Empire State is a pulp-y science fiction detective novel built upon parallel worlds, alternate reality, fringe science, and superheroes. It’s a clever, intricate book with wild impulsive plot turns. Surreal and a little bit hallucinatory, it’s an affectionate nod to Paul Auster, Philip K. Dick and Grant Morrison.
The action begins, however, with a nod to Dashiell Hammett. A mysterious young woman pops into detective Rad Bradley’s office and asks him to find her missing lover. Like Sam Spade, Bradley has a feeling that his new client “looks like trouble.” But whatever. She’s got a wad of cash money in her purse and he’s got an ever-growing tab down at Jerry’s speakeasy. A job’s a job, he figures.
Things get trippy pretty quickly. Bradley doesn’t realize that his missing person case will pull him in two directions, in two different worlds, and in two different realities.
The private detective, whose name is Ray Bradbury spelled sideways (sort of), lives in a place called the Empire State. As he eventually discovers, his hometown is a “semi-formed, reflected impression of New York,” an after-image of the original. It is, he is told, “an imperfect copy, not a parody or caricature, but a broken, incomplete model.”
And, of course, there’s a problem. Because a tear in space-time connects the Empire State with Manhattan, the two cities have become corrupt and unstable. Everybody agrees that the fissure must be closed. But nobody knows what will happen afterward. There’s a good chance one or both cities will fizzle into nothingness.
As characters travel back and forth through the fissure, the plot twists get tighter and tighter. Everything is mutable and there are no simple answers. The superheroes who created the mess in the first place (oops, spoiler alert!) are no help whatsoever. Their personal drama created the crisis, and their ensuing antics are anything but superheroic.
In the end, Rad Bradley and his pocket universe pals come to the same conclusion. The Empire State may have been created as a degraded copy of Manhattan, but it was still their home. “It was just as real as New York,” says Bradley. Maybe even more real.
[Empire State / By Adam Christopher / First printing: December 2011 / ISBN: 9780857661937]