The Superversive in Film: Flash Gordon

The zeitgeist that the original Star Wars created in the late 1970s pushed a lot of studios and production companies to grab every possible property comparable and get a movie out the door. In 1980 this got us a feature film version of one of the classics of Pulp SF: Flash Gordon.

My father took me to see this film in one of the few remaining neighborhood single-screen theaters at the time,
and we both had a good time. Since then it’s become one of those films I enjoy watching from time to time, and as I get older I appreciate the earnest and sincere quality of its Romanticism and heroism (especially as the rest of society goes increasingly insane and dyscivic).

Yes, it’s campy. That’s its charm, and because of that camp approach its sincerity and earnestness gets a pass by a lot of hipsters and other wanna-bee cool kids. The storytelling is solid, and the performances played straight- thanks to the timely intervention early on of Max von Sydow taking the cast aside and advising them to do just that if they wanted to have a career after they wrapped. (They did. It works. It really works. Save for the lead, they did- some for decades thereafter.)

You’re in for a great time with this film, and the soundtrack by Queen nails the mood perfectly. (Get the soundtrack.) Flash does his best John Carter impression, Dale her best Dejah Thoris, and every major character is someone you love to love (or hate). Boredom is not an issue here, and neither is the way that the heroes succeed because of their moral qualities (and the villains fail accordingly). This is one of the most blatantly Pulp and Superversive films I’ve yet written about here, and if you want to see that old-school style presented in all its glory then this film delivers. Recommended. You should have a copy in your media library.

But wait, there’s more.

If you like the film, chances are also good that you’ll like the animated series put out at that time. It came out the year before (1979), and ran for one season; the techniques Filmation used for this series would go on to become their signature style and be employed for He-Man, She-Ra, Blackstar, and Bravestar. The presentation of Flash, Dale, Zarkov, and the rest of the cast is no less Pulp or Superversive but the differences are enough to make it engaging and it is very entertaining.

There are other, older film adaptations, which are also fun, but eventually you should go back to the original comic strips. Now collected in coffee-table sized volumes, the 1980 film’s roots in the original material becomes clear once you feast your eyes on them. Alex Raymond–the creator–made a character no less a classic than Edgar Rice Burroughs or E.E. Smith did. Action, romance, heroism, adventure- everything that the film is the distilled essence of you get the full measure of here. Start here and read every volume thereafter. You’ll not be disappointed.

I’ll let Queen play this out.

The Superversive in Film: The Black Hole

In 1979, Disney release The Black Hole. This science fiction film got released during the time between the original Star Wars of 1977 and the first sequel (The Empire Strikes Back) in 1980. It was a blatant, and honest, attempt to cash in on the renewed interest in science fiction as an adventure film genre and as such held true to certain old-school sensibilities that George Lucas’s Space Opera revitalized two years prior.

It’s sometimes derided as a Haunted House movie in space, but that’s not fair. The actual speculative element–the titular black hole–literally makes it presence felt in the first reel, drives the plans (and motivations) of the antagonist, and plays the singular role in the climax of the film. For those science fiction fans looking for something scientific to talk about, you’re not disappointed; there is no story without the black hole, so don’t worry about the trappings of gothic horror used throughout.

What makes this a Superversive film is also laid out straight away: the defiance of logic, reason, and good order in favor of reckless and obsessive pursuit of a passion to the point of madness and degeneracy of character. This is symbolized by the antagonist’s reliance on robots and automation over human crewman and proper navel procedure, a symbol made literal at a critical turning point in the plot when a revelation good enough to come out of a Cyberman episode of Doctor Who hits, after which things go increasingly bad for our heroes.

At no point is the antagonist–a precursor to the ethics-lacking “science” Establishment of today–portrayed as anything but a softer Colonel Kurtz-as-a-Mad-Scientist. Each of the cast who succumb to the antagonist’s scheme do so due to critical character defects overwhelming them and compelling the doomed to their demise, while those who endure to the end do so because their fundamental decency shields them from the antagonist’s attempt to seduce them into following his scheme.

The real achievement, for you younger folks out there, is that the horror of the antagonist’s evil gets shown to the viewer without any gore whatsoever. This film, being one of the last of the old-guard Disney films, never lies to or insults its audience (or their parents) by talking down to them or relying on cheap tricks. The heroes win (as much as any hero in a tragedy does win) by being both right enough to withstand temptation and skilled enough to withstand retaliation. The antagonist is utterly undone by his own hand, learning well the price of hubris, and our heroes escape that same fate- if barely. (This is where the tropes of gothic horror get most applied, after their aesthetics.)

