About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, and nominated for Best Horror at the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, to be released by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written "Codename: Winterborn," an SF espionage thriller, and "It was Only on Stun!" and "Set to Kill," murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.

Sex, DC Comics and wtf?

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion on comic books, be they from Jon del Arroz discussing the politicization of Marvel comics, or JD Cowan’s discussion on how bereft of ideas comics have been.
My problem came in with their “New 52” in 2011. This was a particularly stupid idea after they had already created 52 new alternate universes in their 52 storyline — which was a 2006-2007 story line that was actually quite good, focusing on the B-list superheroes, and giving them a chance to flourish, and even starting new, and popular, storylines. It was even character-driven.
So of course they screwed it up within four years.
But I knew they went off the rails when they decided to “reboot” characters for sex value.
I have already discussed my opinion on sex in writing.  I’d say my opinion on sex in general is very Catholic, but since no one understand that, I’m not even going to bother. However, I can sum up my thoughts on sex in fiction very easily: who needs it? We all know the mechanics. What possible reason is there for a blow by blow description? Pardon the pun, but you know what I mean.

I’ve written a few sex scenes …. by “few” I mean two, and they were in the same book.  However, the “sex scene” was in someone’s dream, and the protagonist was having a conversation with his dead wife through most of it. The sex was incidental, and mostly has to do with the fact that she was killed on their honeymoon.  The second sex scene was so vague, any less detail would be as clear as a Salvatore Dali painting, only with words.

Yes, I brought in Dali to an article on sex. I’m weird. However, there is a point.

Even during these scenes, there’s no blow by blow description. (I’m going to stop apologizing for that phrase, just roll with it).  They aren’t necessary, unless someone’s writing porn.  Even something as intimate as noticing a tattoo on someone during sex doesn’t necessitate that much detail — the audience does not need to know what specific act the individual was doing when s/he noticed the tattoo.  It’s sex. Nudity happens.  Next chapter.

In the case of DC Comics, they decided to go back to the 1990s, where the artistic style was summarized as “Big boobs, big guns.” The current version seems to focus on women and sexuality, with an overemphasis on the sex.

Take, for example, the character of Starfire. She’s an alien with red hair, green eyes (and I don’t mean with two green irises, I mean the entire eye is green), orange skin, with measurements somewhere in the 36 DD battery range.
Normally, I would stop reading at green-eyed redhead (I grew up with a crush on the female lead in Riverdance, leave me alone).  The character has always been sexually relaxed, it was mostly a cultural thing.  And, for the most part, it was used properly — as comedy.  For example, in the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths, Starfire walks in with Nightwing, meets an old friend, and introduces him as “This is Nightwing, my lover.”

Nightwing’s reaction is such that you suspect he’s glad that he has to go and face the end of the world.

And that was it.  One panel. Move on. It was played for comedic effect. The alien culture was very much what is referred to as “serial monogamy.” Starfire would FALL IN LOVE with a fellow and they would actually have a relationship. Sadly, today, the most startling thing about this is that she fell in love first, THEN started with sex.

DC decided to fix that.

OW! MY BACK!

When they rebooted everything with their “New 52,” DC spent far, far too long on having Starfire posing.

And by posing, I don’t mean “for seducing the guy she’s targeted for seduction.” I mean in weird, contortionist-like ways that are only useful for modeling.

Modeling what, I’m not entirely certain, but, still ….

What was the point of that scene?  Aside from “we’re pandering to hormonal males who can’t buy Playboy“?  Anyone? Anyone at all? Bueller?  Bueller?

“Baywatch” has its own comic book now?

Someone ran out of room for a plot in this issue, didn’t they? Starfire is a woman who can quite literally level city blocks.  And DC decided to dedicate a whole page to her trying to jump someone’s bones, with another page dedicated to “Gee, she looks good in a bikini.”  Really? They couldn’t think of something she could blow up?

Notice I have not pointed out her barely there costume.  The “reasoning” is that she absorbs solar energy through her skin, and the less she wears, the more surface area is used…..

Funny, twenty years ago, when Superman just came back from the dead and needed an enhanced recharge from the sun, he had to wear a form-fitting black suit to increase his solar intake.

But then, that was before 300 and chiseled, CGI generated 8-pack abs were “in.”

Also strange: she needs to bear more skin for more solar energy absorption, but she wears thigh-high boots, covering a lot of that surface area. If her powers honestly worked like that, it’s time to invest in sandals.

So, to recap: Does this entire setup tell us anything about the character? Nothing new.  Does it add anything to the plot?  Is it amusing? No and no.

If we’re lucky, comic books last 32 pages, without counting the ads.  If we’re not, it’s more like 25 or 27. But they’ll blow anywhere from 6%-10% of the book having Sunfire posing?  Who the hell is writing this crap?

This is the very, very short version of just some of the stupidity in this issue.

For the rest of how stupid this issue was, see the review below, or at the original webpage.

 

But then, things got even worse. How?

Enter: Catwoman.

Yup, the one in the really tight-fitting outfit.  As opposed to Halle Berry, the one in no outfit … that was more CatHouseWoman than anything else.
Granted, in some ways, I think Catwoman’s outfit is more practical than Batman’s — there’s no loose fitting articles of clothing to be caught on nails, screws, the vents she crawls around in, etc.  And, leather is good in knife fights. Batman’s outfit seems to have only recently made the cape practical, but I don’t keep up with these things.

The cat burglar and antihero has had an on again, off again relationship with Batman since Julie Newmar played her in the 1960s Batman tv show.  Maybe longer.

But, no, decades of jumping Batman — sometimes literally — is apparently, too subtle.

Let’s have a full-on sex scene!!!!

Really?

Yes. Really. They went there. 

Then again, I have a problem; I look at these images, and my first thought is “Why is her skin green? Has she been hanging out with Poison Ivy too much, or is it really odd mood lighting?”

