Adam Christopher Talks Noir and Superheroes at NYPL’s Empire State Reading

“I really wanted to write a pulp detective story and everything that it would entail, so I set in New York City,” Adam Christopher explained during his reading of Empire State at the Mid-Manhattan Library last Tuesday. Our reading location was in full view of the famous Library Lions of Fifth Avenue, which were draped in nighttime shadows as the faceless crowd, wrapped in their dark winter jackets, bustled by; looking at this atmospheric backdrop, I could understand how NYC can become a gritty inspiration to any outsider. But more than giving just a tip of the fedora to a classic American genre, Christopher talked about how superheroes, Prohibition, and alternate universes all play a role in his debut novel (read Tor’s excerpt or review).

During the reading, the British author admitted that the concept of noir is firmly rooted in Prohibition New York, though he did joke that since the most of the book took place in a pocket universe, “I kind of got away with fudging a bit of the details about the geography and history of the place,” though “I was a bit relieved to get it mostly right.” Christopher certainly added more depth to his alternate New York: along with a 1984-level of paranoia and men in bad suits and gas masks, he also included Golden-Age inspired crimefighters. Though this isn’t a superhero book, Christopher explained, the connection between these champions of justice and the Prohibition isn’t too far off: “1930s is the birth of the Golden Age of superheroes. It’s quite bizarre; it’s still noir-ish, but you have these superheroes, who are so gaudy and colorful, fighting really mediocre crime – gangsters and dodgy bakers and people who run orphanages, which is just really weird.” Comics always had a particular fascination with the underworld since then, and he thought about how “comics really suit crime drama,” citing Ed Brubaker’s Criminal series as being “particularly brilliant.”

Christopher also took the time to talk about some upcoming plans with Empire State‘s involvement with the WorldBuilder, a Creative Commons initiative where fans get to submit stories and other creations based on his book. Already, several well-known sci-fi authors, like James Patrick Kelly and Mary Robinette Kowal, are contributing works (Kowal’s is actually a puppet show), and additional innovative projects are being produced by creative artists, including an RPG game, a radio play, and a photography project that takes stills from a 1940s film and incorporates it with current shots of New York. When one audience member compared World Builder to fandom and asked whether Christopher himself participated in any of that, he admitted immediately to being a lifelong Doctor Who fan, who in grade-school had kept inch-thick notebooks of written stories based on the TV show.

But is he anxious about letting other people play in the sandbox he created? Not at all. “To me, that’s really cool. You can write anything too; you can write crime, or science fiction or fantasy, you can set it in New York or Empire State,” he said enthusiastically. Moreover, he mentioned that he’s looking forward to selecting fans’ story submissions with Angry Robot to include in a future planned publication of an Empire State fiction anthology.

Empire State is now available in stores everywhere, and readers can check out more about Adam Christopher on his website or follow him on Twitter. Inspired fans can also start submitting their works to the book’s WorldBuilder website.

Ay-leen the Peacemaker is the founding editor of the multicultural steampunk blog Beyond Victoriana and a grad student in her off-duty hours. You can also track her via Twitter.


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