A Pius Man, Chapter 3: A Pious Visitor

Yup. Here we go again. I’ve done Chapter 1 and was chapter 2, and now we continue with your look at the new edition of chapter 3 for A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller.By now, you’re probably well aware of my yanking this from the shelves when I signed with Silver Empire Publishing.

But right now, it’s back.

And if you’re new here, and have no idea what A Pius Man is … It ate up ten years of my life, and the best use I have ever gotten out of my Masters in History outside of writing biographies of older vampires.

But here you go, here’s the next chapter. When you’re hooked, order it.

Today’s chapter introduces a man from down the street — or from across the Med, if you’ll pardon the expression. The Pope has got a tour planned to go to Egypt, and they need to coordinate security.

Enter, Hashim Abasi.

For the record, no, this will not have a critique of Pope Francis and his security measures — or lack thereof–for his trip to Egypt. Not intentionally. Remember, the first draft is from 2004. I hadn’t even heard of Pope Francis until he was elected Pope.

Anyway, there will be more to come on A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller. You have been warned.
Chapter III:
A Pious Visitor
Hashim Abasi was tall and powerfully built, his broad shoulders accentuated by the fit of his sandy, tan jacket. At thirty-five, he had enjoyed a moderate professional success—given where he lived and what he did, being alive counted as success. He occasionally wondered how long that success would last since he couldn’t leave his job if he tried. Everyone in political circles liked him, mainly because he was one of the few not trying to stab anyone in the back.
He ran a hand over his bald scalp, wondering what had become of his liaison with the chief of Vatican security. He was tempted to slide his reading glasses onto his sharp, angular nose and start flipping through papers on Figlia’s desk. Premature presbyopia annoyed him no end: others only needed reading glasses after forty or forty-five. He was just lucky in his ancestors that his good distance vision had saved his life more than once.
Abasi pinched his sinuses, fighting off the coming headache. He crossed his legs, hoping to become even slightly comfortable in the office chair.
If I ran the office, I would have chairs that made people uncomfortable on purpose. But who knows—the head of the papal detail may be a man chosen because of his virtue, and not because of his security qualities.
Agent Abasi, my apologies, sir, I had a little car accident on the way here,” someone said in English as he dashed into the office. Abasi didn’t even stand, merely glanced at the head of papal security as he rushed through the door.
Figlia’s cheeks were flushed, as if he had run the entire way. Abasi looked over Figlia’s suit, and wondered just how much Figlia dressed in basic black because he blended in, and how much it was affected by being on a SWAT team for so long.
Nothing serious, I hope,” Abasi replied in clear, crisp Cambridge English. It was a voice at odds with his body – most people didn’t expect a voice that educated to come out of a man with physique like a body builder. Then again, Abasi usually tried to stick to gutter vocabulary when he was on the job, it helped with the image.
Figlia smiled, glad that they had English in common—the wonders of the “new Latin,” as the resentful Vaticanos called it. Although that is a good question—were they referring to English as a universal language, or the 2003 Latin dictionary, which had entries for “motorcycle” and “hot dog”?
I will certainly need a new window,” Figlia told him, “but no one was killed … not by my car, anyway.”
Abasi nodded solemnly. He cocked his head and furrowed his brows, his dark copper eyes catching the light. “I hope that was not an explosion I heard not long ago.”
It was.”
Abasi started, and turned towards the source of the new voice.
Special Agent Wilhelmina Goldberg slid into a chair not far from the corner of Figlia’s desk. “Unfortunately,” she continued, “the body of his car needs work because it was body-slammed by a corpse.”
Abasi looked from one to the other. “Is this a terrorist incident?”
Figlia shrugged. “Unknown. This only just blew up in our faces. My people are looking at it now.”
If I can do anything, do not hesitate to call on me, please.” He smiled. “After all, I have plenty of experience with explosives.”
Goldberg cocked her head, looking at him sideways. “Excuse me for asking, but why are you concerned? I mean, outside of the Pope’s safety during his visit to Egypt, why would you care? Even a lot of Catholics I know wouldn’t mind if this Pope bought it … he’s even more militant than the last two.”
Abasi raised a brow. “Indeed? May I ask who you are?”
Special Agent Goldberg, U.S. Secret Service.”
Abasi arched his eyebrows. “Really?” He angled himself towards her. He ran a hand over his bald scalp, and scratched at the back of his neck. “Well, Agent Goldberg, there is something American Catholics don’t have to worry about—retribution should the Pope get killed. You may remember the uproar your president caused when he talked of a crusade against terrorism? For my people, the Crusades are as recent as fifty years ago. Everyone acts as though they’ve been personally traumatized by them, and that a new crusade could happen again at any moment.” He held up a hand to hold off her protests. “The idea is absurd, but that’s what they believe—if a Muslim should kill Pope Pius XIII’, my people believe the West will start their invasion in Morocco and go east.” Abasi looked to Figlia, then back to Goldberg. “Now, everyone in this room knows that, if a crusade should start, it will have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with killing religious psychopaths.
His massive shoulders went up and down in a shrug. “In short, I am here because Egypt does not wish to be wiped out in the crossfire between tribes.” Abasi shifted again, failing to get comfortable.
Goldberg blinked. “Funny, coming from a government that had a new Nazi party only a few years ago.”
Abasi merely smiled. “Regimes change – in the Middle East more often than most. The Muslim Brotherhood alienated many, which is why they’re gone now. The current government wants to change our national image. Allowing the Pope to visit is one part of that.”
