The Strangelove Gambit (David Bishop, Nikolai Dante #1)

1 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a mediocre attempt at a sexy sci-fi swashbuckler that comes across more as a uninteresting wish fulfillment for uncreative teenage boys with little taste.  I understand that the book is an adaptation of a popular comic book character and universe, but frankly the author could have done a lot better.  The protagonist is just about the worst execution the archetype of the anti-hero I have ever seen.  Apparently, the central hook of his character is that he likes to sleep with women. That’s it.  That’s the whole character.  He has a tragic, complicated back story, a dark, repressive, authoritarian world to run around in,  and all sorts of amazing sci-fi abilities, but his driving force, the only time he acts outside of the necessities for the threadbare plot, is when he’s feeling randy.  The other characters are even worse.  He has two sidekicks that are so one-dimensionally boring that I would boo them at a five-year-old’s puppet show.  One of them is disgusting and farts constantly; the other one is cowardly and British.  That’s as deep as it gets.  Minor characters are even less inspired and more disposable; even their names are terrible.  In no particular order of cringe-worthiness we have: Wartski, a woman covered in warts; Mould, a boring professor who just sits around like a fungus; and and Shitov, a sadistic prison commander.  Given that the protagonist is so focused on sex, you would think that there would be a bit more of it, or that it would be particularly exciting, but I think there are two pages of non-graphic sex scenes at most, and they really aren’t very well done.  Strangely, for a swashbuckling adventure, there is almost no action and really very little adventure.  This book lacks imagination in its inception and fails on the execution of its small potential.  I would not recommend this book.

Greater Detail:
We are first introduced to our protagonist, Nikolai Dante, during his youth; he is working with his mentor to plot and execute the theft of the century: stealing the prized Faberge egg from the nefarious Professor Faberge.  We then skip forward 12 years, and Nikolai Dante is the most wanted man in a completely generic authoritarian dystopia.  Somewhere in the preceding 12 years, he has enlisted the help of the aforementioned British guy and flatulent guy as two completely incompetent sidekicks.  He has also somehow melded with a computer that talks to him in his head and gives him what basically come down to the exact powers of the Marvel superhero Wolverine.  When he learns that his old mentor has been captured, Nikolai Dante must help him, then assault the nefariously evil Professor Faberge in his island hideout (which just happens to also be a girl’s boarding school).  I can understand that Wolverine is a popular comic book character, but when an entire character can be summed up as “horny Wolverine with a mustache and goatee,” I think the author had some issues with imagination.

One strange aspect of the book is that there really isn’t any reason for it to be sci-fi at all.  All the technology is really fairly uninteresting set dressing for the poorly told story.  There is no reason that the exact same story couldn’t be told in contemporary times or even in the middle ages if you just substitute era appropriate props.  The protagonist’s cybernetic claws could literally be substituted with a knife hidden in his shoe and really nothing would change.  I’m not a great fan of the overuse of sci-fi elements that don’t contribute anything to a story, but when the sci-fi elements aren’t even interesting, then I’m not even sure what the author is doing.

The dialogue is fairly weak, even for a book that is aspiring to be a sexy sci-fi swashbuckler.  The main character is supposed to be pithy and flirtatious, always speaking in innuendo, but he comes off as more horny and brain damaged — unable to utter a single sentence around a member of the opposite gender that he finds attractive without making crude comments.

The book is supposed to be funny, but most of the humor is very, very crass and crude.  The flatulent, disgusting side kick is played for laughs, and there is a lot of humor revolving around bodily functions, but even for gross out humor it isn’t executed very well and just comes off as sad.  Theres also a lengthy sequence where an unattractive woman has non-consensual sex with a man; it’s meant to be funny but just comes off as disturbing.

I’m not sure if it has something to do with setting and and the main character’s origin in comics, but the entire story feels like it’s made to be a disposable episode where everything is set up to be reset to the exact same conditions that the book starts with after the story ends.  I understand that this format might work for television or comic books, but a book without the possibility of any lasting characters, changes to the world, or character development doesn’t seem like much of an interesting story at all.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
I’m just going to recommend one book and one author as a stark contrast to this uninteresting mess of a book.  He isn’t my favorite author by any means, but Simon R. Green’s Deathstalker series, starting with Deathstalker, does everything this book is trying to do much better.  The characters are all original and interesting, the sex scenes might actually excite someone, and the setting is complicated and constantly changing.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

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