Read by Phil Gigante
Length: 12 Hrs 3 Min
Genre: Science Fiction
Quick Thoughts: Empire State is a kind of steampunky, alternate history-ish science fiction tale that shakes off any easy label. It’s not the easiest listen around, but any struggles you may have early on are paid for in spades by the time you reach the end.
Fringe is perhaps, at this moment in time, my favorite show currently on TV, yet in all honesty, it was a bit of a struggle at first. I watched the first episode when it originally aired, and liked it, but struggled through the early part the first season, and eventually gave it up. A year or so later I kept hearing people talk about how awesome the show was, and the direction it took. I was intrigued, so I got the first season on DVD. Again, I struggled with it. The shows had an X-File like feel including a season arc that appeared in a few episodes, with hints in most. I liked the arc, but the individual shows we just all right. Then came the click. Many people have experienced it in their life. That moment when everything falls into place, and you’re totally like, "Oh, shit." I love that "oh, shit" moment. It makes the struggle worth it. It allows you to go back and reexamine everything that came before, to view those previous moments with a whole new perspective. There is a big push in literature to hook the reader in from the first line, to grab their attention and never let go. I understand this. I like to be grabbed right away. Yet, I also appreciate the slow play, the build up to something better. Sometimes the payoff is all the more worth it when you have to struggle to achieve it.
Empire State is a high concept, intricately plotted vision into a world similar but not quite our own. Empire State takes place in prohibition era New York yet, this is a New York where the gangsters don’t run rampant due to the vigilance of two superheroes, the Skyguard and The Science Pirate. All seemed well, until the two heroes had a falling out, which leads to an epic battle between the two beings over Battery Park. This is where the novel begins. It’s quite hard to give a proper description of the novel, without tempering its impact. No description I have yet read truly captures the content and feel of this novel. Christopher has a truly original idea, yet uses classic alternate history and scifi elements to bring it to life. Christopher takes his time developing this world, allowing it to reveal itself to us, rather than attempt to inundate us with the entirely of the concept right away. And while this is a major strength of this tale, it is also one of its weaknesses. Since we are unsure about the very nature of the world itself, all the characters are unreliable, with Christopher keeping you on edge about who you can trust. This unfortunately also prevents you from connecting with any of the characters in a meaningful way. I struggled with the first half of the book, even considered not finishing it once. Lucky for me, the narrator of the novel is one of my favorites, and kept me engrossed in the story. Then at about the halfway point came the click. Everything fell into place, and my brain gave a yip of glee. From this moment, the concept caught up with the characters, and even though I didn’t really totally embrace our main character, I began to understand him a bit more. The beauty of Empire State remains its concept, with some stunning visuals, exciting action scenes and a touch of intrigue thrown in for flavor. It is not a perfect novel, but its flaws are smoothed out enough where, while they remain noticeable, they aren’t too distracting. Empire State is a kind of steampunky, alternate history-ish science fiction tale that shakes off any easy label. It’s not the easiest read around, but any struggles you may have early on are paid for in spades by the time you reach the end.
I may be biased with my obvious, borderline obsessive, Phil Gigante fanboyness, but Gigante was perhaps the perfect narrator for this tale. Gigante excels at noir tales, bringing an authentic, era appropriate feel to his reads. Add to that, anyone familiar with his work in Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series, knows he is quite skilled in the delivery over the top scifi action. Empire State’s combination of noir world building and over the top action fits right into the narrator’s wheelhouse. Gigante does what narrators should by keeping me engrossed enough in the tale through his performance, that he allowed the story to finally hook me in. This isn’t my favorite of his performances. The character’s themselves didn’t offer too many challenges for the narrator, and there was a real lack of a major female presence in the novel, despite there being a few female characters. Yet, Gigante was spot on with what he had to work with, and in the end, Empire State offers an intriguing world, a whole lot of fun action and with its excellent narration, an entertaining listening experience.
Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.