So, what, exactly, does this entire sex scene add?

Another two to three pages eaten up by something that could probably be implied in one panel, and — oh, yeah — the next issue is called …. wait for it …. The Morning After.

Nope, still too subtle.

A whole splash page?

What do these pages add?  Oh gee, Catwoman is taking his gloves off with her teeth. She’s a little frisky …. um, she dresses up in skintight leather and carries a whip, I think we got that part.

So …. what was the point of this exercise? Obviously, they’re going to continue this as a story line into the next issue.  Good for them. So what? Why did they need two or three pages on this? Any one of you out there, reading this article right now, could have come up with a way to tell the audience that, yes, they are copulating. I suspect you could have done it in … what, half a page? With some internal monologue?

That a “professional author” has done it this pathetic.

Obviously, someone at DC has decided that its readers are either (a) functionally retarded, and subtlety would go over their heads, (b) too young to get legal access to get this stuff on their own or (c) the author used to write fan fiction before this.

The author, Judd Winick, is one of the masterminds behind resurrecting Robin #2, Jason Todd — who was so despised, fans voted to have him beaten to death and blown to kingdom come.

Winick’s brilliant idea: resurrect Todd, and make him crazy. So, I suspect we can’t expect too much from this guy. His claim to fame also seems to be LGTBQ awards and praise.

In short: this was no way to treat halfway decent characters. Catwoman has had a long run by dancing on both sides of the law, and living in a gray area that makes her more interesting than Batman at times … and more sane (I think Batman was on his fourth nervous breakdown before the reboot, last I checked).  Starfire, for all the oversexed portions of her nature, has been entertaining for reasons other than that — she had a run on Infinite Heroes, where she had some great character moments, and anytime the oversexed nudist part of her came out, it was a source of quick entertainment, and then we moved on to the plot.

Pity DC comics has no memory.

This was only the beginning of DC’s New 52. Is there any surprise that this “All-New” format is already going the way of the dodo? Seriously, DC’s massive, world-shaking events had reshaped the universe repeatedly, up to 2011. Then they screwed it up, and they are desperately trying to undo all of it. They started their series with lowering their standards, aiming for the slow, the stupid, and the shallow. I would even say that they were subversive, but that would require DC to put some thought into it. It started stupid, and it will end in stupid.

DC should have aimed higher. They may not be scrambling right now to fix everything.

Writing Superversive Romance

Can we have an honest talk about romance in novels?

Now, I’ve done romance before in my books, but mostly as a subplot. As most of us have figured out long ago, most men would rather go see John Wick on Valentine’s Day than the latest Twilight movie. So this isn’t rocket science.

With my novel Codename: Winterborn, for example, there were two romance subplots going on — though not at the same time.  One was between main character Kevin Anderson and his wife. Yes, I know, a romance story between a MARRIED COUPLE– gasp! Shock! Horror! SURELY, THIS IS THE END OF ALL THINGS!!!!!!

… Sorry. Can you tell I’ve been reading Daddy Warpig articles lately?

The second romantic subplot in Winteborn was between with hunter and prey, and even then, it was odd. It was very, … Laura, really.**  Though the main plot is heavy on the action.

[**Laura, a murder mystery in which a detective falls in love with the victim through her portrait. In the case of Codename: Winterborn, it was via files and seeing him in action]

With Codename: Winterborn, however, this took place over the course of months.

But the average romance novel takes, what, days? A week or two? Then the male and female leads jump into bed like sex-starved hyenas during mating season?  I think the longest courting period that I recall in romance fiction was a Sherrilyn Kenyon novel called Fantasy Lover where holding off on sex was a massive plot point, and involved breaking a curse from Geek deities. No, I’m not kidding.

Let’s just say that when I did something similar, it was with my novel A Pius Man. And you have no idea how much effort I put into trying to make that believable.

Then I worked on a Catholic Vampire Romance novel called Honor At Stake …

And that takes place over the course of 9 months. There’s a reason for that. Why?

Because I want a flipping love story. Something that looks real.  Something that feels real. Something that takes time to develop. Because no one — and by “no one” I mean any rational relationship — jumps into bed on the first date and expect the relationship to go anywhere. If you do, please stop kidding yourself.

The next challenge you should be considering is: I’m still a guy. How does a guy write romance? (While not being John C Wright, he can pen whatever novel he wants.)

Anyone who doesn’t know me is probably considering the easy answer: “Well, Declan, you’ve been in love before, right? Use your actual love life.”

To which I must sadly inform them: “Have you read my blogs about my love life? It looks like a train wreck.”

Yeah.  Fun fact: any relationship of mine that survived in real life for any length of time was unreal in so many ways, I can’t even describe it without people calling me a liar. I don’t even believe my own love life. I think if I wrote it up, it would look like fiction.

Besides, I suspect that a love story that is a blow by blow of a real relationship would probably bore the crap out of most people. Granted, I have an unfair advantage in my novels: I have vampires, Vatican Ninjas, and grenade launchers.

However, I was a follower of one of the better romances on television: Castle.

Yes, Castle.  It has character development, a relationship that grows out from mutual attraction, to partnership, to friendship, and then to love. They even get to love long before leaping into bed, and only 1 YEAR of that before engagement.

Which is sadly, an improvement over what we usually see on screen. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen: First Date, Sex, Friendship, love, and Marriage, in that order. Just once, I would like to see the order be: friendship, courtship, love, marriage, sex.

To give Castle it’s due, where else do you see friendship actually develop in the romance genre? The phrase “Let’s just be friends” is usually much the end of any romantic relationship — in romance novels, and in my own experience — but shouldn’t a man and a woman at least shoot for being friends before they leap into bed together? Radical notion, I know, but consider it for a moment.

Another technical that pops up in the occasional romance novel, and in in Castle, almost everyone around the main couple sees this relationship coming. This is traditional in the standard Nora Roberts novel, this is usually represented by the “plucky best friend” of the heroine, trying to push her out of her comfort zone to risk enough to actually end up with her heart’s desire.

