A Pius Man, Chapter 1: A Pious Cop

Yes, you’re reading this right. You’re about to get a look at the first, redone chapter of A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller (The Pius Trilogy) (Volume 1).

You might remember that I pulled this one from the shelves when I signed with Silver Empire Publishing.

And right now, it’s up for order from Amazon.And if you have no idea what A Pius Man is … wow, you have to be new here. It ate up ten years of my life, and the best use I have ever gotten out of my Masters in History…. okay, that, and writing the biographies of older vampires.

But here you go, here’s the first chapter. When you’re hooked, order it. Or preorder it. Or something.

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

Chapter I:

A Pious Cop

Giovanni Figlia stood in the lobby of Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport in a solid black polo shirt and a black suit jacket. The color scheme made him seem shorter than his 5’9” height. His hand ached for his Beretta to reassure himself that he was still armed, but instead he ran his fingers through his thick dark hair.

It must be something about Americans that brings out the Clint Eastwood in people.

He scanned the crowd for his target, comparing each face with the photograph he had memorized down to the dots on the color printout: hazel eyes, brown hair, Germanic cheekbones, not bad-looking. Wilhelmina Goldberg, a former member of the Americans’ National Security Agency, with degrees in esoteric languages and mathematics, had transferred into her current profession some time ago, and was supposed to be good at it.

Now all I have to do is hunt her down.

Looking for me?”

Figlia looked down. Three feet away from him stood a woman just under five feet tall. He recognized her as Goldberg; she wore black jeans and a tight-fitting, long-sleeved turtleneck. Over one shoulder she carried a duffel bag as large as she was. She also dragged a wheeled suitcase as big as Figlia.

Io ho pensato che Lei ha…supposed to be in formal attire,” he said in his own combination of Italian and English. He glanced at her. “Not attracting attention.”

She replied in crisp, formal Italian. “On the former, you thought wrong. As for the latter…” she looked down at her chest and shot him a look. “If 28B passes for attention-getting in Italy, you people need to open a Playboy, pop a Viagra, and get a life.”

Giovanni Figlia stepped to one side. “This way?”

You lead. I don’t want you stepping on my equipment. You want this job done, we’ll need this intact.”

He led. Goldberg moved forward. “You’re Gianni, right?”

Mi chiamo Figlia, si.” I’m Figlia, yes.

I’m surprised,” she told him. “You’re the head of this outfit; why would you meet me?”

Figlia shrugged. “Because I like to get out of the office every once in a while. And we’ll be working together for a while. We might as well get used to each other, starting now.”

Done. Where’s our first stop?”

The Vatican.” Figlia stepped around more passengers just getting in and made his way to the automatic doors. It was still dark outside, despite the fact that it was 6:30 in the morning.

What are you packing?” she asked.

Figlia blinked. “This is Italy. What do you think?”

Wilhelmina Goldberg rolled her eyes. “Beretta, then.” She looked around before answering. “I just got on a plane from Spain with security that’s a joke. I’m carrying a Sig and they didn’t even notice. Forgive me for wondering about Europeans.” She pronounced it Euro-peons. “We’re not exactly in a safe business.”

When Giovanni Figlia stopped at a four-door silver Jetta, Goldberg shrugged. “Not a bad little toy. You own it?”

Depends on my wife.” He smiled. “Come on, I’ll load the bags.”

Goldberg laughed. “No way in hell, buddy. I’ll manage. You just start this thing up.”

Once she loaded herself into the passenger seat, he sped away.

You know, I’m halfway surprised that you carry outside of your target area.”

Figlia glanced at her briefly. “You expected me to live on a hundred-acre leash? Check my gun at the colonnade?”

Given your line of work, I’m surprised they allow you to have a gun.”

Don’t worry, we’re allowed to shoot back. There are some situations where force is required. Mind if I ask you something?”

She shrugged. “Whatever.”

What’s your religion?”

I’m Jewish…Orthodox,” she added as an afterthought. “My parents say an Orthodox Jew is a ‘real Jew’ … you don’t want to hear what they have to say about the others.” Goldberg shrugged. “So, tell me a little bit about what you do here.”

They continued to discuss their mutual professions, the conversation punctuated long enough for her to look out at the city and take an occasional photo with her iPhone. He began to decelerate as he followed the Tiber River and hung a right onto the Via della Conciliazione, making a right in front of the colonnade, onto Via Ottaviano.

It led right to their target, the Vatican.

