Thor: Ragnarok, a review

If you know Norse mythology, you know that Ragnarok is basically the doom of Asgard. It is the end of all things. Can Thor, god of thunder, stop the cataclysm from happening?

Going by the first minutes of the film, yes. Yes he can.

When last we saw our intrepid Avenger, Thor had flown off in search of the Infinity Gems (the shiny MacGuffin devices from half the franchise). Finding none, he is now in search of the cause of his dreams: dreams of Ragnarok. It leads him to Surtur … some sort of magma …Satan … thing. Surtur monologes a bit about how he will destroy of of Asgard, bwahahahaha … and Thor interrupts him for some comic moments, and we’re off.

However, the end of all things isn’t quite averted. Hela, goddess of death, has been trapped for half a million years, and she’s out, she’s pissed, and she’s ready to rule everything.

So, nicely epic. But can they pull it off?

Largely, yes.

After resolving some dangling plot threads in Thor’s arc, we go straight into the film. When Hela is released, Thor and Loki are the first people she sees. Due to a problem with the Rainbow Bridge, the brothers don’t get a full confrontation with Hela, but are thrown onto an alien planet. Thor is captured via cheap technology tricks, and is thrown into a gladiatorial arena owned by Jeff Goldblum….sorry, the “Grandmaster.”  Yes, Jeff has tired of playing with dinosaurs, and wants to play with comic book characters instead. At least he left his stutter at home. It’s all very strange.

Then again, the whole film is strange from start to finish. There is a definite departure in tone from the other Thor films, giving it more of a Guardians feel. Thor, the deadly serious, makes for a surprisingly good slapstick artist. I was surprised. I think I laughed at this one more than I did at Guardians.

All in all, this was straight up fun. There are shoot outs that make me think of Flash Gordon (the one with Topol, Queen, and Max von Sydow) to such a point that I thought excerpts of the soundtrack would start playing at any moment. At one point, “Pure Imagination” does start playing. Yes, really.

There’s comedy. There’s some well-done plotting. Nothing is really forced (okay, one scene is, to be discussed below). I’d even say the Pulp crowd would be entertained, given that we have a space ship firing a machine gun at Fenris while a horde of zombie soldiers are being mowed down by a lightning-wielding demigod, who shot his way out of an intergalactic gladiatorial ring with a laser rifle.

Now, you know that there are several elements they must address in the film, such as the post-credit scene in Doctor Strange. You know from the end of The Dark World that Loki is on the throne of Asgard, pretending to be Odin. You know that Thor was looking for the Infinity gems. You know that someone might want to mention that Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) isn’t in this movie — and frankly, I have no idea how they could have fit her in on top of everyone else. All of these plot concerns are actually addressed and resolved within– at a guess– about fifteen minutes in.

I have two major problems with the movie, and a minor one. One, we have a moment that is a variation on the “you have hidden depths” meme that we’ve seen before — though I don’t have a problem with how they did it, I have a problem with where they put it. It’s rather awkwardly jammed in. I blame whoever edited the film together. It’s fairly jarring.  You’ll probably catch it. I liked the scene itself (it could have been a minute longer), and it was well written, but it’s sort of shoehorned in, like the editor went trigger happy somewhere along the line. I know there are several shots and lines of dialogue cut from the trailer to the film; I know that it happens, but given some parts of the ending, I think someone went overboard.

My second major problem: character deaths. Of the five character deaths in this film, only one is lingered on for any length of time. The other four were murdered off-handedly, making me wonder why some of these actors were even brought in for filming.

The acting is surprisingly well done. Hemsworth is a great straight man, and pulls off the big epic moments, as well as the slapstick. Don’t worry ladies, you’ll get shirtless Thor — though he seems to have bulked down, and has gone more for martial art muscle than gym muscle.

Cumberbatch as Strange is even better and funnier here than he was in his own movie. It was fun, and they got rid of him in a matter of three minutes– a good thing, since he might have stolen this film if he was more than a cameo.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki … is Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Has anyone ever had any problem with his Loki? Loki’s still insane, but dang, he’s got style. And he knows how to make an entrance.