Yes, risk and romance. If you think that the concept is merely for conflict within fiction, I suggest you reflect on a simple concept: at the end of the day, marriage is all about investing yourself totally and completely in another person. Each spouse belongs to the other, bound by a full commitment– spiritually bound, biologically bound, connected on all levels. Seriously, read Ephesians 5, and I mean all of it, not just the “approved” readings.

If this concept doesn’t even remotely scare you, please reflect on it some more. It should come to you shortly.

There is also another problem that comes in occasionally in fiction, that is, surprisingly enough, a factor in some actual relationship considerations. This is a belief by some people have that they are unloveable — “Seriously, what sane person could possibly love a creature like me? Only some broken psycho would express any interest — only the psychos have expressed an interest. And why would any “normal” person give me the time of day?”  If you think this is only reserved for fictional characters on angsty CW shows, then I applaud your confidence in how perfect you are.

In my execution of it, with my Love at First Bite series, my leads are Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt. And oy, these two have got relationships baggage that look like Samsonite, or maybe a Haliburton. One is a blood thirsty killer, the other’s a vampire. So you have two creatures of the night — would would rather be feared rather than loved, and one who eats people.

Now, I’m not going to say that this is the most unlikely duo I’ve ever created. The main couple in my Pius novels were pretty much the most opposite I could design two people while still making them human.

But when it comes to writing romance, I like little things. Little details. Little innocent things that can be taken the right way if characters looked at them really hard, but don’t because neither one thinks the other wants to go there. Little looks and touches, and smells and “if she hugs me any closer she’s going to realize I’m having a not-so-innocent reaction,” and “stay calm, or the increased heartbeat will give the game away.”

You know, things like that.  I’m told I do that well.

The short version is that in all things, there is a proper order. For a romance to be truly romance, sex should come last, and commitment should be more important than the sex. Because if two people aren’t joined in a blessed union, it just becomes one more carnal relationship, and what romance comes from that?

If you want to see a guy write not-bad romance, try the  Love At First Bite Series
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Good Strong Female Characters

When I first heard the term “Strong Female Character,” my first response was to shrug. When I was a child, I had grown up with reruns of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, and one of my favorite characters of ThunderCatswas Cheetara. When I hit my teens, I really enjoyed Ivanova and Delenn of Babylon 5, with Lyta Alexander thrown in, if only because she was a redhead.

To hear the SFC label as an insult threw me for a loop. The first time I heard it was about a leftist complaining about women fighting evil.

Though recently, the Superversive blog has not only highlighted problems with the idiocy in Strong Female Characters, this horse has been beaten to death using the carcass of another horse as the cudgel. Between Dawn’s post, my post, and multiple others, it’s been covered fairly thoroughly.

Can we talk about when it works? I know it sounds strange, but bear with me a moment. I can’t imagine that anyone involved in the Pulp Revolution crowd will be happy if you dismiss Red Sonja as an SFC (or, looking at the history of her character development, perhaps they would). Let’s face it, there are times where it can at least be entertaining. As I mentioned the other day, Xena was entertaining at one point …. before it went really flipping strange; I, at the least, can enjoy most of Buffy the Vampire Slayer without accepting the agit-prop that Joss Whedon thought he was putting in.

Now, in these cases, it works in part because overly strong female heroes aren’t usually a problem when it’s someone superpowered. No one objects to the concept of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or X-men’s Rogue. We have usually just complained about the execution thereof.

To see where things can go right, let’s see where they’ve gone wrong, shall we?

Agent Carter, brought to you by the spin-off department at Marvel, featured Peggy Carter from Captain America, and dear lord, what were these people smoking? Yes, I know, enough lefty agit-prop to kill a small herd of elephants. This was depressing. Hating men by the truckload — but it was okay, because our heroine did the hating [eye roll]. I’m not sure what was worse, Carter’s sudden hatred for all men (which wasn’t in the film she debuted in) or some of the flashbacks in season two that tried to explain it (yes. the show had a season 2). But no, Agent Carter was perfect, no flaws at all, and if you disagreed with her, you were wrong.

Yikes. At least in the case of 24, when Jack Bauer was “always right,” it was largely because he was surrounded by bureaucrats, and even then, he sometimes lost big. Sure, if everyone listened to Jack Bauer, the series would be called 12, but despite that, he’s lost his wife, daughter, his family, and nearly all of his friends. On her tv show, Carter is “always right” because the plot says so, all of her office mates were men, and therefore evil, and she loses nothing. It’s sad, because in The First Avenger, the character worked because she was empathetic with our hero, risked a lot on an untried Steve Rogers, because she saw in him the same qualities and virtues that he embodied as Captain America. AND she was nifty with a machine gun. The Agent Carter of the tv show? What is this thing called empathy?

Then there’s Supergirl, the current TV show. I’m not sure what’s the worst element about this show: the message fiction (feminista, LGBT signalling, strange anti-Trump digs, et al), the writing, characterization or the plots. It is mind-boggling how much is wrong with this show, from the angsty men to how Supergirl herself is portrayed as, mostly, a ditzy blonde — and it’s not even an act. Depending on who’s writing the DC comic book, Kryptonians on Earth are naturally smarter, stronger, and faster than anyone else. Superman has often been described as overpowered. Technically, Supergirl herself could be a flipping Mary Sue, and it would at least be consistent with the premise that SHE’S AN ALIEN. Having recently seen the first two Christopher Reeves Superman films recently, the contrast is stark — Clark Kent is a front, a mask where Superman is clumsy and awkward and presents as a total idiot. In this Supergirl TV show, Supergirl herself comes off as awkward, uncertain, and even childish. It’s not a mask, it’s who she is. She’s not perfect in every way, and fewer and fewer people are willing to correct her about it.

