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Dave vs The Monsters: Emergence
by John Birmingham
Del Rey, mass market pb $9.99, 382pp
Published: April 2015

This was just plain fun.  I ripped through this in record time.

Dave is a sorry excuse for a man.  A rotten father and husband; the only thing he’s good at is maintaining safety on his oil rig.  He’d just come off a bender where he splurged the money that should have gone to his kids on a couple of extra-special hookers and their accompanying drugs and was on his way back to the rig for a shift when the shit hit.  The rig was in chaos with people running everywhere in panic.  Even with his hangover and flabby body, Dave was the one to step up and confront the origin of the panic – the monster in the break room snacking on his friend.  When Dave saw the carnage – dismembered bodies, blood everywhere – and the nastiest fiend he’d ever seen sucking on his friend’s bones, he kinda lost his shit. The dead friend had valued his splitting maul and brought it with him to the party but now it lay abandoned on the floor. With no coherent thought in his head, Dave grabbed the heavy tool and attacked the monster.  The monster, for his part, was totally enjoying the best meal he’d had in his life.  Racial memory had promised that man-meat was an extraordinary delicacy but the Horde had been sealed in a deep cavern for a millennium and this monster had never even seen a man before this day.  It was just bad luck that the drilling rig had gone deeper than ever and poked a hole in said cavern.  When Dave buried the splitting maul in the skull of the monster, they were both surprised.  The monster couldn’t believe a puny human would even have the balls to attack and Dave’s mind went bye-bye.

When Dave awoke, he was, of course, the center of attention from the government.  He was the only one to have a close encounter and live.  But it was way freakier than just that – Dave knew stuff.  He knew the name, rank and serial number, so to speak, of the monster he’d brained.  He knew where it came from, he knew its battle tactics, he knew the other monster races and their characteristics.  And as more of the critters found their way to the surface and began to destroy New Orleans, Dave was the only one with any intel.  But the freakiness didn’t stop there.  Dave and his splitting maul had changed.  Dave’s body seemed to healing itself – from everything.  Overweight with skin cancer popping up and other assorted ailments of a badly mistreated body, Dave was becoming a lean, mean machine with some very interesting new talents.  His splitting maul, now named Lucille, was also acquiring some interesting new characteristics.

The escaped Horde was having its own moments of confusion.  The last time they’d been topside, humans were still wearing stinky hides and cowering in caves.  While the man-meat was every bit as succulent as legend promised, the Horde was discovering they couldn’t just glut and lay back to enjoy the repast; unbelievably, the humans had magicks that could hurt and kill them.  But there are an awful lot of them and they do prove difficult to kill.

Again, this was just plain fun.  Birmingham just rampaged through this story.  Dave is an unpleasant, self-indulgent man and the author gives us just enough reason to not really like him at the beginning.  So his transformation entices us to root for him, even while he’s still being Dave – crass, crude and sexist.  The story did take a while to build up steam and the beginning had a bit of purple prose which made me look at it with a jaundiced eye.  Fortunately, the author found a good balance and the over-the-top characterizations and dialogue started to work about a quarter of the way through the book.  The action never slowed down and the characters, both human and Horde, were well-drawn.  This is the first of three that I already have on my shelf.  I have no idea if they are the full series as I couldn’t find an author website.  But I heartily recommend these if you just like a good monster-bashing time.  ~~  Catherine Book

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