Hela … is a serviceable villain. She’s fun, and she leaves more of an impression than the dark elves from The Dark World. She even comes with her own army of zombie Rivendell elves. Yes, I know they’re supposed to be old Asgard warriors. And she comes with Fenris as her pet. She also has motivation. It’s simple and straight forward. She’s more Kali by way of the thugee, so she doesn’t really need much.

“Valkyrie” — Sigh. You know, I don’t mind Idris Elba as Heimdall, because he brings gravitas and .. he ACTS LIKE HEIMDALL. I didn’t mind a random Asian dude thrown in as one of the Warriors Three, since they’re largely background characters. But when you replace Valkrie, a six-foot blonde who should be built like Red Sonja, with a 5’4″ Tessa Thompson, I have multiple levels of why this is a problem. It will help if you have no actual attachment to the comic book character in the first place. Trust me on this. While I liked her character, all I could think is “You couldn’t have at least given her any other name? Ever?”

Karl Urban as the Executioner … while I like Urban, I’m not sure that this character is anything like the comic book, except with some mild overlap. I presume that this is the last Thor film, for multiple reasons, but most of all because they felt the need to jam in certain characters without bothering to make them anything like their comic book counterparts.

Aside from these complaints, which are largely nitpicky on my part, this was a fun film. It is certain this is the best Thor film. It’s possibly the funniest Marvel film. Though I’m surprised at their restraint, plot wise: I had expected at least new one Infinity Gem, and didn’t get one. If I recall correctly, there are still two missing.

But we’ll see.

Ragnarok is definitely recommended on the big screen. 8/10.

Signal Boost: Paragons

I am proud to introduce to you the latest release from Silver Empire publishing: Paragons: An Anthology of Superheroes

Silver Empire’s mission statement is “to find and publish the best heroic, wondrous adventure fiction out there. Like you, we wanted stories that still showcased heroism. And we like fiction that dares to show us wonders we’ve never imagined.”

Yeah, with a statement like that, an anthology about superheroes was something we all should have seen coming.

Look – up in the sky!

They awe us. They fill us with wonder. But most of all, they inspire us – to be stronger, faster, and smarter. Superheroes teach us how to aspire to the best versions of ourselves. Enjoy this master collection of collection of 13 tales of all-new, all-original superheroes from today’s up and coming science fiction and fantasy masters!

When the police fail to take down the super powered mobs a rogue vigilante steps up to the plate in Nightstick by Kai Wai Cheah. Peek in on a superhero marriage proposal via Blackout by Morgon Newquist. When a young nuclear engineer gains superpowers, the Soviet government wants to control her for the sake of the motherland in Stalina by Sam Kepfield.

Enjoy these tales and more by Alt-Hero novelist Jon Del Arroz, Dragon Award and Hugo Award nominee Kai Wai Cheah, Dragon Award nominee Declan Finn, and others!

My own particular contribution to the series is “The Weather Witch,” about an African girl, raised in a missionary school, attacked by slavers. Only in this case, the leader of these slavers is a giant fellow, with crackling yellow electricity eyes. He jokes that “His mother was the lightning.”

And since this little girl has grown up with this risk her entire life, she decided that she’s not going to go down easy — she jabs the guy in the eyes.  They both get a bit of a shock…

So what happens when a ten year old girl basically finger jabs the eyes of a monster run on elemental forces?

Get the book. Find out.

Signal Boost: Lyonesse, Volume 1

Those of you who might remember Silver Empire’s Lyonesse short story service now have the ultimate sampler pack: Lyonesse, Volume 1, bringing you the best stories from the first run. It has psychics, time travel, gods, and sci-fi battle angels. We have a woman with the power to raise the dead. A man stranded on another world, fighting all alone for a lost cause. Zombies invading New York. Alien artifacts. Sci-Fi battle angels. Samurais fighting demons. Interplanetary detectives and lost unicorns.Featuring the Dragon Award Finalists Kai Wai Cheah, L. Jagi Lamplighter … and me, Declan Finn.