And I think the real, major problem with the general concept and execution of the Strong Female Character: these women are portrayed as being totally problem free and perfect when they’re clearly not. To my recollection, no one called out Agent Carter on her BS, unless it was Tommy Lee Jones in Captain America: The First Avenger, and he was a honey badger — he didn’t care for crap from anybody. On Supergirl, the lead lacks empathy more often than not, and insists on putting down anyone who wants to stand up and be counted because they’re not as invulnerable as she is; and no one calls her on it anymore.

The less said about Blindspot‘s Jaimie Alexander being able to square off against and pummel men three times her weight with her bare hands, the better.

We, as an audience, are being force-fed women who are deeply flawed, and in some cases unlikable, and being told that they’re perfect. These aren’t the Strong Women Characters I grew up with. This doesn’t work.

So … where does it work?

In some cases, the SFC trope can work because they are pure popcorn action pieces. Xena worked, at first, because it was pure popcorn, and actress Lucy Lawless was just fun to watch. It failed when it went strange (Greek myths ran into the Old Testament, then Christian mythos? Huh? Please stop hurting my brain). And even then, her perky blonde sidekick would occasionally take her to task for her BS, which is a cute trick since it looked like Xena had about six inches on her.

Red Sonja has never had any pretensions, and if you think it has, I can’t take any project too seriously when the film stars Ernie Reyes Jr as a super badass 12-year old.

Why did Buffy work? Because if you were just looking for entertainment, it was, again, mostly pure popcorn, with some metaphorical overtones for teenage life. I think the least subtle aspect of that was a conversation after Angel went evil, where Buffy’s mother asked, “You slept with him and it was like he became a completely different person, wasn’t it?” Talk about your understatement. The character also had plenty of faults. Most, if not all, of the season finales came after an episode or two where, yes, she’s vulnerable– duh, she’s a teenage girl. She lost at least one boyfriend because she treated him like dirt, and it was Xander, the one labeled “loser” at every turn, who had to explain why she was being an idiot.

Black Widow, for me, works quite well, mostly because a lot of her characterization has been very straightforward femme fatale (see: The Winter Soldier). Or she would rather have a normal life than be a Russian super assassin (Age of Ultron). Heck, even “Mister Feminist” himself, Joss Whedon, directed a film in which she was not only a damsel in distress for five minutes, she even mourned that she had been sterilized as part of her training (also Age of Ultron)– wait, I thought good SFC Feministas were supposed to welcome being freed from the burden of children? Isn’t that in the Gloria Stienem handbook? No wonder feminstas pilloried Joss offline (he claims he just needed a break from Twitter … yeah, sure, Joss).

Emma Peel is fun to watch if only because, well, Diana Rigg. She was obviously having fun. She was obviously still a woman — and obviously the source of inspiration for Black Widow’s outfit. And, while the character knew practically everything, and naturally gifted in almost every form of spycraft and fighting, she still didn’t manage full on Mary Sue status. How did she manage that? In part, because she was captured in literally every single episode of the television show. She almost always had to be rescued … okay, she typically wasn’t held captive for very long, and she was usually, she was unleashed to beat up her captors, Sadly, I believed her fights in the 1960s Avengers than any of the fights on Blindspot.

For more recent examples of SFCs who work, I will direct you over to Baen books. John Ringo has two very nice female protagonists, who are perhaps more badass than anyone else on this list thus far.

In the first place, there is Faith Smith, of his Black Tide Rising series. Faith is a teenager, barely 14 years old. Because of genetic quirks, she’s tall and looks older than her age. She’s highly athletic, and fairly strong. When the zombie apocalypse hits, she is in her element, and becomes an awesome, neigh-unstoppable melee fighter who even makes Gurkas take a step back and watch in appreciation.

Surely, Faith is part of the problem, isn’t she?

Nope.

For one thing, Faith is still a teenager. When clearing seafaring vessels for survivors, she can’t handle seeing those who died because help hadn’t arrived in time. She becomes depressed, and starts claiming that Trixie, her Teddy bear, “Doesn’t like to see this.” She has literally put her trauma onto her Teddy bear. It’s touching, and a little creepy at times. By book four of the series, after months of working with Marines, they liberate Paris Island, where “real” marines threaten her, browbeat her, and drive her into a nervous breakdown. Because she’s handling a zombie apocalypse before she’s even old enough to drive, and she’s had a bad day. Strong? Yup. Perfect? Nope. Does anyone pretend she is? Nope. Her marines tend to her general care and feeding around things she’s bad at — like jumping from heights, or paperwork, et al.

Barbara Everette is Ringo’s other major female lead, of his Special Circumstancesseries. She is a tall athletic soccer mom with a rigorous prayer life that enables her to be the bad ass ninja warrior for God.  And no, I’m not snickering as I write that sentence. No, she’s not perfect. She actually spends a lot of her time calling herself out on her own flaws, particularly her temper.

I’ve got at least two characters who stand out from my own writing: Mandy Rohaz and Amanda Colt. In my Love at First Bite series Amanda Colt …. has social anxieties, to put it nicely. In my Last Survivors series, Mandy is a mercenary, by profession and by nature. She’s impulsive, but changes her mind as fast as new data comes in. She’s basically an armed tomboy who likes money, and will do the right thing, sometimes whether she likes it or not. There’s good under there, but you have to dig for it, and she’s been called to the mat for that a few times.

I think I’m making my point. At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s an actual problem with “Strong Female Characters.” I grew up on Emma Peel, Buffy, Xena, Red Sonya and Princess Leia. At the very least, we should probably stop labeling the offending phenomenon SFCs, and relabel it PPFC — Pretend they’re Perfect Female Characters. Because that’s really the problem here, isn’t it? It isn’t necessarily that the characters are strong, but that’s all that they are; they’re overly strong, to the exclusion of most other characteristics. And what else is there to them? Many of the examples used on the site lately are really shallow creatures. The most common description I hear about Katniss Everdeen is “Moron.” Bella Swan is a blank slate, at best — assuming you don’t view her as a fickle, manipulative Creature from the Black Lagoon.

