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 Last Starfighter

We return once more to that period between the late ’70s and mid ’80s when that last flourish of old-school pulp sensibility arose in the form of feature films out of Hollywood done by then-rising names in the business. This time, it’s The Last Starfighter, another Space Opera made possible due to the success of Star Wars.

This film, like Tron, falls into that “Boy’s Own Adventure” style of adventure where our hero–although an adult–still speaks and acts like the boys this film is intended to entertain. That means the film’s style of presentation is in harmony with that audience also: earnest, sincere, and uncomplicated- but not simple.

The reason this is superversive is that this film’s story, as with many stories aimed at boys, is about the necessity of accepting responsibility- not just for yourself, but on behalf of those depending upon you. For an emerging generation of boys, soon to become men, this learning how to face difficult and dangerous realities even when you would rather run because if you don’t no one else will.

A careful review of the story’s narrative shows this to be the case. The critical events that make our hero into the titular character comes about due to succumbing to that very fear and running from the responsibility that his previous actions–qualifying as a Starfighter gunner–put upon him. Today some would cry about this being unfair,
or unjust. That doesn’t matter; it’s a job that men need to do, like it or not, because not doing it means far, far worse for everyone- man, woman, and child. Stories like this are necessary for boys, because this reality is their future as men in one form or another.

Which brings up another, understated but no less critical point: at no point does our hero get dumped on for taking up his burden and doing his duty. The others that benefit by his actions appreciate what he risked for their sake, and it is this acknowledgement that completes the superversive elements of this story. No one wants to risk life and limb for ingrates, and no society so ungrateful benefits from such deeds for long as it subverts that fundamental institution of any healthy society and culture. The audience of the day rewarded this handsomely, making it one of the latter day classics with lasting influence. It still holds up today. Recommended.

Review: A Pius Man by Declan Finn

A Pius Man has gotten a bit of an update and has been re-released by Silver Empire Press this month. It’s available in print and ebook on Amazon.com.

I thought the book was an great story back when I first reviewed it. It is amazing how some minor edits turned this great story into a “Wow! I’ve got to read this again” story. In fact, when I was checking back at scenes in the book while working on this review, I found myself getting lost in the pages again.

Re-reading books for fun is not something I normally do, because once I’ve read a book, I move on to the next one. I can’t help it with this one. I’m looking forward to re-reading A Pius Legacy.

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A murder at the Vatican sets in motion the wildest story you’ll ever read.

Dr. David Garrity uncovers a secret about Pope Pius XII’s actions during WWII, which gets him killed. An odd alliance forms between the head of Vatican security, an ex-stuntman, an American Secret Service agent, a member of Mossad, a spy and Pope Pius XIII, in order to find out who murdered him and why.

Set in Vatican City, the story is a mix of nonstop action and fascinating political intrigue that not only keeps you glued to the book, but it also corrects some of the falsehoods that have persisted about Pope Pius XII since his reign as pope.

Unlike Dan Brown’s novels which set off my BS meter on the facts, A Pius Man appears well researched. With Declan’s background, I’m not at all surprised that it’s historically accurate. The best part, though, is that the history doesn’t read like a text book, it is worked in between the gun fire, which adds to the drama and depth.

It’s got the fast paced action that the #PulpRev readers can appreciate as well as the battle of good/evil that the #Superversive crowd will love. It’s not just about action for action, it’s about action to defend the Pope, the Church and right the wrongs of history. And I might add, their is a Deus Volt vibe going on as well.

As far as the characterization, Declan does an excellent job of giving the large cast of characters distinct personalities and roles in the story. While most of the characters are a bit over the top, totally understandable for this genre, they are interesting. If these characters were real people, I think it’d be fun to hang out with Sean A.P. Ryan, even though I’d need to wear a kevlar vest because he is always getting shot at. I’d also be all over getting to hang out with Pope Pius XIII. You just can’t help love that character.

