McHale runs a government sponsored agency called Atoms for Peace.  What she’s doing is building a robot army to invade the Empire State.

Evelyn McHale

Christopher pulls out all the stops in this one.  There are not one but two robot armies.  (I think I see one of the reasons this novel appealed to this particular publisher.)  The writing was smoother and the characters more defined than in Empire State.  That was one of the things that appealed to me.  Christopher carefully selects some of the minor characters and lets us in on things from their viewpoints.  It deepens the story and gives it more of an epic feel.  What’s happening isn’t a battle between a few superpowered mystery men.  It will have an impact on everyone, great and small.  By fleshing out the bit players, the walk-ons, and the redshirts, Christopher adds a layer of humanity to his story.

The action moved the story along at a fast clip.  There are plenty of chases, fights, and intrigue for fans of pulp fiction.  There isn’t as much superhero action as there was in the previous novel, but that’s more than made up for by the robot armies.

If you liked Empire State, this is one you will most certainly enjoy.  Pick it up.  Adam Christopher’s books are currently Featured Books at Adventures Fantastic Books.

Here’s a sample:

Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole Defies Expectations

Shadow Ops:  Control Point
Myke Cole
Ace, 389 p. mmp $7.99 US, $8.99 Can
ebook $7.99  Kindle Nook

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a publicist at Ace Books asking me to review Myke Cole’s debut novel, Shadow Ops:  Control Point.  I’d seen the book on the shelf in the bookstore and thought it looked interesting, so I agreed.

I’m glad I did.  It’s a military fantasy, but it’s not your typical military fantasy.  It’s got a good blend of superheroes thrown into the mix.

The story takes place in a world slightly different from ours.  At sometime in the recent past (Cole is vague on the chronology), during an event called the Great Reawakening, people began to develop magical powers.  Or at least some people did.

This, of course, upsets the government, and the government does what governments tend to do:  they try to legislate and control the magic.  Only certain types of magic are allowed, and if you practice in one of those schools, you’re allowed to live.  You just have to work for the government in a military type outfit called the Supernatural Operations Corps.  It’s either that or be executed.  If you manifest in a prohibited school of magic, well, you’re just out of luck.

Of course there are rumors of a secret program involving the prohibited schools and of covert operations involving practitioners of those schools.  The government denies this, but of course the rumors turn out to be true.

Oscar Britton is an army officer who manifests in one of the prohibited schools, portamancy, or the ability to open a portal to anywhere he’s ever seen.  Initially he goes on the run, but when he’s captured, he’s given the chance to join one of the cover covens.  To use his powers for good.  Or be killed.

When put that way, how can he refuse?

Only it’s not that simple.  The government defines what is good.  And it doesn’t exactly meet Oscar’s definition.  This is one of the books greatest strengths and where it departs from your typical military fantasy.  A great deal of the central portion of the novel involves the training Britton undergoes.  While some of this follows the predictable pattern of recruit grows and learns and becomes a better person with a more balanced outlook through his training, the growth and learning aren’t necessarily in favor of the establishment.  Britton is a conflicted character.  He wants to do good, but so much of what he sees around him and what he’s forced to do clearly isn’t good.  He has some real struggles over what is the right decision in some situations.

As a result, he’s very much a flawed hero, one who makes mistakes.  Costly mistakes, that result in people dying.  He’s also one I could sympathize with, even when I wouldn’t have made the same choice. 

There are plenty of fight scenes, especially as Britton completes his training and he and his team begin to be sent on missions.  Good, fun superhero style action.

But Cole doesn’t just leave us with another superhero novel.  He surprised me several times with the direction he took things, including the ending.  Especially the ending.  This is the first book in a new series, and I’m not sure where he’s going to go from here.  I can make some guesses, but I’d probably be wrong.  He’s recruited me for the next book.

Cole is former military, and it shows in the detail.  There were times when I felt I was right there.  This was not always a pleasant sensation.  The writing is smooth and powerful and propels you along.  Join the ride.

Big Apples in Peril

Empire State
Adam Christopher
Angry Robot

27 December 2011
416pp Trade Paperback
$12.99 US $14.99 CAN

27 December 2011

If you like pulp superheores, noir, action, mystery, and a fun read, then this is the book for you.  If you notice, the release date on this novel is two days after Christmas, so you will have something to buy with that Christmas money Grandma always sends.

I was fortunate to score an eARC through the Robot Army, and I’m glad I did.  The storyline wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but that’s good.  Angry Robot has a pretty solid track record of publishing stuff that isn’t the same old thing.

So what’s the story about, you say?  I’m glad you asked that.

Now I don’t want to give too much away, because a great deal of the fun is how Christopher plays with your perceptions of what’s really going on and who’s on whose side.

The novel opens like a burst from a Tommy gun, literally.  Rex, a small time Manhattan bootlegger, is on the run from a bigger bootlegger he’s offended.  While making his escape, he gets caught up in the crowd watching a battle between the Skyguard and the Science Pirate over the Empire State Building, under construction at the time the book opens.  These are New York’s two superheroes, once partners and now bitter enemies.