This is not some “villains win because Good is suck” story. This is not some excuse to parade degeneracy and moral abomination as the New Normal. This is a well-told story, where heroes are heroes, men are men, women are women, and robots are interesting (for fair and foul reasons), that (if not for the special effects) you might expect from a film 10 years prior.

Much like the Mohicans, The Black Hole was part of the last generation of a Disney (and a generation of film professionals) that faded away in the 1980s (with Tron being the last gasp). The Disney of today may, at times, echo that lost era but it is not Walt’s house anymore. Recommended, especially if you want to know why Disney rarely even tries to do this sort of thing anymore.

Pius #PulpRevolution? Or Superversive?

I’ve been looking at the Pulp Revolution lately, as well as hanging out here, with the Superversive crowd. Recently, I have been pondering if A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller fits into either of these movements. Mostly because 1) I have no idea, and 2) it might help me understand these movements better if I see what can and can’t match up.Well, as Pulp is mentioned first, I should probably see if I check any boxes. Yes, I HAVE READ APPENDIX N. I’ve even reviewed it. It was awesome. It was also sprawling, and if I used that as the basis for a definition, I’m going to have to do a bullet point for each chapter, since each chapter has a point to it.

I had to go in Castalia’s archives, and found the post … not by Jeffro. In fact, it even cites another blog by Misha Burnett.

Huh. Okay. I guess what I’m going to have to do is go down and break this down as I read along. Basically, I’m going to write the post as I read the blog, like I do with Fisking posts that are so painful, I can only read through it by breaking it apart.

So what I’ll do is break down the Burnett post, and then use the add-ons by Castalia.

With my luck, I’ll make no one happy.

Action: The focus of the storytelling is on what happens. We know who people are by what they do. This does not mean that every scene has to involve a knife fight on the top of a speeding train. Ordinary every day actions can also inform—Raymond Chandler could describe a couple’s relationship by showing us the man lighting the woman’s cigarette. We don’t want the writer to tells us that a scientist is an unconventional genius, we want to see him tearing a rival’s paper to shreds and throwing the pieces out the window when asked to critique it.

Huh. I thought this was called “show don’t tell.” It’s basic story telling. I don’t see how that’s particularly pulpy. I make sure to do that as often as possible.

As for the knife fight on top of a moving train…. [Makes a note to include that in the next book]

Anyway, I do have an action sequence every once in a while. I open with an assassination, then a bombing, and I wait thirty pages before I have a fight scene with a commando priest, who has another fight a few pages later involving throwing scalpels, then there’s running gun battle with the RPGs…

So I have a little action. Here and there.

Impact: These actions have consequences. While a character’s actions do inform us of that character’s personality, significant actions should never be only character studies. They have lasting real world consequences. You don’t go into a pulp story with an expectation of a happy ending. Pulp heroes are fallible heroes, and when they fail, bad things happen. Neither, though, is worse coming to worst a forgone conclusion. Up until the very end a pulp character has the power to change his or her fate. They can always do something.

MAUHAHAHAHAAHAHAAHAAHAHAAHAHAHA

Oh, trust me, these actions are going to have consequences. Over the course of the Trilogy, when they fail, train wreck to follow.  Sometimes when they succeed, a train wreck will follow.

Moral Peril: Consequences are more than just material. In Pulp stories there is not simply the risk that that the hero may fail to defeat the villain, there is also the greater risk that the hero may become the villain. A hero should have a code to follow, and lines that he or she is resolved not to cross. That line should be close enough that the temptation to cross is real—maybe not constantly, but from time to time. There is almost always a really good reason to break one’s moral code, particularly to protect a loved one in danger.

I was actually about to say that A Pius Man[/easyazon_link] fails this part of the test. I figured there was no one and nothing in the entire book that really threatened the heroes. There may have been the temptation just to get out of the cross fire, but that was it.

Then I realized that I quite literally looked past the white elephant in my story. It’s basically the primary subplot, and I didn’t even consider it.

