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.

A Review of the Death Note Anime

After encountering the trailer for the Death Note for Netflix, I looked up the general premise. Then I looked up a video on YouTube.Then I ended up binging the whole bloody show.

A Shinigami (A Japanese god of Death) named Ryuk is bored. His world is a mess, a disaster. On a lark, for something to do, he takes his death note–a black notebook that will kill anyone whose name is written down in it–and throws it down to Earth, just to see what happens.

Enter Light. Light Yagami is about to graduate high school. The son of a police officer, he finds the world grim, unchanging, and … boring. And then he finds this little black notebook. The Death Note comes with instructions, written in by Ryuk.Light reads the rules of the death note, and first tests it out on a hostage taker, and then a rapist in progress… and five days later, he has filled the Death Note with hundreds of names.

When Ryuk comes to Light to find the death note, and see what’s become of it, Light assumes a deal with the devil, and declares that “I will happily sacrifice my soul to make a better world.” But Ryuk explains that, no, the Death Note will not come with selling his soul, but “merely” forfeiting his place in Heaven or Hell. With that bit of new information, Light’s mission becomes all about him becoming a god, out to start the creation a new world, free of criminals. There’s little buildup to Light’s declaration. It’s just that sudden. But we have a show to start, and all of this is episode 1.

After the first thousand dead criminals, it becomes obvious to all that it is the work of a mass murderer, and he is labeled “Kira” — killer.

Over time, we see that Light is possibly one of the most evil SOBs I think I’ve ever seen outside of Sauron. Seriously, there’s not one person near him he doesn’t manipulate. He drives at least one person to suicide without using the death note. At least one person he spent 30 minutes of screen time with (IE: who knows how much in-story time with) and gets to know them, connect with them, realize what a good and loving person they are … and then kills them, because there’s a possibility that they know something that might expose him. Friends? What’s a friend? Ally? An ally is just a tool, a pawn, for his own convenience. Light needs no one. Light cares for no one but himself. Even his family seem to be of value to him only as an extension of Light’s own ego, and there are points in the plot where even they seem to be expendable.

At the end of the day, Light is charming and suave, and I have read blood-sucking vampires written by Ringo and Correia that have more humanity than this guy. It’s almost like they were trying to create Satan in human form.

But good God, it is hard to tell which of these people are scarier.  Light wants to be a god, and reshape the world where only “hardworking good people” exist. Light jumps onto this bandwagon fairly quickly. He goes from killing criminals, to killing cops investigating him, to ultimately deciding with one person “You have defied me, the new god! For that alone, you will die.”

Then there’s Light’s girlfriend, Misa. Yes, his girlfriend. On the surface, Misa is every anime blonde cliche made manifest. She is bright, she is perky. She is outgoing … and she might be more evil than Light. She possesses her own death note, and is a fan of “Kira.” Because that’s what every mass murdering serial killer needs — a groupie.

But when Misa gets going, the bodies start dropping all over the place.

While Light, at the very least, makes certain the ascertain guilt or innocence of criminals who drop dead–or cops coming after him directly– Misa’s quite happy to off anyone who even expresses disapproval of “Kira.” 


While Misa comes off as a ditzy blonde, I don’t think there’s a single person in this entire series who classifies as stupid. We won’t even go into some of the various and sundry oddballs, nut jobs, and seemingly “normal” people who join Light’s team. Though it is amusing to have Light deal with girl trouble at some particularly perilous points in the story. It almost gives you hope that he’s human. Don’t worry, those moments don’t last long.

Then we meet L, the detective in charge of hunting Kira. L is the Holmes brothers, Nero Wolfe, and a stack of eccentricities rolled into one. There is an awful lot of thought put into this character, as well as the various and sundry back and forth between L and Light that would make for a great Columbo episode. Heck, there’s even a tennis match here that Alfred Hitchcock would love. The tennis matches here are interesting– but only one of them is literal. Watching the various and sundry thought processes of L and Light ping ponging back and forth between each other is particularly entertaining.

One of the things that makes Death Note particularly tragic is that, at one point, Light has to give up the death note. Without the notebook, he loses every and all memory of being Kira. During this time, we see that Light is actually not a bad guy. He’s particularly bright, and possibly on par with or smarter than L. Like Aquinas put it, the corruption of the best leads to the creation of the worst — and Light is one of the worst.

And that’s before Light starts to truly spiral out of control

The animation is largely smooth and fluid. The artwork is creative and beautiful. The faces are unusually well defined for anime. The music is great and atmospheric, and borrows from Gregorian chant.

Overall, I was surprised at how easily I was sucked into this series. There is little of the hysterics that usually mark anime, and the characters are largely rich, well-developed people, with a host of strengths and foibles. Light is possibly the best murdering psychopath since Hannibal Lecter. And yes, I have read Dexter. Light makes Dexter look almost shallow in comparison, and I enjoyed those books.

