CASTALIA: Want Superversive Pulp? Try Eoin Colfer’s “The Wish List”

The superversive conversation at the moment has more or less centered around two topics (things tend to move in cycles; we’ll move on eventually):

  1. What makes a good “strong female character”
  2. The connection between superversive and pulp

I’m not going to rehash that conversation; if you want to see the relevant posts, try these, and click through the comments for discussion. Instead, I’m going to try to give you an example of a relatively modern superversive novel that seems like it would fit pretty firmly in the pulp tradition: Eoin Colfer’s “The Wish List”.

Colfer is best known for his Artemis Fowl series, which is a ton of fun (and pretty pulpy itself) but leans hard into feminism and environmental politics. And it’s not his best work; that would be “Airman”, which is a superb adventure novel that I may also write about one day.

“The Wish List” is something very different than both of those, and in some ways it’s a remarkable book.

Let me try and make my case in order:

1) It has a clearly and unashamedly Christian cosmology. I’m not sure if any other modern work by a mainstream writer is as overtly and clearly Christian as this one. I’m not talking about Christian themes here. I mean St. Peter and Beelzebub literally debate each other at the gates of Heaven (A brief note: the theology is occasionally fudged somewhat, but it’s still undoubtedly Christian):

Even though the archangel  and the demon came from different ends of the spectrum, theologically speaking, they had, over the past few centuries, established something of a rapport…

“So what’s the problem, Bub?” [St. Peter] grinned down the phone line. His opposite number would be spitting fire, but he’d have to swallow it if he wanted a favor.

“The Master is looking for a soul.”

“What about that lawyers’ convention?”

“No. A specific soul. I thought if you had her at the Pearlies, we might trade.”

Awesome. The coolest part of it is that there’s none of that universalist “All religions are true in their own way” crap. “The Wish List” is a novel with a Christian soul, and it tackles its fantasy elements from that perspective.

2) Evil is kicked in the face. In the earlier pulp conversation, Jeffro said this:

I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Good news! Evil might not be punched (Well, sort of, but not really…), but it is kicked in the face. And it’s amazing:

Belch wrapped himself around Meg’s torso. Insane gibberings leaked from between his slobbering lips.

“Finn,” he muttered. “Finn going down.”

That was it for Meg. She’s just about had it…

“Belch,” she screamed, raising down a booted foot, “You can go to Hell!”

She brought the boot down squarely on his wet nose, and the creature that had been Belch Brennan spiraled into the flames, with Meg’s name stretching behind him like a prayer. Or a curse.

3) Yes, the girl is kissed. Not our protagonist in this case, but the deuteragonist gets what surely must be one of the most spectacular kisses in all of fiction:

“Well, Lowrie,” she said, echoes of the teenager in her voice. “Why have you come here?”

It occurred to Lowrie then that he was probably on television.

“Lost love,” he said simply, and kissed her on the lips.

And the crowd went ape, especially when Cicely Ward draped a hand over the dapper old gent’s shoulder and kissed him back. It was fantastic, stupendous.

An ethereal ray of white light exploded from the point of lip contact…

Belch felt it too…”What the hell is that?” he growled, peering over his shoulder.

…”Good,” [Elph] said. “Pure, one hundred percent good.”

Meg felt a rush of blue in her aura.

4) Things get weird. In fine pulp fashion, we get this creation:

Someone, or something, was spinning along beside her. Canine features bubbled under a human skin, poking through like computer animation effects. It was horrible. Grotesque. Yet somehow strangely familiar.

“Belch?” said Meg uncertainly. “Is that you?”

…The dog-boy could only stare in horror as his fingers morphed from stubby digits to pit bull claws. Tears and slobber rolled down his face, dripping in large gobbets from a furry chin.”

Cool!

5) Genres are mixed. In the middle of the fantasy, we get bits like this:

The computer wizard grinned smugly. “No problem, Beelzebub-San, I can uplink him.”

…Myishi removed a nasty-looking object from his box of tricks. It resembled a small monitor on a metal stake. Without hesitation the programmer plunged it into the morass of Belch’s brain. 

…”The brain spike. I love this little baby. The brain’s own electrical impulses provide the power source. Ingenious, if I do say so myself.”

Pure science fiction, baby.

You can’t argue that this one doesn’t hit the pulp beats, right? Unashamedly Christian cosmology? Genre mashing? Weird imagery? Gals getting kissed and demons getting kicked in the face?

It’s all there.

But is it superversive?

You better believe it is.

Remember the infamous redemption story post?

Well, “The Wish List” is that story and more. It’s a redemption story, and it’s a resurrection story. It’s about not giving up, and living without regret, and making up for past wrongs, and all of that other stuff that’s corny when it’s executed badly and amazing when it’s executed well.

“The Wish List” is executed very, very well. It’s not just fun, it’s not just funny, it’s not just inventive, it’s also moving and inspiring. It’s incredibly superversive.