The Chairman

The battle creates a pocket universe, the Empire State, which isn’t a nice place.  It’s a darker version of New York, filled with perpetual rain and fog and governed by the Chairman of the City Commissioners.  That’s an actual photo of him to the right.  (Really.  It is.  Don’t believe me?  Read the book.  You’ll see.)

Over in the Empire State, a detective named Rad is hired to find a missing woman.  It’s at this point that the novel departs from the superhero genre into the PI genre, at least for a while.  You can rest assured the case will involve superheroes, since Rad had a run-in with one just before he gets this case.

Being a detective in the Empire State is even harder than it is in New York.  For one thing, the Empire State is in a perpetual state of Wartime, fighting the Enemy, an unseen foe somewhere out in the fog.  Every few months a new fleet of ironclads is launched, crewed by men who have been turned into robots.  In all the years of Wartime, no ironclad has ever returned.  Until now…

I’ll refrain from telling you further details of the plot.  I don’t want to spoil anymore surprises.  There are twists, turns, crosses, and double crosses in this one.  It has a delightfully pulpy feel to it.  Especially during the airship chase.

I know that at least one person who follows this blog has been waiting for this one.  It’s almost here, and I think you’ll find it will have been worth the wait.

Here’s a sample chapter:

Gods of Justice

Gods of Justice

Kevin Hosey and K. Stoddard Hayes, ed.
Mark Offutt and Joel Gomez, ill.
Cliffhanger Books, 205 p., ebook $4.99, print (forthcoming)

This is turning out to be the summer of the superhero.  Not only are we seeing more superhero movies than we ever have in a single summer, but print-wise superheroes seem to be on the rise as well.

Case in point, Gods of Justice, edited by Kevin Hosey and K. Stoddard Hayes.  This the sophomore publication of Clffhanger Books, a new small press.  Their first publication was an anthology of paranormal romance.  It was a nominee for Best Book of 2010 for The Romance Review.  That means they set a high standard their first time out.

The question is, do they live up to it in this book?

The answer is “Yes, they do.”  The book’s webpage summarizes the stories, so I won’t try to do that here.   Instead, I’ll give you my overall impressions.

First, these stories are not set against a common background or universe.  Of the ten stories, one is set in a dystopian future and one on a distant planet (that one is a Western, of all things, and one of the best in the book).  The remaining eight take place on Earth, with one occurring in No Man’s Land in World War I.

The tone and settings vary widely.  So do the characters.  Some are about scared people trying to do the right thing when the right thing isn’t always clear or could be quite costly.  Some deal with the obligations of heroes and power, while others examine the corrupting effects that power has on the hero and how heroes can sometimes become villains.  More than one author deals with time travel, a popular theme in superhero tales.  Although there’s no explicit sex, a couple of stories contain mature themes and language, so if you’re thinking of giving the book as a gift to a young reader, you might keep in mind age-appropriateness.  I’d say the book is a PG-13.  But if your reader is mature enough, you should give the book.

I met editor Kevin Hosey back in February at ConDFW.  When the review copy showed up, I had let the book slip my mind, so it’s arrival was a pleasant surprise.  The next pleasant surprise was in reading it.  With the exception of DC Comics writer Ricardo Sanchez and Star Trek author Dayton Ward, the lineup seems to consist of fairly new authors.  At least I wasn’t familiar with the authors names, so I was a little unsure about what to expect.  I needn’t have worried.  

While one or two entries didn’t do much for me (primarily for reasons of personal taste), I found the quality quite high over all.  If most of the writers are at the beginning of their writing careers, they should only get better with time.  I’m going to watch for some of these people.  The variety makes this another diverse anthology, meaning most readers should find plenty to like here.  I certainly did.  I seem to be blessed with a number of this type of anthology lately, with one more I should have finished in a few days.

A couple of stories committed what I think of as comic book logic, which threw me out of the story, but the level of craftsmanship is better than what you would find in most anthologies with a high percentage of new writers. I think this is the first time I’ve read a western set in space in which I want to read more.  While I like westerns, I’ve found they usually don’t work well on other planets.  This one did, and it couldn’t have been set in the Old West and worked.  The story about the time travel murders was a refreshing twist as well.  And “The Justice Blues” had one of the best character developments of the book.

Most of the stories have an illustration, which was a nice touch (particularly the one on p. 71).  But the focus here is on the stories.  As it should be.

All in all, I found this to be a fun book.  The contents were well-written, thought provoking, imaginative, and entertaining.  I was sorry there were no more stories when I reached the end of the book.  If you like comics and superheroes, by all means give this one a try.  This is the first in a series with at least two more planned, although I have no idea when they’ll be published.  Hopefully soon.  I’m looking forward to them.

This review was also posted at Futures Past and Present.