Review: Dave vs the Monsters

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I've been a fan of John Birmingham since I picked up the first book of his Axis in Time series. It felt like a more sci-fi infused Clancy series. The concept was pure geek day dream - send a fleet of modern day warships back in time and see how they impact history. But Birmingham did a great job of of showing the cultural impact of this transfer as well as the providing epic battle scenes.

I first heard of his new series, "Dave versus the Monsters" a few months ago, but had to wait until his novels became available in America. The premise is simple - an oil rig digging deeper than any before it opens a portal to another world. Take all the bad guys from a typical fantasy setting (orcs, demons, dragons, insect ninjas) and you've got the UnderRealms. (Yes, no space. My only complaint in the entire trilogy. It felt like the bad guys came from a Silicon Valley start up - which probably is how the world will end.) The denizens of this realm used to have contact with us and considered us nothing more than cattle. Obviously in the thousands of years since they last saw us we've changed a bit.

As the portal between our worlds opens up, we meet Dave, the main character of the series. As a hero he leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, he is a complete and utter ass. I've read through books before with a main character who is essentially an asshole, but I never found myself bothered by it in this series. As much of a disappointment this guy is, you can't help but root for him as the story progresses. Early on, he does something that grants him - essentially - super powers - which helps him fight against the untold millions of creatures from the other world.

On one hand, you've got your basic geek fantasy - what happens when very strong fantasy creatures encounter a modern military force? You can probably guess. But things take a rather interesting turn after the first few massacres. The bad guys wise up and react in a way that I would never have guessed. I think any genre nerd could write a few cool battles between orcs and SEALs - but Birmingham takes this story in a much more intelligent direction that made the series very satisfying.

What was truly surprising though was the humor, especially after the first book. I've read and enjoyed multiple books by Birmingham but I don't think any of his previous books ever made me laugh at loud. There was one scene in the second book that I distinctly remember having a stupid big grin on my face as I read it.

I definitely recommend picking it up (and the Axis of Time series while you're at it). Birmingham is also on Twitter (@JohnBirmingham) and one of those author's who actually respond to questions:

You can get all three books below:

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Archived Comments

Comment 1 by Paul Nicholas Boylan posted on 7/23/2015 at 1:02 AM

"There was one scene in the second book that I distinctly remember having a stupid big grin on my face as I read it"

Care to share which scene you reference?

Comment 2 (In reply to #1) by Raymond Camden posted on 7/23/2015 at 1:23 AM

Sure - but it is a mild spoiler: The phone conversation from Thresher to Dave in the airplane.

Comment 3 (In reply to #2) by Paul Nicholas Boylan posted on 7/23/2015 at 1:29 AM

I agree. One of my favorites.

Comment 4 (In reply to #3) by Raymond Camden posted on 7/23/2015 at 1:32 AM

Have you read anything else by him? I liked the Axis of Time series. The "Without Warning" series (not sure of the real name for the series) was ok, but not my favorite.

Comment 5 (In reply to #4) by Paul Nicholas Boylan posted on 7/23/2015 at 1:44 AM

I've read everything he's published that I could find. Some authors provide me with my drug of choice, and JB is one of them. Like you, the AoT series was my first and remains my favorite. I am delighted that the series will continue (someday) in ebook installments.

Comment 6 (In reply to #5) by Raymond Camden posted on 7/23/2015 at 1:47 AM

You know he did the one in Rome, right?

Comment 7 (In reply to #6) by Paul Nicholas Boylan posted on 7/23/2015 at 2:19 AM

Yes. Waiting for Cairo. But want to see far more. The world of AoT is endlessly fascinating. Possibly the best alt history I've read.

Comment 8 (In reply to #7) by Raymond Camden posted on 7/23/2015 at 2:20 AM

Check out the Merchant Princes series too. More Sliders than 'pure Alt-History- but damn fascinating.

Comment 9 (In reply to #8) by Paul Nicholas Boylan posted on 7/23/2015 at 2:27 AM

From my perspective, Sliders - parallel universes - are alt hist.

Haven't heard of Merchant Princes series. Who wrote it?

Comment 10 (In reply to #9) by Raymond Camden posted on 7/23/2015 at 2:32 AM

They are by Charles Stross. If you buy em from my review, http://www.raymondcamden.co..., I get a little kick back.

I guess I consider "Alt History" typically to be a story set in a world with a different history and that's the *primary* setting. In Merchant Princes, and I don't want to give too much away, the setting is our world and another world with an alternate history. I'm probably being too picky. ;)

Comment 11 (In reply to #10) by Paul Nicholas Boylan posted on 7/23/2015 at 6:41 AM

Yes. Very picky. Harry Turtledove would drive to your house, knock on your door, and kick you when you answered.

Have you read the Destroyermen series by Taylor Anderson?

Comment 12 (In reply to #11) by Raymond Camden posted on 7/23/2015 at 2:36 PM

Nope, sounds interesting. I'll add book 1 to my wishlist.

Man - Tutrtledove. I read "Guns of the South" and loved it. I then read "World War", and I thought it was a fascinating concept. (I'm very interested in alien invasion stories that are NOT the ID4 variety.) But then the series just went south so bad. I had to finish it, but I dreaded every chapter.

Comment 13 (In reply to #12) by Paul Nicholas Boylan posted on 7/23/2015 at 10:36 PM

Re Destroyermen: This series is the only thing Taylor has written. The first three books are a bit rough reading at times, but the concept is so fascinating (like AoT) that it carries you through. The rest of the series, for me, is always a page turner.

Re Turtledove: Also loved Guns of the South. Binge read the Southern Victory series. Also enjoyed the World War alien invasion alt hist books. Not much else has interested me.

Then there is, of course Steve Stirling. His Island in the Sea of Time alt-hist series is breathtaking, but ended far too quickly and, despite significant encouragement, Steve hasn't chosen to revisit that world.

Which brings us back to John, who is apparently a much softer touch than Steve, allowing himself to be persuaded to continue the AoT series.

Comment 14 (In reply to #13) by Raymond Camden posted on 7/24/2015 at 1:09 AM

Stirling: I liked ISOT too - and I kinda enjoyed The Change series, but he dragged it on way too long. I thought Conquistador (which was one book, not a long ass series) was great.