At that moment, one of the buildings exploded in a massive fireball, dropping glass, brick and debris down upon their car in a shower of destruction. A moment later, another object smashed into the hood of Figlia’s car, smashing the windshield, and denting the hood in front of him.

Giovanni Figlia instinctively swerved away from the explosion, and braked hard. The object on his windshield stayed there.

After a few seconds, Goldberg and Figlia got out of the car and studied the scene, wondering if it was safe to go check the damage. She bounced up on her toes to check what had killed Figlia’s car. It was the body of a young-looking, olive-skinned male…without a face.

Between 25 and 35?” Figlia asked.

…Sounds like a serial-killer profile,” she answered.

Figlia grunted and again wanted to reach for his gun. He glanced at the short, pixie-like woman and muttered, “Damn Americans. Here for fifteen minutes and Dante’s Inferno rises to surface level.”

The only carabinieri in the area ran to the scene, leaving his motorcycle behind. He let out a small string of curses, ran back to his vehicle, and immediately radioed for help.

The police were the first responders, followed immediately by the fire department. The firemen quickly moved to douse the flames with the fire hose. Giovanni Figlia tackled the main man on the hose, grabbing him before he could attach the hose to its water supply.

What are you doing?” the fireman shouted. He tried to fight back, but Figlia had already locked one arm into place, totally immobilizing him.

You’re going to wash away all evidence of the bomb,” Figlia growled. “Use a fire extinguisher or buckets.”

The other firefighters didn’t know what to make of him. He was an utterly unremarkable fellow in basic black. With the addition of a white collar, he could have been wearing a priest’s uniform … if the material were better. He wasn’t even that big, but held the burliest member of their team immobile with minimal effort.

Figlia shoved the firefighter aside, and reached into his inner jacket pocket before someone shot up. He pulled out a wallet and flashed his identification, as well as his badge. “Commandatore Giovanni Figlia, Vatican’s Central Office of Vigilance. That body over there is dead, and not only is my car a secondary crime scene, do you see that line?” He pointed to a white painted line on the cobblestone street. “Sixty years ago, the Nazis put that line down to clearly mark the territory. This side, right now, is Rome.” He sidestepped to in front of his car and pointed toward the colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Where I’m standing now is Vatican City.”

Wilhelmina Goldberg laughed. “Now you see why American cops call firemen the evidence destruction unit.”

The fireman scowled at her. She was short, so she wasn’t a member of Figlia’s security force. Her dye job was obvious and ugly, so she wasn’t working for the Vatican. Her accent sounded more like American actors trying too hard to sound like she was from New York City, and so became a self-parody. “And what are you? His puttana?”

She shook her head, unconcerned as she reached into her pocket. “First of all, you’re thinking more like a Calabrese.” She pulled out a leather wallet of her own and flipped it open. “Second, I’m a consultant: Wilhelmina Goldberg of the United States Secret Service.”

Giovanni Figlia looked around frantically, hoping no one else would try to wash away the evidence. A shiny silver object caught his attention, and he narrowed his eyes, focusing on…the cover for a hotel serving tray?

And,” he continued, “the explosion radius extends into my jurisdiction. I have a body and half a crime scene over here—you only have half a crime scene, I win. I’ll head up there myself, if you don’t mind…and if you do, too bad. Frankly, if you’d like to do something useful, secure the street!”

Figlia caught a familiar sight at the edge of his peripheral vision. The black cassock of a priest was more than enough to identify him as such from thirty yards away. It looked like the priest gave the crowd more attention than he had given the scene of the crime, which was odd—most of the time, far too many people wanted to look at the destruction. At that distance, the only other detail he could make out was the man’s silver hair.

Padre! Venga, per favore!”

The priest looked up, then left, then right, and finally, he shrugged and stepped forward cautiously, eyeing the building as though he wanted to make sure it wouldn’t collapse.

What’s with the priest?” she asked, sotto voce.

He might be able to provide a barricade between you and the polizia when they arrive. Have him standing by ready to give the corpse last rites, while you snap photos of the body. I suspect we won’t get another chance for pictures after this.”

Goldberg gave him a look as though he had sprouted three heads. “You want a murder case?”

He flashed a Casanova grin. “I’m going to check the room. Stay close to the priest.”

She raised an eyebrow. Before she could make a scathing remark, Figlia bolted into the damaged hotel and flew up the stairs.