This collection, for the low low price of $2.99, includes the following 16 short stories:

  • Four Weddings and a Funeral by L. Jagi Lamplighter
  • The Dreaming Wounds by Anya Ow
  • The Dragon’s Teeth by David Hallquist
  • Zombie Jamboree by Declan Finn
  • The Artifact by Dean Abbott
  • We Bury Our Own by Kai Wai Cheah
  • Number 43 by Jonathan Ward
  • The Last Winter by A.R. Aston
  • Shini Tai by C.L. Werner
  • The Case of the Unicorn by Nora M. Mulligan
  • The Harsh Mistress by Mike Murphy
  • St. Lucian’s Star by Dawn Witzke
  • A Day Without the Horned Goddess by Kieran McKiel
  • In Another Life by Morgon Newquist
  • Moonset by S.D. McPhail
  • Mile High Murder by Declan Finn

Zombie Jamboree opens with

New York City’s first zombie on record walked onto the train platform at Queens Plaza at 6:43 in the morning. Nobody noticed the zombie for one reason: it was a fresh zombie, and thus indistinguishable from the rest of the commuters shambling onto the platform during rush hour.

Heh. Yeah. I had fun.
And Mile High Murder is the story of a murderer running around an airplane, stalking his prey. Very Alfred Hitchcock.
I recommend Lyonesse Volume 1. Do try it.

Airship Arthur, for Tales of the Once and Future King

Today’s blog post brings us Bokerah Brumley, short story author extraordinaire, on how she developed her short story for Tales of the Once and Future King, now out from Superversive Press (No, for the record, I will never refer to it as TOTOAFK — it looks too much like Dorothy’s little dog is not at the computer right now.)

Last year, I caught wind of a call for submissions that tickled my fancy. The idea called for all sorts of creative takes on Arthurian legends. When I sat down to brainstorm, I wasn’t quite sure what I would write, but I’m a contrarian that read a thread that struck me as a dare. I also like to do work oddness into the story somewhere.

Heck, I just finished a silly piece that included speed dating in space. Serious isn’t my thing. Weighty matters should be handled by much more knowledgeable folks. It’s easy to leave the historical pieces to others (like Anthony, Dawn, Declan, Jagi, Jason, and the other Superversive brilliants).

Beyond that, I’m a historian in the same way I’m a scientist–only if one includes all night Google-binge-cramming. I do it all the time since I mostly decide to live life balanced on the sword’s edge between epic procrastination and hard deadlines. Knowing that, I decided to leave the serious, historical fiction to others.

And if I was tossing serious to the wind, where did that leave me? What was the oddest thing that I could pull together into a story? In three days.

I told you. Apparently, I like the post-procrastination deadline madness.

Sword and the Stone was something I’d watched a handful of times as a kid. It made me sad to see Arthur at odds with his caretaker and then Merlyn, too, and I disliked that lavender witch. She scared the crap out of me as a little girl. I preferred Puff the Magic Dragon type stories, not that ugly, whiny, purple one the witch turned into.

I folded laundry while I brainstormed. Afterward, I browsed cover graphics on one of my favorite pre-made sites. And I found my young Arthur Pendragon.

In Airship Arthur, young Arthur Pendragon manufactures racing airships and leads a merry band of shipmates. I turned Bedivere into a breech-wearing girl that falls in love with the sneaky, pale Percival. The two of them make fools of themselves in mischievous and Arthur-irritating ways. Bors plays the part of a mechanic. Gawain is engaged to Nyneve, sister to the good woman Merlyn. Shenanigans ensue as the Ether Joy floats over the White Cliffs of Dover, lands at a castle, and then takes a jaunt down to Stonehenge to end happily ever after.

I’m sure I’m not the first to do such things to the tales and legends, but it made Airship Arthur a happy-go-lucky steampunk re-telling.

LIVE NOW.

What are you waiting for? You need some steampunk-happy in your life. DO IT.

