Review: Rasputin’s Bastards

Rasputin's Bastards
Rasputin’s Bastards by David Nickle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no disputing David Nickle’s ability as a strong story-teller with an aggressive style. If you’re looking for subtle and lyrical, Rasputin’s Bastard’s is not it. If you’re looking for a Clancy-ish SF, you’ve found your writer.

Set in the confusion of post-Cold War Era, Nickle’s story unfolds around a large cast of characters, all working toward the same end, to either prevent, or create, world domination not through force of arms, but through aggression of a far more insidious and devastating means, that of mind control.

In the utopia of the villains of this story, humans would exist as vehicles for the consciousness of their overlords. In the utopia of the heroes, those with the ability to dream-walk others would simply be able to exist in harmony, without fear of persecution or harm.

The story itself, although not particularly new, is a good one, and Nickle tells it in a style very much mirroring the implacable reasoning of the Cold War mentality.

And this is where we get into personal taste in this review, something I’m always loathe to do, but usually succumb, because so much of the interpretation of art is subjective.

Although I understand Nickle’s artistic paradigm, to mirror tone and word choice to the atmosphere one attempts to create in a story, in this case I think he fell just a tad short of what could have been a brilliant novel. The voice, or the tone if you will, is so married to the impersonal insouciance of the Cold War, that much of environmental detail, of the minutia that draws in a reader and invests them emotionally, was missing. In the end the reader, like the super-beings that inhabit this story, wander through a metaphor which is described, but never realized. It is a dream, and therefore without substance. And therefore without emotional impact. And so without reader investment.

The cast of characters in the novel is enormous, and while it’s perfectly acceptable to have a huge cast (I am often guilty of this myself), of necessity for we plebian brains who are reading, many of those characters could have been relegated to walk-on roles only. I believe that part of my problem with being unable to connect to the narrative is that I’d entered a convention and couldn’t get to know anyone.

Is Rasputin’s Bastard’s worth the investment of your time to read? Absolutely. But will it be one that leaves you transported and translated? Not likely. Still and all, a good novel to embrace on one of summer’s dog days, or winter’s solitudes.

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