Figlia blinked. “And how do you manage?”
Abasi laughed. “Commander Figlia, do you know the key to surviving as a policeman in Egypt? When the Sunnis are in power, all of the criminals are ‘shi’a.’ When the shi’a are in power, all of the criminals are Sunni. It is all a matter of how you fill out the paperwork.” He looked to Goldberg. “And you, Special Agent, what are you doing so far from home? Sightseeing, perhaps?”
She shook her head. “I’m here as a security consultant.”
And they allow this in your country?”
She shrugged. “Yup. Besides, I’m too short to take a bullet for anyone except one of the seven dwarves, so I’m in tactics, strategy, advance work, etc.”
Indeed. So we are all here to keep Kutjok safe.”
Goldberg looked from Abasi to Figlia, and blinked. Figlia said, “Abasi means His Holiness. His name before he became Pope was Joshua Kutjok.”
Goldberg nodded. “Ah, sorry, it didn’t process for a moment. Then again, there’s been so much fuss made in the U.S. over ‘Pius XIII’ ever since he took the name, oy!” She closed her eyes and thought for a moment. “The news coverage, depending on who you believe, the last pope to take the name either did nothing about the Holocaust; said nothing about the Holocaust; or was actively responsible for the Holocaust.”
Abasi said, “True. Before then, I did not know that every historian who specialized in Catholic history was a reject from the seminary, an ex-priest who married an ex-nun, or ‘Catholics’ who, mysteriously, support none of the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Wilhelmina Goldberg sighed. “I wonder if CNN could get the same results from a historian who didn’t have an axe to grind.”
Figlia shrugged, and tried to move away from the third rail of a topic. “As for his birth name, people might not recall where Pius was from if he did not make noises about it every day.”
Goldberg nodded. All of the historians were just as enraged that, not only had Joshua Kutjok picked the name Pius, but the Sudanese Archbishop had given two reasons for picking the name: “Like my predecessor, I, too, have a mission to save lives from a mechanism of death, which seeks to ‘purify’ a country through murder. Like Pope Pius XII, I will put all of my energies toward ending the murder and slavery in Sudan –North and South – as he did to save the Jews of Europe during the dark years of the Nazi infestation. To commemorate this mission, I will start the proceedings to canonize Pope Pius XII.”
Like most of his predecessors, Pius XIII was on a mission from God.
I have to tell you,” Goldberg told Figlia, trying to get comfortable in the chair, “I think the only people he hasn’t pissed off yet are at Fox News.”
At that, even Abasi had to laugh. “This is true. I remember when few people talked about the decades of genocide, over two million murdered before anyone had heard of Darfur.”
Goldberg arched a brow. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone say Darfur like he had a personal grudge. Then again, if I saw a genocide go on for decades, but no one paid attention, I guess I’d be pissed too.
That’s part of the problem,” Figlia said, leaning back in his chair. “The bulk of the direct attacks on the Pope are leveled by the Northern Sudanese government, which has labeled the entire Catholic Church as one unnatural entity. As an Archbishop in the Sudan, when it was one country, the Pope’s own parishioners dragged him off to Uganda because it was safer. I believe tranquilizers were involved. Heh. He is not one to take anything lying down.”
Even Abasi laughed at this. “You are not kidding.” He said to Goldberg, “I recall Kutjok’s first desire being to canonize ‘anti-Semitic’ Popes, Pius IX and XI–one had sheltered and supported Jews, and the other had condemned fascists and communists in the same week. It was announced by a new Secretary of State, a Vietnamese priest who spent years jailed by the People’s Republic of China … that was well-done.” Abasi smiled, obviously appreciative of the political chess involved.
Goldberg rolled her eyes. “That’s nothing. You should have been in Washington when they talked about making a patron saint of spies out of Dr. Thomas Dooley…”
Abasi gave her a blank look; he had missed that one, apparently.
He was a full-time doctor and a sometime spy for the U.S. government in Vietnam,” Goldberg answered.
Ah,” Abasi said flatly. “So that would explain why China and North Korea have the uncomfortable idea that Kutjok has them on his short list of things to do.”
Goldberg gave a short laugh. “I still like that the press release where they announced that one of the Rothschilds would run the Vatican Bank.”
Abasi laughed. “This is true. Though it was still not as brilliantly handled as the elections process.”
Goldberg blinked. “What was all that about? I’m not entirely certain what went on there. Elected priests? I don’t remember the last time a Rabbi took a poll.”
Giovanni Figlia frowned. If this was going to be a conversation about politics no matter what he did, he would at least jump in and hope to cut it short. “Catholic critics wanted elected bishops, and the Pope gave them what they wanted. Mostly in countries with a long history of democracy, and on the condition that the elected were ordained priests, and that Rome had final ratification. The candidates had gone on a tour of parishes under the guise of guest speakers. Not even the parishioners had known there was a campaign. Since the critics hadn’t gone to church since 1965, they never knew the elections happened until after. The 45% of Catholics who regularly go to church were the ones who voted. By the time the critics had heard of the elections, they were over, leaving them without an argument—there were elections, but they failed to show up, and so failed to get the outcome they wanted.” Goldberg stretched her neck to one side. “Anyway, we figure a lot of people want to kill him. So, I’m just here to walk around and point out ways to improve the system already in place. A normal security audit, only more on a theoretical level rather than personally testing the system.”
Hashim Abasi cocked his head. “This should be interesting. May I join your audit? If you, Commander Figlia, decide to initiate any of her suggestions, I would already know the details from the same presentation.”
Figlia shrugged. “I see no reason not to. Agent Goldberg?”