But I think it’s time to bring back actual strength to these Strong Female Characters, and rid ourselves of the pretenders.

Review: Night Machines

Image

Oh, this was a fun little ride of weird.

First, the premise

Maggie decided to have an affair. No one needed to know. Not even her lover.

 

Who would it hurt, if Maggie decided to carry on a torrid affair in her mind? It would soothe her feelings, hurt by her husband’s emotional abandonment while he worked on a disturbing new murder case. It would provide an outlet for the dizzying desire she felt for her employer. It would make her feel loved and appreciated and better able to be a good wife and mother. After all, it’s not really cheating if it’s only a fantasy. Right?

 

But Maggie loses control of the fantasy as lust becomes love, and things she believed confined to her own imagination are somehow known to her spectral lover. A harmless mind game spins out of control and threatens the sanctity of Maggie’s greatest treasure – her family.

Night Machines has three interesting character studies. Maggie is the bored housewife married to the “boring” cop, and her brand new boss is the nerdy kid from high school who grew up to be a billionaire with the looks of a guy on the cover of a romance novel. The new boss, Cambien, is a specialist in medication of dreams (which makes me wonder if his name is supposed to rhyme with Ambien).

It’s also three stories of obsession. Maggie’s husband is consumed by the case of a dead girl. Cambien has thought of Maggie since high school, and his thoughts start sweet and cute, and something darker starts to take shape. And then there’s Maggie herself, who decides to have her “non-affair” with Cambien, one purely consistent of daydreams and fantasies, and it starts to eat her up inside. I’d tell you what it made me think of, but it turns out to be a spoiler.

I always thought the Rod Serling meets Robin Cook equaled F. Paul Wilson. Nope. This is chocked-full with more of the irony found in the Twilight Zone. Especially since it starts with Maggie dreaming, and dreaming about what her life could be or should have been … and oh, boy, does it go the way of Nightmare on Elm Street. No, it’s not terrifying, I’d even suggest it could be given to Young Adults, but beware the fact that there are sexual situations, but nothing graphic.

Along the way, Night Machines explores the concepts of family, of love versus lust, and what happens when you live too much in your head. Because there are some times things in the dark that will eat you.

By the start of “act three” of the book … well, not to give too much away, but there was the scene with Maggie’s priest, where I had fulled expected the line “What part of thou shalt not covet did you not understand?”

I did not expect the sudden Catholic turn that the novel made, but it addressed every last point I had considered as I read through the book. That chapter alone made it more deeply philosophical and faithful than some books written by members of the Catholic Writer’s Guild. And better written.

At the end of the day, it’s a romance book that can even be read by people who hate romance novels. Why? Because I really hate romance novels, and this was fun..

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award Nominated Author for Honor At Stake, book 1 of his Love at First Bite Series.  Finn’s own work and collections of essays can be found at his personal web page.

Strong Female Character Syndrome

With everyone jumping on the bandwagon of SFC-hate, I would like to add my own two cents. Not so much with the concept, but with the execution. Or, in short…. What is it with these really freaking tiny women adopting the “strong female character” trope?

I have no problem with women fighters, I have enough of them in my novels. I’ve defended against that stupidity from feminazis often enough. I’ve defended women in military science fiction, and I’ve written an entire article on SFCs. This doesn’t even count when I’ve beaten up on the idiocy of Tor blogger Liz Bourke. But there, the point usually seems to be that they object to women who are sexy, or chasing such pursuits as “Duty, Honor, Country.”

Because, you know, how could anyone consider those worthy of feminism. [Insert appropriate eyeball roll here]

However, I would like to highlight a major problem when it comes to the use of many of the the Strong Female Characters going the rounds lately. Because, sorry, when I create a woman character who is ALSO a a living weapon, I also make certain that these women are either a) not a size zero, or b) fighting in creative, indirect ways.

Why? A few reasons. Consider, to start with, even among well-skilled (and equally skilled) male fighters, the bigger fighter is probably going to win — the odds are nearly certain. There’s a good reason that Loki rarely, if ever, directly engages with Thor — Thor has got at least fifty pounds of muscle on him. Depending on the comic book issue, the Joker does not square off against Batman and exchange punches, because Batman is twice Joker’s weight.

If you have two pro-wrestlers, how many of them fight exactly the same? When you get out of different weight classes, the changes are extreme. But you’re not going to have a 5’6″ wrestler like Rey Mysterio take on the 6’11” Undertaker in a direct fight — the smaller wrestler bounces around the ring like a ping pong ball, and trying to catch him is a pain.

Small people fight different than bigger people. Simple as that.

But why are women treated so much differently than men in this area? There are weight differences between men, but somehow, all women are written to fight exactly the same way as men in media, even though women are naturally 50-100 pounds lighter.

Regardless of whether or not Hollyweird is trying to spin some sort of agenda, I’m just talking about the execution right now.

Because this is just stupid.

Granted, in some cases, this works — when well-trained women go against untrained hoodlums, there is no contest. That’s superior skill versus brute strength. I’d take a dozen marines with handguns versus three dozen MS-13 members armed with SMGs any day of the week. But the women in media are getting smaller, and their opponents (many of whom are supposed to be of equal talent and ability) are getting bigger.

Take Jaimie Alexander, who is basically playing Jason Bourne on Blindspot — and she is victorious over almost everyone she comes across. She is possibly better known as the Lady Sif in the Thor films.

Jaimie Alexander

Okay, yes, she’s sort of pretty. But I didn’t pick this photo for the underwear value. Look at her arms. Now look at her legs. Yes, I know, I’m putting you through torture.