And the one story line that I’m partial to is the budding romance between Scott Murphy, a nondescript Mossad agent, and the beautiful spy, Manana Shushurin. They are the light spot in an otherwise heavy book. The two are so cute together.

Honestly, one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. I would put it on part with Michael Crichton’s State of Fear.

 

Review: The Book of Helen

I got a kindle copy of The Book of Helen for free in exchange for a review.

Remember Helen of Troy? She has lived to a ripe old age, her husband Menelaus died of natural causes. Her step-children are all interested in showing her the door, one way or another. Her only option is to fly to Rhodes, only Rhodes’ Queen Ployoxo has other ideas for her.

Being a historian, I’m wary of “historical novels,” mainly because so many are either BS, or they try too hard to be “authentic.” The Book of Helen doesn’t have this problem. Sure, it has various and sundry elements of Greek life, but they’re implemented casually and effortlessly. It might be in a historical setting, but it doesn’t try to ram all of their studies down your throat.

There are parts of this book that read like a Greek myth version of The West Wing (the early years, when it was about strategy and process, and not about slant). Helen is a political genius, almost a savant, and can manage crowd, and is basically “the hostess with the mostess” on steroids. The resulting style feels very much like Mary Stewart meets Clare Booth Luce. The Book of Helen retells the story of the original Troy incident with little to no interference from deities, and no magic. If there is a god involved anywhere, the meddling is implied, with just a hint of an explanation. When Paris meets Helen, she assumes that the story of discord’s apple is merely a pickup line.  On the other hand, like Clare Booth Luce’s play The Women, Antonetti has a nice, crisp way of addressing the character traits and social tactics of other women. And let’s throw in flashbacks reminiscent of John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, where the stories are told in interrogation-style fashion.

From a historical point of view, it’s nice that someone remembers that Helen was of Sparta, as in “THIS! IS! SPARTA!” Yes, she does know how to shoot arrows at people. Sparta and its society also acts as a major plot point.

One of the more interesting elements in the story revolves around Helen’s servant, Pythia, a slave who becomes Helen’s scribe.  The relationship between the two of them is very much like a Doctor Who companion, or Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes — while Helen is a political and social genius for the big picture, almost bordering on the savant, she has blind spots about comment sense matters that Pythia must smack her upside the head over. The interplay has some fun elements to it, and adds a lot of the charm to this book.

Also, this has some nice themes along with it: grief, envy, hard work, a sideways pro-life message if you want to read into it that way.  This is also the first time I’ve seen someone turn the concept of bella figura into a working concept in fiction (a concept that basically says that it is not enough to do good, one must also look good while doing it).

Now, why is this review not a 5/5?  Let’s discuss.

So, everyone knows the entire story of the Illiad and the Odyssey?  Yes? Good, because there is almost no back story or explanation for what’s going on here at the beginning. Menelaus is dead on page one, and if you don’t know the original Homer, you’re going to be a little lost for a few chapters. The backstory will be filled in, you just need to hang in there.

There is too much talking at times, and not enough action. I also wanted more physical descriptions. Does Helen now have grey hair, or is it still blonde? I caught implications that she was either going grey, but had enough blonde still left over to hide any grey; she’s “still as beautiful as ever,” but has she aged gracefully like Erin Grey, or did she not age at all? No idea.

And the speeches just kept going. Maybe if they were broken up a little more and turned into something like discussions, and not Dostoevsky monologues …it still would have been too much talking, but it wouldn’t have been a blizzard of words. There were moments my eyes crossed. Chapter six is the first time the reader will come across it, but if you slog through it, I promise that the rest of the book will be worth the time.

By the end, I wanted more. I wanted more of the story, more of the people, more time with the various and sundry characters, just more. There’s a sequel too The Book of Helenplanned, called The Book of Penelope.

If and/or when it comes out, I will be reading it.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Review: Stealing Jenny

Jenny Callahan has has five children, with another one due in a week. She and her husband have no money problems, only the issues that come with five children. They’re in a nice, loving relationship, where their biggest problem is her mother-in-law.