She shrugged. “I’ll ask my boss, but I can’t see why not.”
Abasi said, “Then you will not get any permission; I would fail a background check, because my English is so good.” Abasi’s smile broadened into a full grin, as though he was straining not to laugh. “My name, essentially, translates into ‘stern crusher of evil.’ ” He shrugged. “The hopes of a parent. My father sent me abroad in order to learn the language of the enemy, so I could better kill them. While I was abroad, he was killed while tinkering with a mail-order C4 vest. While I have locked away more terrorists than some Mossad officers, I can’t imagine passing a background check by any U.S. federal agency.”
Goldberg’s eyes glittered. “Ah. In that case, we’d better not tell them.” She looked to Figlia. “I suppose you can coordinate with Agent Abasi after, or even during, my audit, incorporating my advice as we go … depending, of course, on when or how you want to squeeze it in around your homicide investigation. I mean, you worked so hard to win the case, I’m guessing you want to work it yourself.”
Figlia laughed. “I’m certain the autopsy reports will take long enough for me to fit the audit in, between forensics reports.”
Abasi’s eyes flickered from one to the other. “You fought for the investigation? Why?”
Figlia leaned back in the seat. “I started out in what you may call the… Special Tactics team of the police force. After working abroad, I came back, and took the detective’s test, working homicide before coming here. Think of it as a mental game to keep the mind sharp. The Secret Service rotates the members on Presidential duty after a few years, to avoid its becoming routine, yes? This is my version. A little murder to break up the boredom.”
Abasi smiled. Figlia was a man whose posture said cop.
*
Sean, the mercenary, had changed out of his jogging suit only a few minutes after Giovanni Figlia had begun his conversation with Hashim Abasi. Already, he was about to begin the job he was brought here to do.
For several weeks, he had been training men and women into what he saw as a well-equipped fighting force, even if no one else noticed.
He double-checked his box of weapons to make sure that everything was there. It didn’t look like much, but he could make an entire army out of what he had there.
He had been doing just that.
He hitched his gear up and started out into the Borgia Gardens. When he had first been assigned that spot, he had found it amusing.
Sean whipped out his tactical baton and opened it with a flick of his wrist.
Now it’s time to make the Borgias look like amateurs, he thought with a manic smile on his face as he stepped out to see his trainees; the priests and nuns of the Vatican.
If people thought that the Templars were fun to deal with, he thought, just wait until the conspiracy theorists get a hold of what I’m doing. They’ll go insane.
*
The standard trend for Popes went one of two ways: nobles or peasants. In an age where nobles were disappearing, the noble was usually replaced with the academic. It had worked well in the case of Karol Wojtyla, and Joseph Ratzinger – John Paul II and his successor – who were both academics.
Then there was Joshua Kutjok, the latest Pope. He was both an academic and a peasant. He had been educated by the Church, but had also lived in some of the worst places on the planet earth.
And now he was the most powerful religious leader on the planet. He didn’t mind being “the most powerful religious leader on the planet,” but he did mind being called that to his face. It usually got in the way of getting things done.
Pope Pius XIII was a tall, athletic, dark-skinned man. He was a very solid six feet tall and two hundred and thirty-five pounds, his hair salt-and-pepper gray, his eyes dark brown. He had a shoulder span as wide as the seminary bed he kept in his papal offices. His size made him intimidating, but his build made everyone exceedingly curious about how he moved over marble floors without sound.
That wouldn’t have been so crazy-making had anyone had an idea about exactly when he slept: it couldn’t have been more than five hours a night. Pius XIII was either awake or at prayer at any time of the day, according to everyone who saw him at such hours, moving soundlessly through the hallways at three in the morning toward his office, or moving down to the office of papal security.
Even though the offices of papal security were in a completely different building, he wanted the Commandatore on hand—no one was quite sure if he was just being prudent after the repeated attempts on his predecessor, or if this was a habit carried over from his former diocese. It was rumored back during the last papal conclave that he had once beaten a man who had threatened a parishioner. The rumors were never verified.
A priest walked into il Papa’s office in a building next to the colonnade. He was a man with short, gray hair, a strong Roman nose, and brown eyes that twinkled with the anarchy so common among the residents of the Mediterranean, descended from the Roman mobs that ran the city into the ground over a thousand years.
The priest said, “We’ve got a problem, your Holiness.”
Pius XIII looked up at him. “Oh?”
We’ve got two murders on our hands. Gianni took them from the local cops.”
Why? Don’t we keep him busy enough?”
The body fell on his car.”
The Pope nodded. “Most unfortunate. Someone we know?”
David Gerrity and Giacomo Clementi. Clementi landed on Gianni’s.”
The Pope’s lips twitched with annoyance. “Blast! I had such hopes for both of them. Any word on Figlia’s investigation?”
Not yet, it’s only just started. He’s busy with the Secret Service and Egyptian police. Thankfully, my best man was at the scene to meet Clementi. Obviously, something happened.”
Obviously,” the Pope said, unhappy. He stared hard at the Bishop. “XO, this has happened twice already: I can’t let this interfere with what we’re doing together, it’s too important to me, to our people—I’d say to our survival, but it’s too melodramatic. Pius XII must be canonized, no matter the cost, capisce?”
The other man nodded. “Yes, Your Holiness. I guarantee we will not fail. I’m certain.”
Pacelli thought he could not fail, and look what happened. We can’t allow ourselves the luxury of defeat this time. See to it, XO. Remember, any means necessary.”
And, if you’ve done that….
The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