There is also little to no moral ambiguity. While the authorities first argue over whether to arrest Kira, and the argument ends with “the law is the law,” it becomes clear just how Superversive this show is. The bad guys and the good guys are clear. Light is the protagonist just like any Columbo villain is, or MacBeth — and there’s just as little confusion about the morality of their actions.

All in all, I recommend it. It’s currently on Netflix.

DragonCon 2017: Jim Butcher Solo Panel

So, I’m back from DragonCon. I live. BWAHAHAHAAHABut now, the important stuff: Jim Butcher!

Yes, even though the writers track threatened to throw out people who recorded the event, that doesn’t stop ANYBODY at DragonCon. Okay, it stopped me, but I didn’t feel like putting in the effort, only to have it duplicated by people with better recording devices.

Hell, there are even some panels this year I’ll be able to see only BECAUSE people uploaded them to YouTube.

This presentation with Jim Butcher will have very little that’s new for long time readers of the blog. However, there are still fun tidbits, including Jim Butcher as Alexander Hamilton, and the story of how he defeated a Witch Doctor’s curse, and foiled an extortion racket when he was only … 12…. ish.

Just enjoy.

DragonCon 2017: Monster Hunter Files

Focused on the upcoming anthology of stories set in the world of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International! Panelists: Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, Faith Hunter, Jonathan Maberry, Jody Lynn Nye.

This is one panel I actually got to see, unlike many of the videos I’ll be posting. However, as I noted before, the video is not mine. How can you tell? It’s got film quality.

One of the authors was a last minute addition, since Kelly Lockhart had not written for this anthology, so Larry acted as moderator, and they slipped in … Quincy? I think that’s his name.
Anyway, if you’re waiting for the next Monster Hunter Book after the Anthology, may I suggest…
amzn.to/2wF41P2

Why Catholic Vampires?

Love at First Bite is my My Dragon Award Nominated series. Usually, my elevator pitch is “Traditional Vampires that integrate free will into the mythology, resulting in a unique end result.”

What I don’t say is that by “Traditional Vampires that integrate free will,” I mean “Catholic Vampires.”

This is in part because, as one person replied: Weren’t Vampires always Catholic?

There’s a point there. In the original mythology that I can recall, Vampires weren’t repelled by a cross, but to the crucifix. They reacted to a consecrated host.

But they were also automatically evil. And that was the part I drew the line at. How did that make any sense?

In Dracula, the novel, Vlad Tempes was never considered a nice guy. And I’m certain that Stoker’s history wasn’t exactly half as detailed as ours would be today. For Stoker, Dracula was probably evil even before he was a vampire. When Lucy was turned, she could be little more than a feral dog, overwhelmed by urges and appetites she’d never had before. All easily explained.

But after a while, once you get into other vampires, why would all of them in fiction become automatically evil? Doesn’t that subvert free will? Unless you go for the Buffy solution, which was that all vampires were soulless, and the soul was replaced with a carbon copy of a demon. Basically, people were the skin suits that a demon wore. They drank blood as a perverted mockery of the Eucharist, and that’s that.

But otherwise, it’s generally unexplained. I don’t even remember Larry’s Monster Hunter International series addressing it, really. It was just “Vampires are evil, they don’t sparkle, just kill the f**kers.” (Though if anyone has a better recollection, let me know.)

My vampires at the very least needed to address free will.

Which becomes a problem. How can I have people become vampires, and then automatically afflicted by holy artifacts? Unless I go the “demon wearing a skin suit” route, it doesn’t make much sense.

But what if vampires, like people, are formed by their actions?

Catholic theology states that a resurrected body is a body that is perfectly controlled by the soul. So, the more actions one makes, the more the vampire is formed, and the closer body and soul comes together. The more evil actions one commit, the vampire becomes more powerful, but is also more afflicted by religious artifacts.

Anyone who is “good” is something different.

Here’s yet another tenant of Catholicism that ended up in the novel: Aristotle. Yes, the vampires are based around Catholic philosophy because the Church still uses Aristotle. “Actions form the person” is straight out of his Ethics. RPGs also use a similar system (the one I’m familiar with is Knights of the Old Republic).

Now, even under this model, I would not, and will not argue for being just “people with fangs.” I submit that when you take a person, remove all sense of personal consequences from their life, and give them the powers of a vampire, then they are not “people with fangs,” it’s a grave temptation to become a serial killer with fangs. One monster or another, there’s very little difference except in scale and scope.

Keep in mind, I’m not saying “people are naturally evil.” I’d say at least half of my vampires are just folk who would like to survive and move along. Wearing a cross is gonna hurt, unless they go to frequent confessions, because even venial sins are going to mount up after a while.

And yes, I want redemption to be a possibility. Why? In part because I sometimes write bad guys that I like enough to want to redeem. They’re not pure evil, they just try to be. Also, hell, if you’re still on the planet Earth, and not in Hell, I’m fully convinced that Heaven continue to try to catch sinners until the last possible moment. When you consider the number of Catholic saints who used to be schmucks, redemption will sneak into my series eventually.

Keep in mind, this still circles back to the “actions maketh the man” aspect. Evil people can still do good things — it’s rare, but it happens. Granted, some of the most evil pricks on Earth have ironic “virtues” that are comedically small in comparison to their crimes, but some don’t even have that much. I don’t recall anyone trying to spin Stalin as having a single quality that made him look like anything less than a total prick, while Hitler was a vegetarian who painted flowers.

Granted, the levels of evil I’m dealing with … well, let’s just say that their isn’t a LOT of redemption from the antagonists. I may have redeemed two vampire antagonists over the course of the series.

But then again, look at my protagonists, will you? There’s Marco … who’s his own type of dark. There’s Amanda, who had to participate in things that she still thinks about sometimes. Let’s not even discuss Rory, shall we?

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: That’s all very nice, but how do I do this as a “neutral” thing? How do I leave Free Will while having an obviously supernatural problem? Well, vampirism is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact, so it’s a blood born virus. We know the vector.

Obviously, it must be a supernatural virus, transmitted from human / supernatural contact.

In Honor at Stake, I suggested Nephilim were the origin, but I’ve kept it vague, if only because I don’t have any vampires that old to confirm it, nor is there anyone kicking around who has that much history.

If I ever continue the world, I’m going to have to dive into the virology more. After all, vampires have worked with governments — Nazis, Soviets– so we know there were experiments. I’m just never going to do those stories, because I suspect it’s going to look like Wolfenstein or Hellboy if I do that.

One of the few things I’ve spelled out is one of the quirks of viruses: most of them try to not kill the host. In fact, if I treat vampirism as being a disease, it’s actually a symbiotic relationship, as it keeps the host alive. Which means it would act like it. There are some viruses that actually aid the host by providing food (for example, one real life avian virus that encourages bugs to climb to higher altitude, making it easy for the birds to eat them).

And finally, the best reason I have for doing Catholic vampires …

I’m Catholic.

Duh.

See if anyone else gets redeemed in the climactic conclusion to the series, with Good to the Last Drop. Or, if you’re new here and haven’t read the series yet,  click here to get the entire Love at First Bite cycle.

Music to Write Catholic Vampires To

One of the joys of writing, for me, is the excuse to play through a ton of music. It’s basically a soundtrack in my head, like with any film. This would probably explain that I tend to listen to a lot of John Williams and Hans Zimmer while I write.

Though of all the books in the Love at First Bite series, Good to the Last Drop is the one where I’ve used the most music while writing through everything. Heck, there are at least one or two chapters where I did nothing but play these pieces on a loop.

Some may need some explaining.

Some are even spoilery.

But I don’t think It’ll be too much of a problem if I post these here.

Heh

Our first, Within Temption: In the Middle of the Night

This one almost work for my main character, Marco Catalano. Heck, if this doesn’t sound like a Marco theme song, nothing does. It was perfect for several of the opening chapters, which took place over the course of one night. One very, very long night. With a lot of shooting, and a lot of vampire minions… who explode.

Our Solemn Hour

This one …  mostly just sounded cool. Though there’s a lot of lyrics here that could match the book, if you cared to play mix and match. I don’t. It was just fun.

A Demon’s Fate

This one is just amusing on several different levels. In part because I’ve already used this for a villain’s theme. Either it’s a spoiler, or maybe I just like the song.

Cruxshadows: Helios

Sorry I don’t have a lyrics video for this one. I guess I’d have to make one if I wanted it. But in any event, this was also an early chapter. In part, it was a fight scene. In part, because it was a relationship song. Listen when you’re halfway through, maybe you’ll hear it.

Winterborn

This was for Chapter 20….

Chapter 20 was awesome. I didn’t see it coming.

I didn’t even like the person I killed there.

But damn, did it work.

Angelus Everlasting

This is one that I put on a loop during a chapter. It’s during the final shootout. It works as one part character development, and one part battle music.

 Nightwish: Ever dream
The final battle. If you listen to just the last half of the song, you can hear it ratchet up the drama and the tension, until you can almost see the firefight going on, can’t you?  It’s a bit of a love song. It’s a bit of a battle song.And again, this is what I looped for our final shootout.

Order, or preorder, any or all of Love at First Bite here.