April Puppy of the Month: Souldancer

It’s my unalloyed pleasure to report that Jon Mollison, Nathan Housley, and the Frisky Pagan have chosen Dragon Award winner and CLFA Book of the Year Finalist Souldancer as April’s Puppy of the Month book.

Brian Niemeier - Souldancer

Jon kicks off the festivities with a preamble drawn from his experience of reading my work.

We here at the Puppy of the Month Book Club have a knack for picking the first book of a series.  We’ve done it with The Swan Knight’s Son, The Chronicles of Amber, catskinner’s book, and Nethereal.  It’s high time we revisited at least one of those universes, and none of them are as deserving as Brian [Niemeier’s0  It was the very first Puppy of the Month, and it only took ten months to get to the sequel.

That’s really too long.

Not just because it’s too good of a series to languish that long, but because this is a challenging series to read.  Frankly, Nethereal kicked my butt.  Brian’s writing is deceptively dense and is thoroughly riddled with multiple references and layers of meaning that completely escaped my typically shallow reading.  It wasn’t until Frisky and Nate [joined] in the conversation and started pulling on threads that I realized how knotted were the stitches that made up the Nethereal sweater.  They introduced me to whole new dimensions in reading, and pushed me to approach the Book Club – and my other writing – with considerably more intellectual rigor, and to devote more time and thought to my own posts both here, at my blog, and over at Castalia House.

Jon and his colleagues really do deserve a round of applause. I’m honored that they find my writing worthy of their considerable analytical skills. Based on their previous Puppy of the Month book reviews, it’s safe to say we’re in for a treat.

Frankly, I’m always a bit taken aback when readers say that the Soul Cycle is unusually dense in content and complex in terms of plot. It’s all perfectly straightforward to me.

Then again, I’m the author, and I read everything in the exacting, contemplative way that Jon found most effective for reading Nethereal. I suspect that it stems from a mild, undiagnosed learning disorder that explains why I a) have an extremely slow reading speed and b) practically memorize almost everything I read.

Anyway, I think that Jon will find the going easier with Souldancer. The first book got most of the setup out of the way, letting SD’s story hit the ground running. It will certainly be interesting to find out what the Puppy of the Month reviewers think.

Jon continues with a brief review and some speculation on Souldancer’s prologue. I won’t confirm or deny his conjectures, except to say that Almeth’s pilgrimage to Kairos has more pertinent and far-reaching effects for SD and the entire Soul Cycle than he expects.

For those who missed the Puppy of the Month Book Club’s epic, multi-part review of Nethereal, you can catch up here. Note that PotM reviews are intended as read-along exercises, so if you haven’t read Nethereal or Souldancer, it is highly recommended that you remedy the situation before diving in.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle

@BrianNiemeier

Review: Honor At Stake by Declan Finn

Enter the world of Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt. It’s a world where good and evil reside. A world where vampires and other creatures of the night battle for control. A world of ninjas and mobsters. A world where personal issues interfere with relationships.

I am such a sucker for a good romance and this one delivered a sweet clean romance that left me begging for the next book to come out. Maybe beg isn’t the right word.

With Honor at StakeDeclan Finn creates a story that expertly balances action, suspense and romance that is less Twilight and more Christine Feehan’s Dark series.

Marco is a monster, or at least he thinks he is. He also happens to be a genius in his first year of studies to be a physician’s assistant, but his impatience with people and a dark secret sets him apart from everyone.

Then, along comes Amanda Colt, beautiful, smart and Russian. She peaks his interest, especially when she goes toe to toe with him while fencing. She is perfect for him, but she also has a secret.

Set in New York City, the story explores parts of Brooklyn (including a vampire bar run by an ex-cop from the 1800s), Central Park, and Manhattan. The fictional university and real Mount Olivet cemetary are the backdrops for important scenes in the story.

When bodies start turning up, the two pair up to take on the vampire hordes threatening the city. They pull together an unlikely team of gang members, Vatican ninjas and an FBI agent into the strange. But, who is pulling the strings behind the sudden surge of vampire activity and what does it have to do with the UN? That is what they have to find out in order to save humanity from the evil trying to overtake New York City … and a bigger threat that is only hinted at.