A Rambling Wreck, with Hans Schantz

The Catholic Geek: A Rambling Wreck, with Hans Schantz 06/25 by We Built That Network | Books Podcasts:

Hans Schantz joins host Declan Finn to discuss Social Justice in Science, and how it relates to his books ‘The Hidden Truth’ and ‘A Rembling Wreck’ 

Dr. Hans G. Schantz is a physicist, an inventor, and a co-founder and CTO of Q-Track Corporation, a supplier of indoor location systems. He wrote the science fiction thriller, The Hidden Truth, a textbook, The Art and Science of Ultrawideband Antennas, and a short history on The Biographies of John Charles Fremont. Hans will be launching A Rambling Wreck, the sequel to The Hidden Truth, at LibertyCon next weekend. Hans lives in Huntsville, Alabama with his wife, and two sets of twins.

Pius Politics

I mentioned politics in the last post, and I meant to really get on that a little more, but I sort of drifted away from politics and into my general temperament, which impacts my politics, but doesn’t spell out what the bleep they are, or how they show up in my novel, A Pius Man — which centers around Pope Pius XII as a MacGuffin.
As I said before, I lean libertarian-right. More laws just means that the government can screw you over in more and more various and sundry ways, so I’m wary on laws for the “common good.” I won’t say kill all the lawyers, but I think tort reform can do that easily enough. Unfortunately, like most people, I’m a bit schizophrenic. I dislike the premise of feeding Moloch, but there are certain people I really want to remove themselves from the gene pool. I’m a New Yorker who thinks everyone should own a handgun, a rifle and a shotgun. I think drugs a really, really bad idea, but hey, legalize them — the more people who get high, the more Darwin awards we can hand out…. except for PCP, not even drug dealers will sell that crap anymore, as a general rule.
Like libertarians, there are a lot of things I don’t personally believe in, and wouldn’t recommend, but I’m leaving the fate of your own soul between you and God. Enjoy.
I generally despise politics with the burning passion of a thousand suns. The government should leave me alone unless I need actual aid — like someone has broken into my house and I’ve run out of bullets.
So, of course, since I truly loathe politics, A Pius Man happens to be the most politically charged book I’ve ever written. With the overall topic of Pius XII, I do take a side. I believe my conclusions are obvious based on my research. For those of you who have read The Irrational Atheist, you probably have an idea about that punchline.
However, the political portions of the book are discussions, not rants. And the politics are driven more by the characters than by me.

For example…

Sean A.P. Ryan. Mercenary. Believes in the free market system, heavy weaponry, and grew up in Hollywood: therefore he has lived his entire life swimming out of a Leftist cesspool, and dove into the chlorinated waters of libertarianism. When queried on his political affiliations, he would say, “I believe people should be able to own marijuana and machine guns. I will laugh at the marijuana crowd, but if I have my guns, I’m happy.”