Is it perfect?

No, it’s not. The Chekov’s gun at the beginning is flashed rather obviously, and many of the plot beats are very predictable. The characters sometimes lean a little too far into the stock end. But you’re having so much fun when you read it that you hardly even care!

Isn’t that also the exact thing that folks like Jeffro have been talking about? Those supposedly “cliche” and “predictable” plot beats were used so much because they were incredibly effective?

“The Wish List” is the sort of book that we just don’t see much of anymore, and fans of pulp fiction or superversive fiction owe it to themselves to give it a shot.

Lela E. Buis Reviews “An Unimaginable Light”

She liked it.

This is the first Hugo-related review I’ve seen of any of the book’s stories. Lela Buis also has her own story in “Tales of the Once and Future King”, and I think I can confidently state that it’s one of my favorites in the book.

Money quote:

Pros: John C. Wright is actually an awesome writer. The number of levels this story works on is pretty amazing. 1) It invokes the Inquisition, i.e. the uppity, beautiful woman accused as a witch and the powerful, degenerate man questioning her. 2) It pays homage to the Asimov robot stories, referring to the Three Laws and similar philosophical issues. 3) It outlines questions in the dialog that fall out from the current conflict between conservative and neo-left politics. 3) It’s pretty erotic. Wright doesn’t fall short on the character descriptions, and the BDSM elements are obvious.

Three and a half stars.

(Note: There are no rape scenes and no actual sex is portrayed, for those who aren’t fans of that sort of thing, such as myself.)

I did respond to something she mentioned in her review in the comments section. For the curious:

Hello Lela! Anthony here.

A note: God, Robot was marketed by Castalia as a superversive anthology because of the authors involved, but when I came up with the idea I wasn’t soliciting only superversive stories. It just happened to turn out that way. Vox himself also has a very creepy story in it.

Your criticisms are fair, and I’m glad you did like it.

The follow-up by Josh Young I think does a lot to put the story in context.

Lela also has one of my favorite stories in “Tales of the Once and Future King”, so you guys should look out for that.

And if you want to know what all the fuss is about, pick up “God, Robot” today!

Quatermaster General a quick review

I picked up a great game from Amazon called Quartermaster General by Griggling Games.

In Quatermaster General you play as a team made up of either Axis or Allied powers with 2 – 6 players. The number of players determines how many of the powers each player will have. It is an interesting cooperative game where either the Allies or the Axis win by amassing the most victory points or capturing two of the other sides home cities. The cooperation comes from either all winning or all losing as a team and each player has a deck of cards that determines what they can do in a turn. Some of these cards help out an ally rather than the player themselves.
The interesting mechanic in the game, and the one that gives it its name, is the way you don’t build armies and move them around but instead construct chains of supply. You can only advance as far as the end of your supply chain and having one cut will destroy all unsupplied units further down the chain. Which makes long thin supply lines dangerous.
Over all the game is fun to play and an inexpensive purchase that I would highly recommend if you want a game to play with friends. The rules are quick and easy to learn but the randomness provided by the card decks and the cooperation required between powers to win make for a variable and fun game with a lot of replayability.

April Puppy of the Month: Souldancer

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

Brian Niemeier - Souldancer

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

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

That’s really too long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle

@BrianNiemeier

17 Again Pt 5: Liang and the Domestic Female’s Journey

I’ve noticed there has been a lot of talk on the blog about female characters, especially about the SFC. It’s just timely that this came up while I was writing these articles, because I was wanting to speak on this in regards to Liang.

See, some people push the unrealistic SFC, girl power stories, and ladies that “don’t need no man”; but I rarely find that way of doing them very appealing. In those stories, the girl either has no interest in domestic things or men, or worse, they totally stomp down on them. Because after all, womyn are SO much better than those pig-like men! But what about something I can relate to? Like being strong AND having a man?

17 Again was that story. The character is like most other girls, she wants a good life, a good home…. And a family. But she is held back, by herself as much as by Mao. Wanting to be a house wife is not a bad thing. Indeed, it is a very good and noble thing to strive for. Running a household and raising children is certainly not without its challenges. But I can agree with feminists and the like on one point, you shouldn’t be a mindless house wife with absolutely no life outside of your husband. Even the quiet house wife should have hobbies, something she enjoys or is passionate about. However, this is the rut we find Liang stuck in at the beginning of her journey.

The strong domestic woman is a very important force. I have more I’d like to say on her, but I shall save that for another post. For now, it is enough to say that a good society wouldn’t be able to hold together without them. To me, Liang’s Journey is in her going from a passive, clingy girl, to an intelligent and passionate woman. You’ve heard of the hero’s journey? Well, this is the domestic woman’s journey!

So what makes Liang change from a lame not-house wife, to an awesome woman and possibly real house wife? I think the biggest answer is she rediscovered her passion, and then worked for it. In some ways, she took on the actions of, “I don’t need no man” kinda girl. She kicked Mao away (although, admittedly, that was Little Liang’s doing) She went off and had her own fun and adventures, and she created a career for herself. She had dreams and passions, she perused them, and made them a reality. However, unlike the “don’t need no man” girls, Liang still wanted her man. But before she could have him, she had to learn to live without him. She had to learn to be strong in herself. Only then, could she have the relationship she always wanted.

See, good men don’t want a child for their wife. Some people make marriage out to be a man making all the decisions and dominating, while the woman stays quiet and goes along with whatever he says. That is askewed idea of marriage. Only bad men with control issues take advantage of their wives like that, and it is women without confidence in themselves, who have too many insecurities, that let them. But think about it. How much of a tiresome burden would it be to have a spouse that you have to do everything for? Who can’t make their own decision and opinions? Who has no ambition? Who sits around cleaning and making food while you do everything else?

That’s a maid, not a wife.

Men, good men, want someone to be on the same level as them. They want a partner, not a dependent. Because life is hard, a man wants a woman who can support him as much as he supports her. Now keep in mind, men and women are different, so the way they support and help each other will be different. But the point is, honest men don’t want a pretty-faced, mindless maid for a wife. They want a strong woman who inspires them, whose beauty shines from the inside out. One who will make a house into a home to come back to, and who will be there to catch them when  life is heavy. Someone who they can dream with, and make a life with.

Liang is not that woman when we first meet her. She got one part of it right; she’s there to take care of Mao and make a nice home. But she missed that part about having that deeper level of confidence and support. And because of that, her actions fall short, and somewhat superficial. The nice breakfast cannot be everything, there is something deeper that she is missing. And because of that, Mao has never bothered to marry her.

It’s not until Liang finds confidence in herself that Mao really starts to see her again. Gone is the drifting, shallow Liang. Now she is strong and confident in herself, she glows with the joy of her younger years. She has made herself a woman worthy of great attention and love. And because of this, Mao sees his short comings. He realizes that if he wants to keep this new Liang, he must change and become worthy of her. Because Liang has made herself great, she inspires Mao to make himself great as well.

At the beginning,  both of them are stuck in a rut, and have all but lost their love for each other. Love is  tricky, it’s something you must work to maintain. But by the end, once they both have grown, they are able to come back, stronger, and fight for each other and their love. Very pro-marriage. And I know, they weren’t technically married, but they seemed very much like a divorcing couple. But instead of giving up, they grow and learn, and eventually come back together. This is sooooo refreshing to see. I wish more movies and stories would give that same message of hope. That you shouldn’t give up on marriage just because it became boring or hard. That love is worth fighting for.

Because of that, 17 Again has a very superversive feel. But that is not the only reason. Liang is the focus of the story, the change in her relationship is provoked by her personal journey. And so it was her journey that left me with the greatest feeling of hope and inspiration at the end of the movie.

As someone who is still young and full of passion and dreams, but who also has a desperate desire to never let go of my inner child, I really connected with this movie. I wish to keep that joy and wonder at the world that a child has. I want to have passion to create and chase my dreams. I’m getting a taste of adulating and what real world life is like. With jobs, responsibilities, money, and bills, I’m discovering different kinds of stress and troubles that sometimes weigh heavy on me, and I don’t like it very much. But as long as I have my imagination to run wild, and my stories to get lost in, I can keep my younger self alive, and I’ll be alright. But….. If I ever lost that, if I ever stopped writing and imagining…. Well, the thought is truly terrifying.

And so the story of Liang finding her younger self, reconnecting with her passion, making herself better, and working for her dream, is very moving. She has adventures, learns from her mistakes, makes her dreams a reality, and gets her man back – even better than he was before! She became a stronger woman, but not a womyn. It’s hilarious, it’s refreshing, it’s inspiring, and it is superversive. Plus, there was chocolate! And in case you couldn’t tell from the FIVE articles and 5000 words I’ll spent on this thing, I really really loved it!

Hope you enjoyed my absurdly in-depth look into this movie! Time to go eat some chocolate.

Review: Honor At Stake by Declan Finn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 Again Pt 4: The One About Love

 I REALLY like the romance in this. And I say “romancE” not “romanceS” because I don’t consider the fling between Yan and Little Liang to be any more than that, a fling. However, I know it was very real to Little Yan, so I’ll take a moment to say my piece about it.

It was a teenager in love. Fast, intense, exciting, but ultimately shallow. They had nothing really that much in common, only their infatuation and thrill of adventure. They shared some tender moments, but nothing truly deep. However, it’s hard for young hearts to know the difference between twitterpated love and deeper love, and heartbreak is no less painful because of it. Their story is of first love, and first heartbreak. Very suiting for Little Liang and her wild ways.

Now….. Let us talk about the important one. Mao.

Even though Liang and Mao are not actually married, from the very beginning I couldn’t help but think of them as if they were. The way they lived together and interacted around each other, the fact that they’d been together for so long, and how they had grown stale in their routine; everything about them was like a married couple, except for the ring and the kids. But they were not only like a married couple, more importantly, they were like a married couple that no longer wanted to be together.

See, in my view marriage is a very important and sacred union. Something that should be valued and respected. Too many people today treat the status of husband and wife with the same weight of girlfriend and boyfriend. It’s so frustrating to see people take that vow, and then toss it away when they loss interest, or they get bored, or loving that person becomes hard. True love isn’t supposed to be easy. A good marriage takes work from both sides. And that’s what people have forgotten.

That’s why I love the romance between Liang and Mao so much. She didn’t immediately give up on someone she deeply loved and go running off with someone new. Instead, Liang and Mao both have to work, grow, and ultimately come back to each other. To me this is very touching, for it shows perseverance and true love.

I’d like to get further into the character arc of Mao, but first there’s one other character I need to put some light one. Mao’s cute work assistant. She is always fluttering at his arm, and it’s obvious she likes him. Although Mao never expresses direct interest from what we can see, there are times when it’s hinted they might be seeing each other a lot more than work requires. To me, she is just one other thing dragging Mao away from Liang. It’s a subtle threat, but one I’m sure Liang feels. Often one relationship can be broken up by the forming of another. I don’t know for sure if that is what was happening here, but it’s a possibility.

Another thing we eventually see, is the shift in Mao. As I’ve mentioned before, Mao has no confidence in Liang. But then he sees her at the opening of the gallery. He sees her younger self, the one full of spunk and sparkle. This must be the first time he has really ‘seen’ Liang in a long time. He sees the girl he fell in love with.

If you watch him during these scenes, you’ll find he is slow in moving closer to Liang. Walking around the gallery, you see him closely examining her paintings. At the beginning of Liang’s speech, Mao is standing right next to his assistant, who was no doubt his date there, and yet he has all his focus upon Liang. There is a moment when his doubt comes back, when Liang runs away from the stage. But then she comes back, with the confidence of her younger self and the grace of her older self, and Mao is again transfixed. He doesn’t take his eyes off her while she paints, and we even see a little smile from him. The pretty little assistant casts glances at him, but in that moment Mao only has eyes for Liang. This is perhaps one of my favorite scenes of the whole movie. Because in a way, we see both Mao and Liang rediscovering themselves, and each other.

Following this scene, is a car ride and a conversation between Mao and Liang. In which Mao, having begun to realize how special Liang is and how much he’s taken her for granted, apologizes to her. Liang smiles sweetly and says, “You don’t have to apologize. Actually, it’s not all your fault. I just don’t want to stand behind and wait for you to turn around anymore.” This leaves Mao somewhat forgiven, but also further away from Liang than ever.

One other point, that might seem a little out of place at first, is the confrontation between, Mao and Yan. When Liang had went off to ask Ning to inform Little Liang not to waste any more time on Yan – after she had talked to him at the biker party – Mao gets his own revenge. Mao must have found out about Yan, because he comes to confront him….. With a punch. The very small fight scene may seem random, but really it’s not. What it is showing is that Mao still cares about Liang, he is jealous, and he wants her back.

And now we come to the end of the movie.

First we see Yan, sitting on his motorcycle, alone, looking up at a billboard with Liang’s face on it. He stares at it a moment, puts his helmet back on, and drives away.

And then there is Mao.

Liang is enjoying time with Ning and her little family, including the cute twin babies. This makes it obvious thatquite a bit of time has passed, and from the billboards and the smile on her face, Liang is doing quite well for herself. Then Ning notices something on the new. A man is running through the streets naked, trying to win back his love, holding up a sign with her name on it. At that moment, Liang hears her name being called from outside. She runs to the window to see Mao, holding the sign, in nothing but his running shoes, fulfilling the promise he made to her over a decade ago. The movie ends with Ning asking, “Well, are you sure you don’t want to reconsider him?” Then Liang laughs, and smiles down at Mao.

It’s a little open ended, but I think it’s satisfying enough. Liang is able to make something of herself, plus I really like that Liang and Mao come back together in the end. To me, this seems very pro marriage. In that, instead of throwing away the 10 years with Mao to go off with some other guy, Mao and Liang rediscover each other and why they fell in love.

This is very touching. Too often marriage is treated with no more gravity than just regular dating – and that when the going gets tough or boring, it’s easier to break up and move on, regardless of vows. At least, that’s the way I see it in movies a lot of times. It was so refreshing and inspiring to see the bad boyfriend get redeemed! It’s not often you see that, but I loved it! It shows that love takes work, and to never give up.