The fast-paced plot is full of explosive action. Between the fencing, fight scenes, explosions, a killer ex-girlfriend and Vatican ninjas with their 50 cal Desert Eagles, there isn’t a lot of time to rest. This alone makes it difficult to put down.

The vampire lore is consistent with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but with a few modern and theological twists added to make it more complicated. Thankfully, we’re back to vampires being killed by sunlight, wooden stakes and holy water. But, unlike Stoker’s version, all vampires are not bad in Declan’s book. Salvation is still possible for these creatures of the night. How? It’s complicated, but it makes sense that he shoehorns in redemption.

Interspersed with the action are scenes of heart touching romance. Declan sets up these two flawed characters who need to overcome their inner demons in order to have a relationship. Neither thinks that anyone would love them if they knew about their secrets. This leads to some very touching moments between the characters as well as moments when you want to scream.

Declan is a master at over the top action scenes that will even make the Pulp Revolution guys happy, but he’s also amazing at the little intimate moments that make you fall in love with the characters.

The Superversives among us should be happy enough with the depth of religious and moral depth added to the vampire mythos. Hopefully, you won’t mind natural law philosophy coming to play here. And yes, he made philosophy readable.

There is little question why Honor at Stake was nominated for best Horror Novel in the Dragon Awards in 2016. And nominated for Book of the Year by the Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance. And put on the #2 spot for best novel for Sad Puppies 4.

It’s not perfect. There are a few places that are a bit heavy handed on the info dumps and Marco’s relationship with his ex is a bit confusing. There are a few scenes that come off as cheesy, but, overall, it’s a great story.

Lucky for you, though, Books 2 and 3 are already out, so you can continue right along with the next book, because you will want to. Trust me on this. The ending of Honor at Stake leaves you hanging.

You can get the first four chapters of the book free here or get the complete book in Kindle or paperback on Amazon.com.

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.

Sword and Flower: A Superversive Perspective

In the comments of my review of Rawle Nyanzi’s “Sword and Flower”, Jeffro Johnson asked me this:

Okay, I can see you’re bouncing here. Not gonna argue with that!

What I want to know, though… is how superversive or un-superversive this is in comparison to, say, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and first season Daredevil on Netflix. Anything strike you as being significant from that angle…?

A good question! After some thought, yes, I think there was an element of superversion “missing”, so to speak. I don’t think Rawle took advantage enough of his concept.

I’ll explain.

“Sword and Flower” is a book about dead people. Literally – the protagonists are all in the “Lesser Heaven”, a place where those who died sudden and violent deaths live out a sort of second life so they can get the fair shot they were robbed of to reach Heaven. Thus, everybody in it is, for all intents and purposes, a ghost.

Specifically here, this is a book about ghosts whose lives were literally cut so short that Heaven decided they didn’t get a fair shake at things.

So, here’s my question for you: What type of a story does this hint at?

This is the set-up for a redemption story. And when done well, a redemption story is perhaps the most powerfully superversive of all.

Let me try to give an example for what could have been done here. There is this book called “The Wish List”, by Eoin Colfer, that I think works pretty well as a comparison piece to “Sword and Flower”.

TWL is an underrated book by Colfer, whose Artemis Fowl series is quite good but sometimes dips it toe in too far in the feminism/environmentalism/gurrrrrrrrl power well. “The Wish List” actually hits a lot of beats in the pulp formula (in fact, Colfer is probably the closest super-popular modern equivalent to a pulp writer). It takes on fantasy from a clearly Christian perspective (in fact, it’s kind of astonishing how unashamedly, 100% Christian it is), it features a clear and powerful good/evil dichotomy, it has dynamic characters who act decisively and face moral dilemmas and, most importantly, it is very, very superversive. Also, unlike the Artemis Fowl series, there really isn’t any sort of feminism in it to speak of, which is nice.

It’s not a perfect book; the Chekhov’s gun used at the end was flashed a little too obviously and a lot of the beats it hit were predictable. But it was all very well executed and the book was fun and heartwarming. I’ll have to remember to do a review of it one day.