Scott Murphy. He’s a spy who huts down terrorists for a living. His politics: “I believe in the power of waterboarding. But I’d sooner talk terrorists to death. It’s more painful in the long run. When you can talk them into revealing everything they know, kill them, move up the chain of command. Repeat until they’re willing to be peaceful, or they are peacefully dead.” He’s an accountant by training, so his first thought is how to steal terrorist money.

Giovanni Figlia. Cop. His father was blown up by a Red Army faction in the 1980s, so he has a grudge against extreme, gun-toting Leftists. Aside from that, his politics are: “I have to protect the most powerful religious leader on the planet, and he insists on pissing off nearly one-third of the world’s population. Leave me alone and let me do my job.”

Pope Pius XIII (Born: Joshua Kutjok): Hard right-wing. Has all but declared war on the Sudan. Thoroughly dislikes tyrannies, which means North Korea and China dislike him right back. “I am against abortion, gays being married in my church, and contraceptives are against the religion. Then again, you should only have sex with the person you marry, so abortion and contraceptives shouldn’t be needed. However, my homeland of Sudan is going through thirty years of religious and ethnic warfare, I have better things to do than deal with whining hedonists!”

Father Francis Williams, S.J.: “I’m a Jesuit transfering into the Opus Dei. I speak six languages and I can kill people with my rosary beads … what was your question?”

Maureen McGrail. Interpol. “I’m too busy being shot at to have a political opinion. Leave me alone.”

Secret Service Agent Wilhelmina Goldberg: As a special adviser to anyone who wants the Secret Service to audit their security, she has been all over, and her political opinion is simple. “At the end of the day, America looks good by comparison.”

The above characters have more influence over how the political discussions go than I do. So, the topics will be… interesting.

So, have enough fun yet? Just click here.

And, if you’ve done that….
The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

A Pius Man, Chapter 2: A Pious Mercenary

Here we go again. We now continue with your free look at the new edition of chapter 2 for A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller.

By now, you’re probably well aware my yanking this from the shelves when I signed with Silver Empire Publishing.

But right now, it’s back on Amazon.

And if you’re new here, and have no idea what A Pius Man is … It ate up ten years of my life, and the best use I have ever gotten out of my Masters in History outside of writing biographies of older vampires.

But here you go, here’s the next chapter. When you’re hooked, by all means, order it.

You’ll note this one is a little shorter than usual. Sorry about that. But a little Sean goes a long way.

Anyway, there will be more to come on A Pius Man. You have been warned.

Chapter II:

A Pious Mercenary

Even in Rome, there were not that many people conscious so early in the morning—just people awakened by the explosion, firemen, and a scattering of pedestrians.

One pedestrian was a jogger, moving along the street casually. His gray jogging suit didn’t stand out at all, and his build was unremarkable underneath all the cloth. Even his face was covered by the hood. He was short, only 5’6”. The only other detail the observant person could pinpoint would be the occasional flash of bright, electric blue eyes.

The jogger slowed as he approached the Vatican, looking over the scene of devastation. He gave a low whistle and pulled back his hood, revealing his pale skin and raven-black hair.

He gave a small, quirky smile. The scene was amusing for multiple reasons, the foremost among them was that a hotel had been wrecked, and he hadn’t been responsible for it. For once.

He murmured, in an almost unaccented voice, “Someone had fun.”

He scanned the crowd, more interested in the people around the crime scene than destruction itself. It wasn’t even all that impressive, as far as destruction went—the only thing really damaged was the hotel room window. And the car.

Well, if you don’t count the body. But body bags aren’t that expensive in Italy, are they?

One person slipped through the crowd. A figure in black, only a little taller than the jogger himself.

Well, if anyone is going to know what’s going on here…“Ahoy,” the jogger hailed, speaking only slightly above conversational volume.

Father Frank Williams heard and looked in his direction, smiling as he headed towards the jogger. “How are you, Sean?”

The jogger named Sean shrugged. “I’m doing well, though I’m wondering why you weren’t at our usual meeting. I waited twenty minutes before I started by myself. After a while, I feel ridiculous firing off all of those bullets solo.”

Father Frank nodded. “Understandable, considering your profession. What are you calling yourself this week, a prostitute?”

The jogger shook his head. “No, a mercenary. I’m not exactly a big operation like Black Lake, but I count.”

The man in black cocked his head. “Black Lake?”

Sean furrowed his brows. “It is Black Lake, isn’t it? Blackpool…? Blackthorn…?” he thought a moment, and then his bright eyes lit up and he snapped his fingers. “Blackwater! That’s the name. The mercenary company.”

The priest shrugged, and blatantly ignored that Blackwater had changed its name years ago. “Sounds better than ‘personal demolition unit’.”

Sean rolled his eyes, the electric-blue orbs looking like circular lightning. “Again, I’m not quite that bad. I’ve only killed a few… dozen … people? I think? I figure I manage to kill a few more, I win a set of steak knives.”