But here’s my question: Where’s the muscle? She’s a 5’9″ toothpick. Her shooting someone feels more believable than her bringing down a 6’3″ thug with her bare hands. And the last few episodes I bothered with (I gave up in early season 2) had her going up against an FBI agent with four inches and well over 100 pounds on her. Probably has over 150 pounds on her.

This is no longer fiction, this is fantasy — full-on, credulity breaking fantasy.

Enter the other 5’9″ female woman who has spent her days swinging a sword.

Yes,Xena is a stereotype, but we’re talking about execution. Please compare the two actresses: which one looks more believable in terms of being able to hold her own in general? Xena wasn’t a toothpick, or “a guy with breasts,” and she had this bright light in her eyes right before she wiped the floor with everyone in a berserker rage, and she looked like she was having fun. (Yes, I’m ignoring later seasons when it went strange. I ditched the show somewhere around she was crucified by Julius Cesar, after having only met King David … I came back briefly around the time she met Lucifer … that show hurt my brain).

Once you compare and contrast the build, why are the “strong women fighters” straight-up brawlers? When you consider that not even all men fight like this, why are all women fighting like this? Are the stunt coordinators that stupid? (Unlikely). Or are the directors and writers? (That’s where my money is).

The closest we have to a Lucy Lawless type these days is Adrianne Palicki. Palicki was wasted on a Wonder Woman pilot from David E. Kelly, and is currently being wasted on Agents of SHIELD.  Some may recognize her as Perkins from John Wick.

Adrianne Palicki

Note, from this photo, three things.

1) Her body type is not “Toothpick.”

2) She is 5’11” in body armor.

3) She is holding an improvised weapon, because people who fight have weaponry.

Thank you. Was that so hard?

Frankly, I think I would have preferred her to being Wonder Woman in the films than Gal Gadot. Why? Because Wonder Woman was many things, but never a toothpick. Heck, I would have even taken Hayley Atwell (formerly Agent Carter), who is 5’7″, and not a size zero.

Does anyone remember actress Antje Traue from Man of Steel? I mean, look at this woman.

Oh wow, look! Muscles!

Height? Only 5’6″, but I’d rather not get punched by her.

Can we have her in some of these films? I know everyone in Star Wars is British, but still, can we make an effort here, people?

Seriously, Hollywood, what are you doing to get these toothpicks as actresses? It’s very off-putting. There’s “thin” and then there’s “good God, please eat a hamburger, I’m expecting you to break.” Is it that hard to find a healthy female actress? Are they that rare? If so, I worry.

This is why, at the end of the day, the most believable woman fighter I’ve seen in current  media is, well, Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow. Why? Because despite her being 5’3″ (yes, she’s that tiny), she’s 1) not a toothpick and 2) she fights in so many varied and sundry methods and styles, she never takes someone on directly and / or bare handed. She’s jumping on people and breaking necks, or dropping them with a gadget, or just shooting them.

Remember Black Widow in Avengers, where she just stood square against Hawkeye and exchanged blows with him? Of course you don’t, because it never happened. She jumped all over the place like a freaking rubber ball, and catch her if you can.

Don’t get me wrong, there are places and points where smaller women can, and have, been used WELL. Frankly, the best points where getting these tiny, tiny women to perform great feats of strength is, really, science fiction or fantasy. Whether it’s the Bionic Woman or Summer Glau as a Terminator, it’s impressive because they’re so small. Supergirl works in the comics because she’s a freaking alien. But this isn’t how normal people operate. Heck, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was supposed to be physically stronger than the undead, and she still jumped around all over the place.

Why is Buffy the Vampire Slayer better executed than some of these more “serious” thrillers, like Blindspot? (Heck, I’m actually surprised that Jaime Alexander isn’t better built, considering she has to carry what looks like at least twenty pounds of plastic armor in the Thor films. I didn’t expect her to be that tiny.)

For a moment, let’s look at my books … with normal characters, because I’m not counting the vampire as “normal.” That’s covered under my “science fiction and fantasy” exception. (Though I should note, Amanda Colt is not the toothpick Jaimie Alexander. I think I would rather have Scarlet Johansson, if she were a little taller. Anyway…)

In my straight-up, non-fantasy work, I have three women who have gotten into fights.

Exhibit A) Wilhelmina Goldberg: Five-feet tall (really 4’11”) Goldberg is a computer nerd. She used to work for the NSA, but went over to the Secret Service to audit security, since she’s not tall enough to jump in front of Presidents. Her fights included: punching someone in the balls, and dropping low and cutting their Achilles tendons. If the books she appears in get made into a movie, I’m not sure what would be worse — if they have her cast with Lucy Lawless, or if they kept her at 4’11” and had her get into fist fights with men five times her weight class.

Exhibit B) Maureen McGrail: somewhere around 5’9 (because I don’t recall), imagine Jaimie Alexander with about thirty pounds of muscle on her, and a broader frame. She’s ridiculously over skilled. Even though she has more black belt levels than Chuck Norris, her fighting style boiled down to: attack joints, attack eyes, and deflecting, rather than blocking attacks. It’s one part Krav Maga (which is designed to be used by little old ladies or beefy 20 year old) and one part “go with the flow” Kung Fu. Why? Because she’s not that big.

Exhibit C) Mandy: She’s relatively small. And while she’s in a science fiction universe, she is mostly not relying on technology to get things done. What does she do? She shoots people. That’s it. Up close and personal isn’t something she does. Okay, there WAS an altercation on top of a cargo container being airlifted by a helicopter, but most of the time, she just shot her enemies. Because bullets are your friend.

Seriously, at the end of the day, can we have a collection of characters and actresses who look, well, healthy? I’m tired of the cliche. It’s getting problematic, and the execution is getting more and more lazy as things go on. At least in the Thor films, Alexander’s Lady Sif is covered in body armor to bulk her up. But in general, the actresses seem to be getting smaller and shorter, and becoming more like empty-handed, bare-knuckle brawlers.

