The twenty-seventh book I’m reviewing here is Atomic Underworld: Volume Two, by Jack Conner. This book is the sequel to one I reviewed a few months ago, Atomic Underworld: Part One. That review may be read here. Within the same world this author also has the Atomic Sea series and the books Nightmare City and City of Shadows.
A quick recap of the setting: the story takes place in and around the subterranean city of Muscud, which sits over the highly toxic Atomic Sea. In this alternate world technology has developed in a steampunk-like direction, and humans share the city with various pre-human alien species and with humans afflicted by the mutating effects of the sea. Rival gangs hold the most power in the city, but power also belongs to the cultists who worship various otherworldly gods. In the last book, our hero Tavlin “Two-Bit” Metzler, a gambler and thief and all-around rogue, was captured by cultists and brought to the temple of their god, Magoth. This second part to the story begins with Tavlin’s captivity and brainwashing in their temple. Other characters working with and against Tavlin include his ex-wife Sofia, friend and brutal mob boss Vassas, rival mob boss and cultist Havictus, the cult leader known only as the Lady, and a ghostly woman of ambiguous allegiance named Millicent.
As noted in the review of the previous book, the strongest feature of these books (probably of all Conner’s work) is the detail. The stinking, toxic, moist underworld that he paints feels stinky and toxic and moist. The description is vivid and graphic, and I really appreciated that. The characters are in some ways a little cookie-cutter (Boss Vassas is every cigar-chomping mob boss ever, Tavlin is right out of the Han Solo/Jack Sparrow/Malcolm Reynolds school for likable outlaws, all of the gangsters are noir characters with superficial mutations), but they’re fun anyway. Now, as I said, I read the previous book a few months ago, so I generally remembered who the characters are, good guys and bad guys and whatnot, but I couldn’t really remember which slimy jiggly pre-human alien race was which, and the sequel didn’t really take any time to recap those details. The story goes straight forward where the last book ended, with no recaps at all. For this reason, I wonder why the two books are in separate volumes at all. I’m aware that the author also released an Omnibus Edition with both books included, but why not just have them together as one novel? I can guess, but I prefer not to be cynical and to instead hope that the reason was creative.
For anyone who wishes to read these stories, the genre needs to be well understood. These are pulpy action stories. They take some inspiration from the horror tales of H.P. Lovecraft, but they are not horror. The purpose of these stories is to entertain, and in that capacity they deliver. A small advisory warning: the book contains a lot of graphic violence, some references to rape, and one descriptive sex scene. Some more sensitive readers might be put off by these features, though I personally was not. I found both of these books fully entertaining, and I expect if I read other work by this author I will encounter the same. The conclusion especially, the climactic fight scene that resolved the story, was especially satisfying. Fans of action and crime stories, dark fantasy, and horror/pulp fiction are the recommended audience for these books. As a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I loved them.
This post was originally featured on cwbookclub.com.