Father Frank was uncertain about whether or not he was joking. “In which case, I will let you get on with your day.” He turned away, then paused, and looked back to Sean. “By the way, I should probably mention, I may not be able to train with you for the next few days.”

Sean raised a brow. “Really? What’s up?”

Father Frank looked back towards the shattered car and the broken person. “Oh, just some business I’ll have to attend to, that’s all.”

Sean nodded. “Okay, then, I’ll see you around.”

The jogger watched the priest wander off, and then turned back to the devastation. He caught a whiff of something odd, and blinked. He looked up to the ruined window, studying the frame, and the faint, lingering cloud of smoke wafting away from it, like smoke at a fireworks display.

Someone used black powder on this? Wow, talk about bombs on the cheap. What did they do, dissect a box of firecrackers?

Sean shook his head. He was suddenly glad that he had left his bag full of guns at the studio; otherwise, he would probably be in even bigger trouble than usual.

He glanced down at the car, studying at the short woman Father Frank had been talking with. She wasn’t too bad-looking, even if she was a few inches short of being a dwarf—and not the kind with a beard and a battle axe. Her eyebrows hair was were a light brown, but her hair was overdone with gold highlights deliberately put in by some hairstylist who may have been holding a grudge.

Then again, what do I know? Sean thought. I’m from California, a silicon valley that has nothing to do with computer chips.

The short woman walked through the crowd with little difficulty as she followed the taller man in a dark suit. Sean quickly flipped up his hood again, hiding his features.

The last thing he wanted to do was get in the way of the head of Vatican security when he was in a bad mood—and having someone land on one’s car was more than sufficient to put anyone in a bad mood.

I wonder if I should make Gianni’s life easier, get involved.

Sean considered it, but only briefly. His resume was cluttered with inconvenient events—explosions, assaults, gunfights, and a body count that would have counted as mass murder if they weren’t all in self-defense—and offering assistance would pretty much ruin Figlia’s day.

After all, it was bad enough that the same person who had slaughtered dozens and had leveled millions of dollars in property damage was also, at that very moment, employed by the Pope.

So, have enough fun yet? Just click here.

And, if you’ve done that….

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The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: King Arthur’s Pendragon

While we talk often of finding the Superversive in books, comics, film, and television it’s no less important to find it in gaming. One of the first tabletop RPGs that explicitly explored the Superversive perspective is Pendragon, where the point of the game is to play out King Arthur’s England from the beginning of the myth to its tragic end.

The reason I mark this out as Superversive is that everything about the game emphasizes the fundamental elements upon which Western Civilization rest, especially if you choose to do the default and play a Christian Knight. The game, as a primary mark of distinction, has mechanics by which your character (assumed to be a Knight, and few other options are ever offered, depending upon edition) will act upon the personality traits that mark him as a faithful Christian, a heroic Knight, and so on (or not). Adherence to the norms of the era are rewarded, and the modernist approach will just end badly.

This is why I’m bringing the game to your attention: tabletop RPGs are very good at getting players to see things from a perspective other than one’s own, provided that the Game Master (if not the game) requires them to do so- and this game does. You have to live with the consequences There is no easy healing here, and injuries matter accordingly, so courage has real weight when pressed by the villain of an adventure. How your Knight lives carries forth even after his death, as you then move to play his Squire or his son, with inheritances adjusted accordingly; the sins of the father do weigh upon the son. This reliably affects a player’s attitude towards the game.

As this game builds upon the great mound of myth and literature regarding the Matter of Britain, it is not wise to mistake this as just a Dungeons & Dragons derivative. Its design explicitly encourages players to engage with the Superversive position, either in support or not, and therefore makes it easier to comprehend the idea thereafter if you make use of that opportunity (and there are plenty of them to be had).

While never as popular as the aforementioned king of tabletop RPGs, it’s enjoyed a loyal following all this time much like another literature-derived game: Call of Cthulhu, and if you are all interested in satisfying the demand for the Superversive in gaming then studying this classic will serve you well. (It’s also a fun time in its own right, because who doesn’t want to be a literal Knight in Shining Armor?)

Review: “Byzantium”, by Stephen Lawhead

As I’ve noted in the past, I LOVED Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle and King Raven (Robin Hood) trilogy. I consider Lawhead one of the most superversive writers in the field today, and I find it likely, as admittedly little as I read the genre, that he is the greatest living writer of Christian fiction.

“Byzantium” is one of his higher reviewed books on Amazon. It has near-universal critical acclaim out of over 200 reviews. It is a historical novel about a ninth century monk named Aidan who travels with a group of monks on a pilgrimage to Byzantium, where he has a vision that he will die. Along the way he is kidnapped by vikings, and that is the start of the many adventures that follow on Aidan’s quest to reach the city, find his brother monks, and return home.

So what do I think of it?

This was a really, really good book. It was SO CLOSE to being a great book…but not quite.