Arresting Merlin in Tales of the Once and Future King

Tales of the Once and Future King by [Marchetta, Anthony, Marchetta, Mariel, Nealen, Peter, Schmidt, Matthew P., Newquist, Morgon, Finn, Declann, Shipley, Jonathan, Nachampassack-Maloney, Mandy, Daue, Katharina, Brumley, Bokerah]

When I started working on my short story for Tales of the Once and Future King, I decided to use one particular factoid I first heard in an episode of Babylon 5 called A Late Delivery from Avalon: Some Arthur myths say that Merlin aged backwards. He knew the future by remembering the future.

If that were the case, it makes sense that Merlin would have to age backwards at a rate of speed so slow that no one would visibly notice.

So how long would it take for Merlin to hit childhood?

Better yet, if Merlin survived into the post-Arthurian world, how would he spend his time?

To answer the first question, I ignored the math. It was just easier to make Merlin 10 years old in 2016.. As for how he would spend his time? That’s even easier: he’d be fighting whatever supernatural creatures just happen to pop up. It would be easiest to hide out in big population centers. I happen to live in New York City, so the setting was easy enough.

So, why not have Merlin try to kill a fae Mayor of New York with a wrought iron flamingo?

Yes, really.

While it was tempting to begin with attempted assault with a deadly flamingo, I wanted to jump forward to the police station where Merlin is being processed. Because while assault with a deadly flamingo is entertaining, I want to see how a simple uniformed officer tries to fill out that police report. Hilarity ensues.

Yes, it really is as funny as you think it would be.

Arresting Merlin is just one of the collection in Tales of the Once and Future King. You can purchase it for preorder today.

Buy it today

Why Catholic Vampires?

Love at First Bite is my My Dragon Award Nominated series. Usually, my elevator pitch is “Traditional Vampires that integrate free will into the mythology, resulting in a unique end result.”

What I don’t say is that by “Traditional Vampires that integrate free will,” I mean “Catholic Vampires.”

This is in part because, as one person replied: Weren’t Vampires always Catholic?

There’s a point there. In the original mythology that I can recall, Vampires weren’t repelled by a cross, but to the crucifix. They reacted to a consecrated host.

But they were also automatically evil. And that was the part I drew the line at. How did that make any sense?

In Dracula, the novel, Vlad Tempes was never considered a nice guy. And I’m certain that Stoker’s history wasn’t exactly half as detailed as ours would be today. For Stoker, Dracula was probably evil even before he was a vampire. When Lucy was turned, she could be little more than a feral dog, overwhelmed by urges and appetites she’d never had before. All easily explained.

But after a while, once you get into other vampires, why would all of them in fiction become automatically evil? Doesn’t that subvert free will? Unless you go for the Buffy solution, which was that all vampires were soulless, and the soul was replaced with a carbon copy of a demon. Basically, people were the skin suits that a demon wore. They drank blood as a perverted mockery of the Eucharist, and that’s that.

But otherwise, it’s generally unexplained. I don’t even remember Larry’s Monster Hunter International series addressing it, really. It was just “Vampires are evil, they don’t sparkle, just kill the f**kers.” (Though if anyone has a better recollection, let me know.)

My vampires at the very least needed to address free will.

Which becomes a problem. How can I have people become vampires, and then automatically afflicted by holy artifacts? Unless I go the “demon wearing a skin suit” route, it doesn’t make much sense.

But what if vampires, like people, are formed by their actions?

Catholic theology states that a resurrected body is a body that is perfectly controlled by the soul. So, the more actions one makes, the more the vampire is formed, and the closer body and soul comes together. The more evil actions one commit, the vampire becomes more powerful, but is also more afflicted by religious artifacts.

Anyone who is “good” is something different.

Here’s yet another tenant of Catholicism that ended up in the novel: Aristotle. Yes, the vampires are based around Catholic philosophy because the Church still uses Aristotle. “Actions form the person” is straight out of his Ethics. RPGs also use a similar system (the one I’m familiar with is Knights of the Old Republic).

