Resistance: Dave vs. the Monsters is the second instalment of a trilogy of novels by John Birmingham about the increasingly unlike-able and irritating super hero Dave Hooper. After the first book, I was hoping Dave would become a more nuanced and reasonable character as he maybe learned a little from his mistakes. Instead, we’ve now descended fully into the realm of ‘He’s not even an Anti-hero, he’s just an asshole.’ As much as it normally would bother me to stop reading a trilogy after two books, I’m done. He’s just too bad of a human being for me to take any interest at all in his goings on or welfare. Arrogant, misogynistic, selfish, greedy, and completely blind to his faults, the only way I could find this character redeemable is if Birmingham has intended the entire thing as satire. But the danger of satire which is indistinguishable from sincerity is that people will assume it is sincerity. A disappointment.
When you drop a monster-killer on the Strip, all bets are off.
Holed up in Las Vegas after the tumultuous Battle of New Orleans, Dave is enjoying the VIP perks afforded a champion monster-slayer. He may be a superhero of swag and the toast of the town, but if some fire-breathing dragons have their way, odds are everyone will soon be toast. As the hordes from the UnderRealms regroup for their next attack, Dave parties with celebrities, lunches with A-listers, and gets his ass lawyered up—because his hellacious ex is looking for a piece of that sweet, sweet action.
It’s all good, until new monsters roll in, looking to parley with “the Dave.”
WTF, monsters. Do you think the Dave can’t spot a trap before he falls into it? And when things go to hell at warp 10, a suit from a shadow operation swoops in to offer Dave a deal he can’t refuse. Now Dave’s about to face off against an opponent who makes battling bloodthirsty behemoths look like child’s play—a ravishing Russian spy with a few superpowers of her own.
Where to begin, where to begin. Well, my review of the first book in this series made some predictions about the next book which turn out to have been wrong. I had assumed based on the story that we would be getting into massive army battles by now, with Dave playing Hero and vaulting gaily around the battlefield leaving corpses in his wake. Instead far far too much of this book was spent on Dave fucking around, literally and figuratively, and a lot of travelling where not much happened. If you removed the parts of this novel where Dave is not wearing pants, you’d probably cut 50 pages out. Remove the parts where he’s making absolutely stupid decisions, and there’s even less left. For a book whose first instalment was billed as action-packed and pulse-pounding, this book was nigh on boring.
Really all of my issues with this book boil down to the protagonist. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently bad about an anti-hero, or even a non-hero. But most anti-heroes either have some redeemable qualities, or they can at least acknowledge their own lack of anything positive. Probably the least likeable character I’ve read in SFF in the last several years is Jorg Ancrath of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy. He murders, he rapes, he steals, he’s an absolutely horrible person and everybody should generally be rooting for his downfall. However, and the thing that makes him interesting to read about, is that he knows he is a horrible person, and just doesn’t care. He freely admits that he betrays and uses people for his own ends. He is just sufficiently sociopathic to not feel bad about doing so. It lets you look at him with a more clinical detached horror where you wonder what he’s going to do next, rather like a slow motion trainwreck.
Dave, however, doesn’t really seem to realise what a scumbag he really is. And it’s almost worse that his crimes aren’t murder, rape, and pillage, because it’s obvious to basically everybody that those things are bad and wrong. No, the problem is that he represents problems in our society that are still very wide-spread. He is excessive, hedonistic, arrogant, rude, crude; he cares far too much that other people think he is awesome to excuse his behaviour behind sociopathy or psychopathy. He’s just an asshole. He mistreats women, his inner monologue is ableist, misogynistic, and homophobic. He does whatever he wants, even when people who’ve had years of training and experience tell him that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. His refusal to listen to reason gets multiple characters killed, and he basically doesn’t care about it at all. Once I’ve reached the point where I’ve decided the protagonist is just outright horrible, I’m pretty much done. It happened to Breaking Bad and it’s happened here. True world-class villains are great to read about, and a really gritty anti-hero with a heart of gold but some scratches and scuffs can be great, too. But if I want to read about a douchebag white American who treats women, gays, and the mentally ill like crap, doesn’t care about what is right or good, but only about what he wants in that moment, and thinks about nobody but himself, I’ll just pick up a newspaper.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who think this is a great book. What action there is definitely qualifies as action-packed and it is pretty intense here and there. The rest of the characters, struggling as they are to actually get this lummox to do a single thing right, have a lot going for them. Some of the details we get about the goings on in the UnderRealm are cool. Maybe some people can ignore the fact that the main character is an irredeemable arse, or maybe they think he’s right on in his thinking, as terrifying as that is to think about. But whether Birmingham thinks that Hooper is a brilliant piece of satire on the American Action Hero trope, or that Hooper is really a great heroic guy, sadly, I’m out.
Dan received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Del Ray via NetGalley.