Then Jenny gets kidnapped by a total psycho who wants her child for herself, and we’re off to the races.

Stealing Jenny is actually not a bad thriller.  It’s tightly written, nice and tense, complete with character studies, personal histories, and one of the better bad guys I’ve seen in a while.  There isn’t a single car chase or fight scene, but the story doesn’t suffer, even though it decidedly lacks the action usually stuffed into the standard thriller.

I like this one for several reasons. It has a nice, well-developed family, with its own quirks, personality traits, and history. We see a neat character arc in Jenny’s relationship with her high school love, the development as the antagonist and how she got that way, and even the detective has her own distinctive voice.

The villain also has her own character arc of evil.

Now, one of the things you have to understand is that in my household, my father always had a soft spot for David Mahmet.  We would never keep one of his films, but we always appreciated them. He always loved House of Games because the lead (Joe Mantegna) was an unrepentant bastard right up to the end. It’s not something we see much anymore.

Which leads to the primary antagonist, Denise.  As noted, Denise has kidnapped Jenny for the sole purpose of stealing her unborn child. Unable to conceive, instead of adopting, Denise figures, quite simply, that Jenny has more than her “fair share” of children, and Denise *deserves* the one Jenny is carrying.

Is Denise insane? Maybe. Is she creepy as Hell? Yup. She is also stone cold evil. Nothing matters but herself. When kidnapping Jenny, she tied Jenny’s toddler to a sign post with a dog collar and leash, and I half expected her to kill him if she heard him crying for a few more seconds. She’s not violent, there are no schemes to take over the world, though diabolical is a mild description for this creature from the black lagoon. Total nut job? Maybe. Evil? Hell yes. I’ve seen vampires that were less of a blood-sucking monster than Denise.

There is no touchy-feely ending at the end of the book. Is there a moral to the story? I guess you can read one into it — most of the reviews online refer to it as a “pro-life” novel, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. It’s not preachy or pushy, or particularly loud in its beliefs. The family is Catholic, but they’re not saints, and when faced with an implacable evil, they must all come together or fail miserably.  Is there forgiveness and redemption?  After a fashion.

At the end of the day, this was a solid thriller, up there with anything written by Jeffery Deaver or Lee Child.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Review of Amy Lynn

A lot of Amy Lynn feels like a coming of age story, where we watch Amy Lynn go from 12 to 20 over the course of the novel. Along the way, almost every other character is fleshed out with their own backstories, usually with snippets and inserts that look like they were lifted out of newspaper clippings — though they don’t interrupt the narrative flow.

When the book opens, Amy is practically running the family farm single-handedly — running both the kitchen and chores on the farm. Yes, she’s very much 12 going on 40. Before the book even opens, she has already lost both her older bother and her mother. Usually, this would make set the tone for a depressing, maudlin journey that I’d rather have root canal than read. However, Amy Lynn manages to avoid ever falling into that trap, and dodges the usual cliches. That the book avoids a depression-inducing tone is a cute trick, considering that it covers rape, prostitution, sex slavery, drug use, and two counts of mass murder. Not bad for a coming of age novel, huh? It helps that a lot of this is off-screen, and never delved into with any of the gruesome details.

But, then again, anyone who can write a coming of age novel that I can read without making me desire to take a power tool to my brain already has my support.

In almost any other context, Amy might come off as a bit of a Mary Sue — almost totally perfect in every way. Thankfully, she’s not that perfect (after all, she is a teenager for most of the book). As for the rest of her skill sets, she has a perfectly good reason for it. For anyone who ever saw the original tv show The Avengers (with no relation to Marvel comics), imagine Amy Lynn as the creation of a Southern Emma Peel. Amy is essentially trained by Rambo, and the fight scenes are reminiscent of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels.