Now, even under this model, I would not, and will not argue for being just “people with fangs.” I submit that when you take a person, remove all sense of personal consequences from their life, and give them the powers of a vampire, then they are not “people with fangs,” it’s a grave temptation to become a serial killer with fangs. One monster or another, there’s very little difference except in scale and scope.

Keep in mind, I’m not saying “people are naturally evil.” I’d say at least half of my vampires are just folk who would like to survive and move along. Wearing a cross is gonna hurt, unless they go to frequent confessions, because even venial sins are going to mount up after a while.

And yes, I want redemption to be a possibility. Why? In part because I sometimes write bad guys that I like enough to want to redeem. They’re not pure evil, they just try to be. Also, hell, if you’re still on the planet Earth, and not in Hell, I’m fully convinced that Heaven continue to try to catch sinners until the last possible moment. When you consider the number of Catholic saints who used to be schmucks, redemption will sneak into my series eventually.

Keep in mind, this still circles back to the “actions maketh the man” aspect. Evil people can still do good things — it’s rare, but it happens. Granted, some of the most evil pricks on Earth have ironic “virtues” that are comedically small in comparison to their crimes, but some don’t even have that much. I don’t recall anyone trying to spin Stalin as having a single quality that made him look like anything less than a total prick, while Hitler was a vegetarian who painted flowers.

Granted, the levels of evil I’m dealing with … well, let’s just say that their isn’t a LOT of redemption from the antagonists. I may have redeemed two vampire antagonists over the course of the series.

But then again, look at my protagonists, will you? There’s Marco … who’s his own type of dark. There’s Amanda, who had to participate in things that she still thinks about sometimes. Let’s not even discuss Rory, shall we?

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: That’s all very nice, but how do I do this as a “neutral” thing? How do I leave Free Will while having an obviously supernatural problem? Well, vampirism is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact, so it’s a blood born virus. We know the vector.

Obviously, it must be a supernatural virus, transmitted from human / supernatural contact.

In Honor at Stake, I suggested Nephilim were the origin, but I’ve kept it vague, if only because I don’t have any vampires that old to confirm it, nor is there anyone kicking around who has that much history.

If I ever continue the world, I’m going to have to dive into the virology more. After all, vampires have worked with governments — Nazis, Soviets– so we know there were experiments. I’m just never going to do those stories, because I suspect it’s going to look like Wolfenstein or Hellboy if I do that.

One of the few things I’ve spelled out is one of the quirks of viruses: most of them try to not kill the host. In fact, if I treat vampirism as being a disease, it’s actually a symbiotic relationship, as it keeps the host alive. Which means it would act like it. There are some viruses that actually aid the host by providing food (for example, one real life avian virus that encourages bugs to climb to higher altitude, making it easy for the birds to eat them).

And finally, the best reason I have for doing Catholic vampires …

I’m Catholic.

Duh.

See if anyone else gets redeemed in the climactic conclusion to the series, with Good to the Last Drop. Or, if you’re new here and haven’t read the series yet,  click here to get the entire Love at First Bite cycle.

A Brief History of Vatican Ninjas

I think the first time I came up with the concept of the Vatican ninjas I’ve used in my Love at First Bite series was as a joke I made during a Dan Brown review.

In The Da Vinci Code, The protagonist stated that he, personally, knew the current pope, and therefore he was certain that the Catholic church couldn’t be behind the plot, because “the Church didn’t do such things anymore.”

My response was: “Anymore? You mean, the church used to have Ninjas? I WANT MY VATICAN NINJAS.”

Thus, a running joke was born, and, like everything else in my writing worlds, it quickly spiraled out of control.

When I bounced the concept of Vatican Ninjas off of a Catholic Facebook group as a force for fighting the legions of darkness, the first, almost reflex question by a lot of the group was: “Why does the Vatican have to do this? Why is it all on the shoulders of the Catholic church to do all of this?”

Aside from exorcism?

I think my response at the time was “Well, who else would be better equipped for such a position? It’s a long standing institution that deals with the supernatural on a routine basis. The Church would feel obligated to fight back Satan’s forces, of course.”

So … yes, my argument was “With Great Power, comes great responsibility.”