Romance: Pulp heroes are motivated by love. Not always romance in the modern sense of a relationship involving physical attraction, but a relationship that obligates the pulp hero to take risks on behalf of another. An old military buddy, a long lost friend, even a client who paid in advance. The consequences, both physical and moral, effect more than just the hero, and those affected should be given a human face. When the hero is working to thwart a villain’s plan we want to see the potential victims not in the abstract, but in the concrete. “Saving Humanity” is a vague, bumper sticker kind of motivation, saving the fair maiden with the sparkling eyes and plucky wit, or the ragged waif with a mewling kitten is much more satisfying.

Huh. I’m getting the feeling that this is going to be far, far too easy. Then again, I did grow up with Die Hard as my Christmas movie, so maybe I was wired for the Pulpy people.

But, yes, suffice it to say, there is romance. I’ve even done a post or two on this over time. But I’ve got someone there fore love. I’ve got several people who go there because of their jobs, but the reasons they stay … is spoilery in nature.

Mystery: I am using the word here not in the genre sense of a plot concerned with discovering the identity of a criminal, but in the broader sense of the unknown. There are many potential unknowns—the setting, the true identities of other characters, the events that led up to the current crises. Something is going on and neither the protagonists nor the reader should be quite sure what. Things are never quite what they seem which, of course, also serves to increase the tension. A pulp hero is playing a very dangerous game for high stakes, and no one knows all of the rules…

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA.  Wow, have I got this one covered six ways from Sunday.  The long version is over in this blog. I didn’t even know that this was going to be here when I wrote that one. Heh.

Let’s see what else is mentioned …. “More traditional boy-girl romances.” Okay, check. I don’t even have a gay character, to my knowledge (there is a character who I haven’t “asked” yet, so I don’t know. She could just be apathetic).

“More action-oriented fiction.” Check.

“No real distinction between sci-fi and fantasy – those genres should blend more. Into a new genre…pulp” …. well, I understand what JD Cowan meant with I blurred genre lines. Sadly, this has limited SFF qualities here.

But yeah, it looks like I’ve hit a lot of these boxes. Yes. I might even be considered pulpy by nature! Yes!

…. Sigh.

Anyway, so I talked to the guy who WROTE the article. I hang out with him as part of the Superversive Crowd. Jeffro, in the comments, disagreed with him vehemently.

So I then did something I never do, and I dug through the comments….

Apparently, Pulp really does boil down to “I know it when I see it.

I was then referred to a post by a fellow named Nathan, I believe he’s a Nathan Housley of the Puppy of the Month Book Club.

According to THAT post, we can keep action, romance, moral peril isn’t needed, but it can stay…. And “Impact” includes “consequences,” all actions are final. No take backs.  Okay. Still qualifies.

detective pulps “heart interest and human emotion are the special requirements. Stories should be strongly melodramatic, the characters should be very real and appealing, and situations should deal with the poignant phases of crime.” (2) To accomplish this, pulp writers avoided the Cloud Strife ciphers used today as reader surrogates.  Instead, they took likable characters with personality and ratcheted up the stakes, creating tension that built an unease and concern in the reader

Likable characters with personality.

Heh. Yeah. You could say my characters have personality.

Okay. Reading down… mystery can stay, good.

Then there’s story structure…

Sigh. Someone else will have to tell me if I’ve done enough with that. I don’t outline, I don’t really use structure. I have–“Attack! What did this encounter tell us? Move forward. More action. Repeat.” So, it’s a structure.

So, Nathan’s bullet points are

  • Action — Check
  • Romance — Check
  • Moral peril — Check
  • Consequence — Check with smoking bullet holes.
  • Emotion — God, I hope so.
  • Mortal peril — This is an understatement.
  • Exploration of the unknown: We got that. It’s in archives, but we’ve got that.
  • Love for the unknown: [Coin Toss]. Read Sean AP Ryan, get back to me.
  • Story structure: Check. I hope.

Okay. I guess it passes the Pulp Test.

I think I’ll do Superversive in the next post. This was a long one.

Illegitimi non carborundum
So, I guess if you’re into Pulp, [easyazon_link asin="1547196939" locale="US" new_window="default" nofollow="default" tag="superversivesf-20" add_to_cart="default" cloaking="default" localization="default" popups="default"]A Pius Man might just be your cup of tea. Just click here, and you can order it.

 


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 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.

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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….

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.