First, the good – and the good is REALLY, really good. The best part of “Byzantium” is his parallel of Aidan’s loss of faith with the viking Gunnar’s gain. It’s fascinating to see how in each scene where Aidan sees God’s abandonment, Gunnar sees His presence – and always at the moments of greatest suffering. I want to avoid spoilers here, but I’ll simply say that whenever you see Aidan curse God, you can be sure to parallel it with Gunnar praising Him – and both views seem to make perfect sense! It’s a neat trick.

The prose is pitch-perfect. It’s telling that you get several reviewers talking about how difficult the prose is, followed by reviewers calling it simplistic or pulpy. That’s because it’s neither. Lawhead strikes a balance, making his prose both elevated and eminently readable.

Lawhead also knows how to build suspense. Several scenes are almost unbearable to read, because you’re desperate to see how they’re resolved. The attack by the Vikings at the beginning of the book is as tense and exciting as any scene you’ll read, as is the final battle at the end.

All right. It’s an excellent book…but it could be better. Now the bad:

Lawhead’s timing – or pacing – or whatever you want to call it – is curiously off. The moment when Aidan loses his faith should be a horrible and epic moment, yet it was prompted not by a great loss, but by…not dying? Aidan enters Byzantium, knowing from a vision he will die there, but leaves alive…and the fact that his vision was wrong leads him to conclude God abandoned him.

Huh? That’s like thinking God abandoned you because He decided to change His mind and NOT kill you. It..sort of makes sense? But not quite? It feels kind of cheap. And keep in mind, Aidan decided this BEFORE any great tragedy happened. Not dying WAS the tragedy. Not that long after he leaves, something REALLY horrible happens to Aidan. THIS should have been The Moment, but it’s not. It’s just another data point Aidan uses. His loss of faith doesn’t read like a monk who suffers profoundly and loses hope because of how many bad breaks he got, but like a guy who’s upset God didn’t act exactly the way he expected him to. Aidan is a learned monk. That isn’t what the spark should be.

And then the ending…after undergoing this profound loss of faith, we go through chapter, by chapter, by chapter, where he gets steadily worse. At his very darkest moment, where you think there’ll be a turning point…nope. No turning point. He remains resolute for months, perhaps years, after his greatest departure from his priestly vows.

Okay, fine. Well, surely something amazing and profound happens to turn him around? Or perhaps he slowly builds up his faith over many months, aided by his friends and brother monks?

Nope. He gets worse and worse, to the point he decides to renounce his brother monks forever.

Until he’s just…cured. Like that. In one day. Because of a short conversation with a friend and a really vague vision, one that didn’t even seem particularly helpful. He goes from awful soul-crushing despair to holy man of God within TWO PAGES…and then the book ends.

Aidan suffered to lose his faith; he should gain it back through hardship and effort, not the work of a day talking with a friend and a night of sleep, ONE DAY after he decides to renounce his vows forever.

Lawhead gave him a moment of redemption that he – Lawhead – simply did not do enough to earn.

(Lawhead has a similar, if lesser, issue in the book “Merlin”. At one point Merlin is kidnapped by pagans for years and is taught mystical arts. But his kidnapping apparently had absolutely no psychological effects on him and is barely mentioned again after he is allowed to go, nor do those characters ever appear again. Huh?)

Anyway, those are two VERY big flaws. For a lesser author, it would be enough for a poor review. But Lawhead is too good, and does too good a job comparing and contrasting Aidan and Gunnar’s spiritual journeys, for me to call it anything less than a really excellent book.

Buy the book. Read it. Love it, even. But know in advance its flaws. They’re big, and they’re there. I recommend his King Raven Trilogy and his Pendragon Cycle, particularly “Arthur”, “Pendragon”, and “Grail” (book three of “Arthur” is somewhat rushed for reasons beyond his control but contains perhaps his best writing, and a pitch-perfect ending), if you want truly GREAT Lawhead.

But for fans of his work, or of good adventure stories, or historical fiction, or Christian fiction, this is still an excellent, high quality novel. I unreservedly recommend it. Grumblings aside, it deserves most of its critical acclaim.

Reviewer Praise for Heroes and Wonders

James Sale, of the Society of Classical Poets, had this to say about Selected Verse- Heroes and Wonders:

Poetry is a delicate balance of language that is prone to either too much yin or too much yang; or put another way, as the poet steers his or her course like Odysseus towards his true soul, Penelope, waiting at home, he must venture through the double danger of Scylla on the one side and Charybdis on the other. The danger is either writing the yin of non-poetry which we often call free verse—though it is neither free (pure prose with lines) nor verse (since structure-less)—or writing the yang of verse, an over-emphasis on conventional forms, dead tropes, and language reminiscent of past centuries rather than the living vernacular of today.