Though my first thought was really: Who else is gonna do it? (This was before I had been exposed to Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International, and the idea of hunting monsters for fun and profit.)

Of course, the Vatican has its own army. It’s not a very big one, granted, but if anyone is going to be able to give shooters training to fight the abyss, it’s going to be a few thousand priests. There would have to be meditative prayers before battle, that can hide them from the enhanced senses of vampires. IE: Basically, if a vampire has the senses of a Sith lord, going through this silent, prayerful meditation would make them invisible. In fact, if it’s a saint versus a vampire, a vampire would have to directly lock eyes on them — assuming, of course, the saint doesn’t have the power to cloud vampire’s minds…

Sadly, I now have a Simon Templar / The Shadow crossover in my head. But that’s another conversation.

The Vatican Ninjas would probably start to become a serious institution somewhere around the Protestant Revolt of the 1500s. It’s when Europe started to really go dark.

How dark? Look up the Anabaptists sometime: these guys were so nasty, Lutherans and Catholics stopped fighting each other, looked at the Anabaptists, and promptly joined forces to wipe them off the face of the Earth.

The crucifix fell out of fashion in Protestant areas, and traditional Vampire lore stress a crucifix, not a cross, being a problem for a vampire — otherwise a lowercase T in block letters will do it. This would require forces that are specialized in battling creatures that are stronger, faster, and nigh indestructible.

After two hundred years. and the “Enlightenment” hit, superstition increased. Ouja boards became common. Isaac Newton dabbled in the occult, and had volumes of horoscopes that he had forecast. The mythical age of intellectual brightness really had a five to one ratio of dark, dim occultist crap emerge. The only thing we really discuss today is everything history kept and took with it. (It’s almost like discussing the “Golden Age of Movies,” but if you watch TCM, you see just how much really is garbage).

Of course, in a world where vampires exist, the obvious reason for the increase in superstition during the Enlightenment is simple: the Catholic church used to have local teams to deal with the Supernatural. When the Church left, so did said teams. With the suppression teams being removed, demonic activity spiked. Occult belief was a “rational” response … at least to people who abandoned faith for whatever nonsense they came up with along the way.

So, going to clean up the mess? That’s right. The only organized game in town, who covers … well, the planet. They’d probably be called something like “tegumento daemonium interfectores,” which is what I get when I load “covert demon killers” into Google translate, so I expect this to be hysterically inaccurate. Or “occulte daemon interfectores,” which is Google Translates idea for “secret demon killers.”  Though “Excursor Vaticanae” has been suggested by people who know Latin better than I do.

….ANYWAY, no matter the Latin name, the load out for the ninjas would, over time, have to evolve, but it would still be a wide ranging arsenal. Fifty-caliber sniper rifles would be mandatory for removing the heads off of vampires at a distance. There would be silver ammunition components (hollowpoints with silver balls instead of stems– according to Larry Correia, silver is too hard, and doesn’t have the right spiral of regular bullets). They could carry crosses, and holy water, and squirt guns. Their traps would include bouncing Bettys filled with holy water. Incendiary grenades and high explosives would have to be mandatory, I’d figure.

And, even though I have them dealing with a lot of vampires, they will, of course, be trained to deal with other supernatural threats. I figure that demons, elves and werewolves would be in the top five threats in their inventory.

The Ninjas will of course, have a mandatory retirement age of 65. Why 65? Because that’s the retirement age for priests. Why not sooner? Because the ones who survive the field long enough become trainers … if they can be dragged out of the field. Outside of someone who is a careerist, name me one average beat cop or soldier who wants to be transferred too far away from the street / the action / their men.

But as noted, they have to survive the job long enough.

See who lives and who dies in Good to the Last Drop, the conclusion to my Dragon Award Nominated series.

Declan Finn is a three time Dragon Award Finalist. Honor at Stake and Live and Let Bite, books #1 and #2 of his Love at First Bite series, were nominated for best horror in 2016 and 2017, and his co-authored work, Codename: UnSub, was nominated in best apocalyptic in 2017