Friday, December 07, 2007

My novels #10: The Strangelove Gambit

NIKOLAI DANTE: The Strangelove Gambit [Black Flame, 2005]

It's 2672 AD, in a future where the Russian revolution never happened, and Nikolai Dante is the most wanted man in the Empire. Fifty million roubles have been put up as reward for his capture. Any sensible man would be hiding off-world, but the swashbcukling rogue enjoys living dangerously!

Fighting to stop a terrifying weapon being unleashed by a shadowy doctor, the only thing that stands between Dante and success is a finishing school full of beautiful young ladies. How can the carousing scoundrel resist the temptation?


For those who don't know Dante, he's a character from iconic British sci-fi comic 2000 AD. Think Flashman meets Hans Solo and you've got the essence of this delightful creation by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser. I was editor of the comic when the strip was being developed in 1996, though credit for commissioning Dante must go to my predecessor John Tomlinson. When Black Flame agreed to published novels based on 2000 AD characters besides the ubiquitous Dredd, I leapt at the chance to take Dante from four-colour thriller to pulse-pounding page-turner. Fortunately, Robbie agreed to let me borrow his characters.

The result is a trio of novels that among my favourites from everything I've ever written, three non-stop romps full of bawdy antics and breath-taking hi-jinks. The Strangelove Gambit launched the series, borrowing a riff from Ian Fleming's novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service as Dante goes undercover [and between the sheets] at a finishing school for beautiful young ladies. The Russian rogue is in his element, leaping from boudoir to battle in this espionage comedy-thriller. Fellow scribe Jim Swallow describe the book as James Bond meets Carry On and he's dead right.

All three of the Dante novels borrow their first narrative sentence from an Ian Fleming novel - in this case it's Casino Royale that provids the opening. Every chapter features a Russian proverb, all of them genuine adages gleaned from pouring through a book containing more than 10,000 such proverbs. The Strangelove Gambit was originally to be called The Faberge Experiment, but worries about infringing trademarks require a new title.

This novel was written in the blazing hot summer of 2004. The firt half went well and, once I'd found the right authorial voice and settled into my stride, proved a hoot to laugh. Another job interrupted my efforts, leaving me in the perilous position whereby I had to write the final 42,000 words in six days. These proved to be the hottest days of the year, of course. And the week the council decided to dig up the footpath outside my house. And the week the house was being painted by two men in a cherry-picker with its engine rumbling away in the background non-stop. All of which meant I couldn't shut the freshly-painted windows to block out noise.

It's a measure of my flinty determination and how much I was enjoying writing this book that I met my deadline with an hour or two to spare. These was my third novel in quick succession for Black Flame, but I was still feeling fresh and enthusiastic. I already had my next two commissions lined up with the published, one of which I'd been waiting eight months on the synopsis getting approval.

I've got a lot of affection for The Strangelove Gambit and all the Dante novels. They contain my funniest writing and some wonderful moments, but a lot of the credit for that is due to the original creators who came up with such a delightful premise and cast of scoundrels. Borrowing was always a joy, never a chore. Sadly, the Dante novels didn't sell through well in bookstores, but I treasure my copies of the three books and the omnibus edition, which is still available. Go buy it now!

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