Some of the most popular poetry revered today veers so dangerously to the yin side that, like Odysseus’s devoured crew, the audience of poetry dwindles as well; people can’t tell if what they are reading is prose or just a cruel joke that academia has played on their seemingly sophomoric intellects. Ben Zwycky’s collection, Selected Verse: Heroes and Wonders, is a daring reversal of direction of the ship’s helm, careening us toward a different monster in a maneuver that is both thrilling and at times unsuccessful.

Heroes and Wonders is, as his title indicates, generally an excellent collection of verse: full of wholesome sentiments, familiar themes of love, honour, resisting evil, and at its best has some pithy aphoristic expressions. Indeed, his best verses are his shortest ones. His final verse, “The Beast,” is some 17 pages long and in my view far too extensive to be readable; but contrast that with “Days,” the second poem in the collection. The opening stanza shows Ben at his best:

 

Days of wonder, days of hope,
Days that help you learn and cope;
Days of refuge, days of peace,
Days that give your heart release.

 

The simple repetition, the pleasing and easy rhymes, all help convey a sense of goodness and strength, and  the anaphora of Days in the quatrains suddenly breaks free of that structure in a final concluding couplet, which gives the poem a nice symmetry:

 

Each new day is heaven-sent,
Make every day a day well spent.

 

The final couplet indeed could become a mantra for the kind of people I meet in my own other specialist field of management consultancy: specifically, time management gurus who will love it!

 

Within this simple goodness and strength, there are also gems that paint, not exquisitely but with the right breadth, the universal longing of the human soul without obtrusive preachiness; for example, these lines from “Beauty’s Message”:

 

All flowing from the source of all, who we’ll see face to face,
Where holiness is merged with love as justice is with grace.
There is our true purpose, there is our true home;
That is why down here on earth our hearts will always roam.

 

But in all this there is a sense of predictability, both in the subject matter, the approach to the subject matter, and the forms themselves. Whilst I am a great advocate of the importance of rhyme in and for poetry, the poet must always master rhyme and not be subjected by it.

 

Unfortunately, in some of Ben’s verse the rhyme has clearly taken control of the meaning rather than the other way round. So, in his poem “The Wise Men” we get:

 

This all our fathers saw and knew,
Most honoured gospel scribe Matthew.
We know their tale is one small part
Of a greater work of art.

 

We have here two issues: in the first couplet the oblique (oblique here meaning the rhyming of a stressed with an unstressed syllable) rhyming of knew/Matthew, which seems strained, and the effect of such an oblique rhyme being comic rather than serious; and in the second couplet the sheer conventionality of the two masculine rhymes so close together.

 

But that aside, if you like verse with simple diction, pleasing rhymes, heroic and moral themes, then this book could well be for you.

http://classicalpoets.org/poetry-review-heroes-and-wonders-by-ben-zwycky-2015

My response (which I have posted there) is as follows:

Thank you for the kind words, James.

It is indeed my goal, as a member of the superversive literary movement to create entertaining work that encourages virtue, courage and a sense of beauty and value, to fight against nihilistic drudgery and build up the foundations of civilization.

I am a flawed writer with almost no formal training in poetry, there are no doubt a few instances of my sacrificing content too much to fit a rhythm or rhyme. However I find it interesting that you pick out that stanza from “Wise Men”, since the situation there is actually the other way around. The structure was sacrificed at this point because of the content and historical context, they are the key to the purpose of my writing the whole piece.

It was inspired by the intriguing possibility (with some scholarly support) that the source of the Matthean birth narrative is the Magi themselves, and that Matthew obtained this knowledge by meeting with their sons. The poem is then something of a dramatization of what that encounter could have looked like, with the sons recounting the oral tradition they received from their fathers, and then asking what it all meant.

In those days oral traditions were often crafted into verse, or used puns, thematic patterns, vivid imagery and other linguistic tricks to aid their memorisation. For the original Magi, this very unusual adventure would have raised a large number of questions: all the intrigue, the signs in the sky, the further signs they no doubt heard about from talking with Joseph, all for a baby born in a pauper’s stall? They knew that something of major significance was going to come from all of this, and the great adventure they had been part of was only the beginning, one small component of a divine masterwork.

Decades had passed since any news of the supposed king of the Jews had been heard, the original Magi had almost certainly passed on by the time Matthew came along to gather additional material for his biography.

The sons would have joyfully repeated the flowing, artfully sculpted and polished oral tradition they were taught and then, with trembling lips at the prospect of their great questions being answered (perhaps compounded by only sharing a second or third language with the former tax collector, since they lived a long way from each other), slightly stumble over their words as they summarise “That is what our fathers told us, we know that there is much more to this than what we have heard. We have helped you, now please tell us the fuller story that you have, so that we can know what our fathers longed to understand all these years.”

The whole poem is building up to that life-changing moment for them.

Perhaps I could have conveyed this more clearly in the work itself, but that is what I was attempting to do.

If you’d like to take a look at the full collection, click the image below: