by David Nickle
Publication date: June 26, 2012
Genre: Adult Fantasy/Horror
Purchase: Barnes and Noble/Amazon/Book Depository
They moved as Gods. And as Gods, they might have remade the world.
But like the mad holy man Rasputin, who destroyed Russia through his own powerful influence... in the end, the psychic spies for the Motherland were only in it for themselves.
It is the 1990s. The Cold War is long finished. In a remote Labrador fishing village, an old woman known only as Babushka foresees her ending through the harbour ice, in the giant eye of a dying kraken – and vows to have none of it. Beaten insensible and cast adrift in a life raft, ex- KGB agent Alexei Kilodovich is dragged to the deck of a ship full of criminals, and with them he will embark on a journey that will change everything he knows about himself. And from a suite in an unseen hotel in the heart of Manhattan, an old warrior named Kolyokov sets out with an open heart, to gather together the youngest members of his immense, and immensely talented, family.
They are more beautiful, and more terrible, than any who came before them.
They are Rasputin's bastards.
And they will remake the world.
the subject matter of my new novel Rasputin's Bastards (Cold-War espionage as
conducted by irresponsible psychic savants), no one should be particularly
shocked to learn the first Ian Fleming novel I read was the one with all the
Voodoo: Live and Let Die.
was nine years old. I'd just been to see the film, and although my parents
tried, there was no way to keep me away from the paperback movie-tie-in edition
of the Fleming novel. The cover alone
was worth the price of purchase: it was the movie poster, featuring a black-haired Roger Moore surrounded by
athletic-looking women, gigantic Tarot Cards, a big old 'gator barfing up
careering speedboats, and everywhere, great, blossoming explosions. The book
itself was only slightly less exciting.
was the first of many James Bond novels for me. By the time I was in my teens,
I'd read them all, and I like to think as a burgeoning novelist, I'd
internalized the good bits (notably, Fleming's uncanny ability to drive a story
forward at the same time as he offers up pages of what should be unreadably
dull, story-halting exposition) while rejecting the bad bits: Fleming's
cringe-worthy racism, sexism and sadism.
of those last things went over my head when I was nine. I took the story in the
same spirit as I would a C.S. Lewis Narnia fantasy, or the bloody-minded events
of The Hobbit. James Bond's adventures around the world battling mad spy-masters and foiling super-villains
were cut from the same cloth.
Live and Let Die (particularly in the film), the adventure moved into real
fantasy. The chief villain in the novel is Mr. Big, an African American
gangster working for the Russian spy agency SMERSH. In the film, Yaphet Koto plays both Big, and
a Papa Doc Duvalier stand-in name of Kananga. Both are in deep with the Voodoo.
In the film, Baron Samedi even shows up, surviving a bullet to the head at one
point and in a short coda, laughing maniacally on the cow-catcher of a speeding
train. No doubt about it: magic was a force.
book and film, the villain employs magic, in the form of his virginal
fortune-teller Solitaire, to stay a step ahead of 007. It's unclear whether she
is actually able to foretell the future through her deck of Tarot cards; but
Big relies on her advice as though she can. Ultimately, her advice is no
good--but not because she doesn't have the Sight. She just likes the handsome
guy from England better, so she lies for him. And for a time, anyway, Mr. Big
is powerless in the face of it. Because he believes.
Bastards follows from a lot of what Fleming was about. When I started work on
the book, it was wholly in the spirit of a Bond novel. Except James Bond was a
Russian, and he was mixed up in some business with some very peculiar former
KGB colleagues, and he didn't have the savoir-faire to always get the girl and
win at bacarat.
as I started to develop those very peculiar colleagues, who
"dream-walk" around the world, manipulating an army of sleeper agents
at will, I recalled the lesson of Solitaire.
psychic spy program would never work, even if psychic spies themselves worked.
It wouldn't take long before these magical creatures simply started ignoring
their masters, and used their extraordinary abilities for their own benefit.
would be bastards about it, too.
book took me a long time to write, because I have to admit that I was
confronting my own feelings about magic, mysticism and psychic empowerment.
the same time as I was sneaking away to read books like Goldfinger and
Thunderball, I was accompanying my mother on something of a spiritual quest in
the wake of my parents' divorce. We did Transcendental Meditation, attended
psychic seminars, even joined a Japanese church for a time that practiced
something like Shintoism and promised a direct, transcendent relationship with
a universal God.
the novel, one of my favorite characters is Stephen Haber, a young man who
works with the Bastards, but appears to have no talent for dream-walking,
mind-reading or anything else. He yearns for it. And why wouldn't he? His life
in the flesh is nothing but pain and heartbreak; the empowered realm of the
mind is not so much an escape, as it is a way to find meaning. So he haunts psychic fairs and listens to
tapes that promise to unlock his psychic powers and shuts his eyes regularly,
hoping for a glimpse of eternity. As desperate as he is, I find him to be one
of the most hopeful characters in the book.
He is yearning for the magic that many of the other characters in the
book came upon easily, and squandered.
of us yearn for transcendence, just like Stephen does. And many of us seek it
out, in churches and retreats and on yoga mats--even in the hyper-rational
world of science fiction, where the Singularity looms like the face of God.
that yearning makes us into suckers--like Mr. Big and his inconstant Solitaire,
or the Romanovs who let the original Rasputin into their house and so hastened
the Russian revolution; or in my novel, the foolish masters of Rasputin's
Bastards who thought they could command the wind. But it's a very human thing, seeking
pretty much got to be James Bond to resist it. ~David
David Nickle is the
author of more than 30 short stories, 13 of which have been gathered in the
collection Monstrous Affections. He is author of Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible
Optimism, and co-author of The Claus Effect, with Karl Schroeder. Years ago, he
and Karl won an Aurora Award for the short story that inspired that novel,
"The Toy Mill." Some years later, he won a Bram Stoker Award for
short fiction, for a story called "Rat Food" - co-written with Edo
Van Belkom. He lives in Toronto, Canada.
Thanks David, I am looking forward to reading your novel and meeting Stephen!
Was there a movie that after seeing it...you just had to read the book?
What was it?
Labels: David Nickle, guest post, Rasputin's Bastards