Amy Lynn has one problem. Well, it has two. The first problem is editing. I know that Jack July had Amy Lynn edited by professionals. I would ask for a partial refund, since there are a lot of strange punctuation errors and capitalization issues here and there. I’ll blame that on the professionals. The second problem? It’s too short.

At the end of the day, Amy Lynn is as promised: thoroughly charming. It’s very much To Kill a Mockingbird for a modern audience.

It’s definitely a book for anyone who enjoys characters with deep and abiding faith. It’s a book recommended for adults … and for adults to read before giving it to their kids. Like with much YA fiction, there is dark content and R-rated language. It’s a great book, but it depends on the audience.

Review: Tears of Paradox


My novel, A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller  discussed the war on God, waged by your standard, everyday elitist schmucks who are more concerned with their own whims, and their own political power, than any right given to faith, the faithful, or respect for God.

Heck, in book 2, I give them what they want, and I literally put the Pope on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. After all, the Pope is against things like abortion, women priests, birth prevention (sorry, “birth control”), and other horrible, horrible stances [read: sarcasm].As part of the Pope’s defense, I chronicled a small sample of what the world has been doing lately in its war on God.Tears of Paradox is what happens if that war is lost.

The Storms of Transformation are here, bringing upheaval, division and isolation. As the nation fundamentally transforms, small-town America is caught in the whirlwind.
Jason married the girl next door. He and Michelle dreamed of raising their children among family and friends in their idyllic, peaceful hometown. But then the Storms begin. Friendships disintegrate, fathers and sons become enemies, and trust is a thing of the past. The old ways have become what those in power term evil. What used to be evil is now the law. The evil brings with it a creeping darkness, gradually overshadowing the town’s inhabitants and turning their lives upside-down.
The Storms force pregnant Michelle to hide alone in a basement, far from home. Jason remains in town, living a lie as he tries to conceal the truth from the authorities. But will their own flesh-and-blood betray them? The town keeps many secrets. How did such a thing ever come to pass?

We’ve got a two-tier story going on here. It’ll throw some at first, especially since they take place at two different points in time. Both points of view are from a married couple, Jason and Michelle. Michelle narrates a point in the future, where — as James Clavell once put it — they have won. Jason narrates a tale of love and personal redemption, leading up to the dystopia that Michelle talks of. After the first chapter, you catch on rather quickly. But it takes some time to adapt.The two narratives compliment each other perfectly, each offering commentary on the other. It’s a nice balancing act that I don’t see that often — attempted but failed on Lost, mostly perfected on Arrow — and it works, once you see what Madam Bova is doing.

The sad thing here is that there’s nothing that novel about this dystopia. Easily 90% of it is just the reasonable and rational conclusion of current insanity. When exactly do we get to the point where private citizens are forced to keep Christmas lights indoors because atheists can’t be bothered teaching their children about religion? Healthcare has already been expanded to include abortion, so what’s the next logical step in the progression? Conscience laws have been under attack for years, how long until they’re gone completely?

A lot of people use the term “slippery slope” to be dismissive. Tears Of Paradox shows us that it’s more than some political talking point. It also shows us that the slope doesn’t need to be all that slippery, because we’re already halfway down the incline. It’s what happens when good people stop fighting, because evil doesn’t sleep, doesn’t rest, and doesn’t stop.

Tears of Paradox is also a journey about running on faith when there’s nothing left to run on. Faith, a lot of prayer, knowing when to talk away, when to run, and when to fight.When I was in college, I good a course on the philosophy of literature. Most of it consisted of traditional Catholic books — Walker Percy, Graham Greene, Bernanos, Gabriel Marcel, Endo, a few others. At the end of the day, Daniella Bova belongs with all of them. For those who are overly well-read in Catholic literature, imagine if Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins was instead written by Graham Greene, with Percy coming in after to make it less suicide-inducing.

At the end of the day, Tears of Paradox is a work of literature, but don’t hold that against it.