And it really needs to stop.

Review: Specter

In Bleeder, by John Desjarlais, we were introduced to philosophy professor Reed Stubblefield, who thought in Aristotle quotes. During a bit of R and R in the countryside, in a quiet, sleepy little village right out of a Miss Marple novel, he meets a priest, the local stigmatic. When the priest is murdered, Reed becomes the primary suspect.

What follows is an intricate, brilliant work that Agatha Christie would have been happy with.  Desjarlais’ prose is tight, erudite and powerful. His vocabulary is well-used. He knows how to engage the reader, and is very good with turning a phrase.

I enjoyed this book, and I was surprised by the villain-reveal at the end. Five stars all the way.

In Viper, new names appear in the local church’s book of the dead.  Except, none of these people are dead yet. When the names on the list begin to correlate to the fresh homicides in the neighborhood, it’s clear that this is a hitlist.  At the bottom of that list is the former undercover DEA agent Selena De La Cruz. Selena’s passions are guns, shoes, fast cars, and kickboxing, so if someone wants to kill her, it’s going to be a fight they’re going to regret. It was more of a thriller than Bleeder, though it’s set in the same universe — Selena is even dating Reed. This was a fun, solid ride from start to finish.

My only problem with the book was the unrealistic character of a DEA agent who was not only racist, but whose solution to everything was a SWAT team breaking down the front door (Seriously, how did the guy not get fired? Did he have a relative in the hierarchy? Was he a nephew to the AG?).  Even that only knocks it down to a 4.5 star rating.

Finally, we come to Desjarlais’ third book, Specter. And no, not a crappy James Bond movie of a similar name.

In our opening prologue, a Cardinal is murdered in an orchestrated hit that looks like the end of a brilliantly executed caper movie … only with an assassination.  The incident is loosely based off of the death of Cardinal Ocampo in 1993, which was presumed to be the worst case of timing and luck on the planet Earth.

But what if it wasn’t?

16 years later, former undercover DEA agent Selena De La Cruz (of Viper) is about to get married to Reed Stubblefield (of Bleeder), and then the Vatican comes by and says “Hi, we think your family was in on the hit, and you were in town at the time.”

Desjarlais

And we’re off to the races.

A fun part of this is the dynamic between Reed and Selena.  Bleeder was very much Reed’s book, where Selena first appeared. Viper was all Selena, with a few cameos by Reed. Specter is their book. Even the alternating points of views (third person personal) are very distinct. Their chemistry is very much a part of the narrative as it is part of their relationship.  She’s very a very tough, outgoing modern woman who has little problem with a shootout, and he’s a quiet, bookish, old-fashioned gentleman who thinks in Aristotle quotes. And I really like these two together, even though we hadn’t seen much of their developing relationship.  Looking at the two of them deal with the trials of dealing with the wedding is more than enough evidence for why these two belong together.

There’s even one entire conversion that sums it up quite nicely.

Him “We’re incompatible. I’m North Side, you’re South Side. I’m Cubs, you’re white Sox …. I’m publicly-employed pro-union Democrat for gun control and you’re small-business owner-Republican with a gun….I drive a Volvo, you drive a Charger.”
Her: “My godmother is very traditional and is having a hard time thinking of me as Selena Perez de La Cruz Stubblefield.”
“You don’t have to adopt my last name…”

See what I mean? They work so well together, I’m surprised more of this wasn’t a romance novel.  I would have read it twice for banter like that.

Okay, the fact that John Desjarlais has a female badass teamed up with the nerd just like I did in The Pius Trilogy really doesn’t have anything to do with my enjoyment of the book. Honest. It just works really well.  It’s like Baldacci’s King and Maxwell series — they just have this great dynamic together. And if you don’t like Baldacci, don’t worry, that’s the only overlap I can think of.

As for the rest … if you’re thinking that this is going to be exactly like Bleeder or Viper, it is and it isn’t. The overall plot feels like an excuse to watch Reed and Selena on screen, which, frankly, I’m happy with. If you read Desjarlais’ books for the intricate puzzle solving (like Bleeder), you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re in this only for a knock-down shootout (like Viper), you’re going to enjoy the second half of the book a lot.

There is also the best look at supernatural phenomenon I’ve seen in years.  Even little conversations like “ever have a seance or use a ouja board? Those things attract all sorts of nasty things.”

Awesome.

However, if you want to read this book to follow Reed and Selena, dive right in.  As far as I’m concerned, these two are right up there with Nick and Nora Charles. And, from what I’ve heard, Chesterton Press wants more books in this universe from John Desjarlais, despite that it’s “just” a trilogy.

Frankly, I own all six Nick and Nora Charles movies, so I’m perfectly happy with the idea that we’ll see more of these two.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award Nominated Author for Honor At Stake, book 1 of his Love at First Bite Series.  Finn’s own work and collections of essays can be found at his personal web page.

Superversive Dragon Award Suggestions

DragonConDragon Con is one of the biggest SFF conventions in the United States, if not on the face of the Earth. Held in Atlanta each year, Dragon Con hosts a minimum of 60,000 people each year — and we will probably never know how much they really host, lest they get in trouble with the fire marshal (I’m not even kidding). And, of course, Dragon Con has created its own award — the Dragon Award.

The first annual Dragon Awards.

Unlike a certain other set of awards that shall never be named, the Dragon Awards give out awards by genre. The Dragon Awards are also unique in that they do not go by calendar year, but from the start of July to the end of June.

Recently, we’ve put together a bit of a list of Superversive books from last year that fit our standards.  But how would one fit into the Dragon Awards like this?

Dragon Awards won by John C Wright, Brian Niemeier and Nick Cole 2016

Obviously, certain of the books from the list fit no genre category. One of my novels from the list, Set to Kill, is a murder mystery that takes place in Atlanta, at a place called WyvernCon, in the middle of a political war about Tearful or Hydrophobic Puppies versus Puppy Punters from traditional Big Publishing. Obviously, this book has no similarities to real events. Heh.