I go through all of this to try and show you the parallels. “Sword and Flower” comes at things from a clearly Christian perspective, features a clear good/evil dichotomy, and is about a character who suffers an untimely death at the beginning of the narrative (in fact, both main characters die from explosions!). But “The Wish List” was the far superior book. Why?

“The Wish List” motivated its characters. When Meg Finn reaches the afterlife, she is given a task: Help this man complete his wish list, and you can make it into Heaven. The book turns into a redemption story, as Meg finds that by helping Lowry complete his tasks, she is also atoning for the all of the wrongs she committed in life and learning how to think about people besides herself.

The characters in “Sword and Flower” are – and this will sound odd unless, I think, you’ve read the book – weirdly unmotivated. Dimity is in the Lesser Heaven, but she doesn’t seem to occupy herself with much more than surviving. Mash and the Puritans live normal Puritan lives punctuated with demon fighting. There’s no extra drive there outside of survival and self-preservation.

But the pieces are right there! Dimity gets a second chance in Lesser Heaven. What does this mean for her?

Well, what do second chances ever mean? She needs to atone for something. Maybe she was materialistic, or greedy, or selfish; this can even tie into her leveraging her fame to foolishly accept free money.Now atoning for this needs to drive her actions. What can she do to make up for her sins on earth? What sacrifices will she make? Will she redeem herself? Suddenly Dimity is given a much more powerful character arc.

Ditto Mash. Who is Mash, anyway? Why is he so sympathetic to Dimity and Elizabeth? Well, why is he a part of the Puritans? Maybe he’s so sympathetic because he joined the Puritans intentionally; because he’s ashamed of something he’s done, and believes the strict lifestyle of the Puritans is penance. This makes Mash different, and makes him interesting, and makes it plausible that he would be more interested in defending Dimity than the other Puritans necessarily would be.

I think that this element of redemption – of characters striving to better themselves and the world around them, to atone for their sins, to reach out to the divine – is what would put “Sword and Flower” over the top. The simple A to C story Rawle is telling becomes FAR more powerful when your protagonists have a goal and something motivating what they do.

And it makes it superversive. Redemption stories are about looking past yourself and to something higher and better – if for no other reason than that you want to make yourself higher and better. It means that you recognize a higher moral order that you’ve violated and need to make right.

Jeffro originally brought up “Daredevil”. “Daredevil’s” superversiveness comes from a few places. One is that Daredevil suffers in his fights, and keeps fighting anyway. He doesn’t walk away from fights; he limps, or gets thrown into dumpsters, or is absolutely ripped to shreds. He is beaten down and broken and bloodied like crazy. But he keeps fighting anyway. That’s superversive!

Daredevil remains a human character because he’s still acting like a real person, odd as that sounds. You always know why he does what he does; he’s helping people. He’s saving lives. When a child’s been kidnapped you can understand why Daredevil would allow himself to be beaten half to death if it means rescuing him.

Dimity is never really given the chance to make a decision like that. At the end of the story she does reject a demon’s offer to become an all-powerful god-like creature, but really, he just killed how many people? And implied that he might have raped her? It’s hardly a choice (though I will say that the effort to add in a moment like that is appreciated). Daredevil’s choice is much more powerful: He can walk away, save himself the pain, and nobody would be any the wiser, or really even blame him. But he goes in anyway, because he knows he can make a difference.

So there’s my answer: The lack of character motivation is also a lack of superversion. When characters aren’t motivated, then they’re not striving to improve themselves, and there’s no opportunity to let in something higher or greater. In a Christian cosmology, in a world that’s explicitly designed for people who get a second chance at life, the opportunity for a redemption story is there for the taking. And redemption stories are some of the most superversive of all. This could have been fantastic!

But we never get to see it, and the result feels like finishing a very unsatisfying meal: There’s just something missing…

So we go back to square one: What’s the biggest problem with “Sword and Flower”?

It needs to be more superversive. The story is just begging for it. Hopefully Rawle learns from the experience and is able to give us something more powerful in the future. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

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.