However, while it is on the 2016 list, there is no murder mystery genre for the Dragons. Nor are there Westerns, so Brings the Lightning is out.  And while Chasing Freedom and The Big Sheep are both fun books with dystopic elements, they both came out too early last year in order to be eligible — and Chasing Freedom was already nominated for last year’s Dragons.  It’s the same for site favorite Ben Zyycky’s novel Beyond the Mist , which came out in January 2016.

Those are the ground rules. Keep in mind, ANYONE can vote in the Dragon Awards, whether you have attended the con, or if you will never attend the con.

You can vote here, once you’re registered. Keep in mind, you can only vote for each book ONCE. If you try to vote for, say, Murphy’s Law of Vampires in more than one category, like best horror / best fantasy / best YA, your ballot will be invalid.

DISCLAIMER: I’ve had to do this manually, so I may have excluded one or two books that fall within the eligibility dates. And I’m adding one or two additional novels — some because they are sequels to books already nominated, and some because I think they really should be considered.

And now, UNLEASH THE DRAGONS

Best Science Fiction Novel

Escaping Infinity (not on the original list, but a favorite of mine.)

Discovery — Nuns …. INNNN SPPPAAACCCEEEE

Blood of Invidia: Maestru Series Book 1 (The Maestru Series) (Volume 1) — Space Vampires.

The Secret Kings (Soul Cycle) (Volume 3) — Book #2 won best horror in 2016, so I suppose this is also eligible there as well, but the description looks very Space Opera. Read it and you tell me below. When I asked Brian on my radio show, he didn’t have an opinion.

Bastion Saturn

 

Torchship Pilot

 

Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)

Murphy’s Law of Vampires (Love at First Bite #2)  — This one could go here, or it could go in horror. There is not, as yet, an Urban Fantasy category. Book one was in the 2016 Horror category, but horror is another conversation.

Wolf Killer (The Hammer Commission Book 2)

 

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge

The Cinder Witch: A Tale of The School of Spells & War

 

Best Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel

Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland (The Books of Unexpected Enlightenment Book 3)Book 1 reviewed here.

Van Ripplewink: You Can’t Go Home Again

 

Swan Knight’s Son: The Green Knight’s Squire Book One (Moth & Cobweb 1)  (For the record, I have inquired with Mr. Wright, who said that, yes, while Book Two and Book Three ARE eligible, he would simplify it for book 1.)  — Read our review of the novel here.

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel

Yes, there is some overlap here between the military SFF novels and their other categories. Why? In part because the authors have come out with two books in the same series. If one is torn between two Monstery Hunter Memoirs, or two Hammer Commissions, this is the easy way to split the baby.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners

Loose Ends (The Hammer Commission Book 3)

 

Glory Boy Cartwright’s Cavaliers (The Revelations Cycle) (Volume 1)

 

“Star Realms: Rescue Run,” By Jon Del Arroz — An author on the site, Jon should at least have the benefit of the doubt. Also, if the book’s half as awesome as he is, it deserves a look.

Thrawn (Star Wars) — While it did not come out in 2016, eligibility goes until the end of June. Thrawn comes out in April. I expect this to bigfoot the nominations.

Best Alternate History Novel

People’s Republic — Though this might be best under the next category.

Best Apocalyptic Novel
People’s Republic

 

Liberty Lost: How Debt Destroyed Our Freedoms

 

Codename: UnSub (The Last Survivors)

 

Best Horror Novel

Live and Let Bite (Love at First Bite) (Volume 3) — Book 3, the sequel to Murphy’s Law of Vampires from above. Again, there is no best Urban Fantasy here. Probably because it would just be known as the Jim Butcher award. Personally, I think this one is better, but what do I know?

A Place Outside The Wild — I never know what to do with Zombie books. Is is apocalyptic? Is it horror? Take a look and flip a coin. But I needed to flesh out this sections with more ideas.

From here on out, the Superversive list, thus far, is fairly devoid of comment and ideas, but I’ll fill in from Superversive contributors when possible. I’ll be supplying many of my own ideas. Mostly, these are merely what are eligible. In some cases, I’m linking to people who have much better ideas than I do.

Best Comic Book

Qualifying is any publication that contains illustrated story in traditional comic book format (non-animated) that is at least 20 pages long with a consistent set of characters, premises and series title that appears at least four times per year and at least one volume has been first released in print or electronic format between 7/1/2016 and 6/30/2017.

Think of this as an individual issue.

Best Graphic Novel

“A publication that contains illustrated story in traditional comic book format (non-animated) that is at least 36 pages long and has been first released in print or electronic format between 7/1/2016 and 6/30/2017.”

So … any bound collection, really.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series, TV or Internet

A Series of Unfortunate events, by Netflix.

Arrow — perhaps? I’ve enjoyed this season

Grimm — I’d want to push this one the most because it’s the last season.

 

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie

Doctor Strange — My personal favorite

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them — Not a personal favorite of mine. In fact, I think it is interesting for what it added to the world, not because it was a particular engaging film.

Star Trek: Beyond

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC / Console Game

Final Fantasy XV

Titanfall 2

 

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game

…. No idea. Honestly. Sorry.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game

Injustice Gamer Alfred Genesson has some thoughts on this.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game

And once again, we’re out of my element. Sorry.

Have a Superversive suggestion for the Dragon Awards? A book I missed? A book that came out in 2017 that wasn’t on the original list but should be here? Please, put down the title, author, and your reason why it’s a Superversive book that should get a Dragon. (date of publication would be also nice).

And then, when you have an idea — click here to VOTE IN THE DRAGON AWARDS. UNLEASH THE DRAGON.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award Nominated Author for Honor At Stake, book 1 of his Love at First Bite Series.  Finn’s own work and collections of essays can be found at his personal web page.