*

Wilhelmina Goldberg looked over her shoulder at the body-covered car, absentmindedly tapping her iPhone for photos. “And I thought this would be a nice, quiet little trip—some consulting, audit security, but no, I get the one cop on the planet who makes Hoover look mildly sane,” she muttered in English.

Excuse me,” came a gentle voice from right next to her, also speaking in English.

She adjusted her line of sight to the priest, only a foot away from her, and tried not to jump. Do priests in Rome get ninja training?

The priest was … odd. He had a piercing set of violet eyes. And while his hair was solid silver, there were only a few lines on his face, so he couldn’t have been older than forty. If she were sending out an APB or a BOLO for him, she would have actually said he was only about 5’6” – maybe 5’8”, she was looking up at him, and his shoulders were slumped.

Goldberg bunched her lips, trying to figure out how to speak to a priest over a corpse. “Uh. Hello …Father … could you wait a moment while I take a few pictures of this poor schlub?”

He nodded. “Of course. Are you a friend of Gianni’s?”

She shrugged and turned to the corpse. Goldberg twisted her lip and stepped around the priest to get back into the car. She slid onto the seat and clicked at the corpse through the windshield, getting every possible angle with her phone.

Click. “I’m a consultant.”

From … New York, I presume by the accent.” Click. There was another flash from the phone flash. “I grew up there … briefly. It’s an odd story.”

Click. “I don’t doubt it.” You’ve decided to spend the rest of your life without sex, so you must be odd somehow.

So what kind of consultant work do you do?”

Click. She checked the quality of the photos, and then slid out of the car. “Security.”

I’d ask how you know Figlia, she thought. But he called you Father without using a name, so I’m guessing he only knows you because of the outfit, and you only know of him because he’s papal security.

*

Ah. Of course,” the priest answered.

Commander Figlia wouldn’t hire out some lone American gun-toting security hack, he thought. You’re Secret Service, aren’t you? Not very talkative, either.

They turned the body over once she had taken all of the photos she needed.

The priest knew exactly who this man was, and knew him well—his entire life story, in fact. He had been raised as a red-diaper baby in a family loyal to the brigate rosso, the Italian Red Army.

He performed the last rites over the body, blessing him as he went on into the next world. Rest in peace, you schmuck.

*

Giovanni Figlia walked into what was left of the hotel room, and he took it in with a sweep of his eyes. On the floor was another dead man, a hole clearly visible under his chin. This second corpse—Gerrity, according to the hotel people he passed on his way up here—was on its back, hands out like a crucified martyr. Furniture had been scattered across the room, thrown against the wall, much of it shattered.

Figlia rubbed the back of his neck. “Benone, a double cross.”

One of the hotel staff in the hall raised a brow. “Scusi, signore? Non capisco.”

Figlia waved at the room. “The spherical pattern of the bomb suggests a normal explosive, not plastique—plastique tends to be directional. Besides, you can smell the black powder, si? Maybe homemade.”

He looked into the ceiling, and saw silver forks embedded like shrapnel, surrounded by other pieces of metal. I wonder if it matches the tray lid that landed outside. Below the forks were wheels, separated by a flat metal sheet pressed into the carpet.

Serving cart,” Figlia muttered.

Che?” a bellboy asked. What?

He carefully stepped around the body and pointed at the sheet of metal. “The lower level of the serving tray, beneath the forks.” His eyes flickered across the room as though they were tracking a soccer ball. “Not to mention the silverware in the walls, the bed, the floor, as well as the plate fragments—either he had a grand celebration with an American fraternity, or they came from a full room-service cart that exploded.”

He pointed out the shattered window. “Our amico on the street wore a busboy’s white coat; assume the cart was his. The cart is in the center of the room; too far inside if he was lugging dirty place settings all over the hallway. He would have stayed outside in the hall and collected them. This person on the floor is dead from the nice neat bullet hole under his chin. Given the position of the cart, it had to have been pulled around this man’s body—the poor fool probably opened up for his killer.” He made brief eye contact with the men out in the hall. “That killer is, by the way, the one who ruined my car.” He waved at Gerrity’s corpse. “At least this man’s killer. Who killed the busboy is another quandary. He was killed with the explosion from his own cart, so it is either stupidity on the busboy’s part, or murder on someone else’s.”

Figlia walked over to the window, and shouted out, in English, “Signora Goldberg, look around for a pistol! I’ll check up here!”

He stepped back from the window, looking back as he did so. He opened up his cellular phone and hit autodial. “Veronica, bella, could you please bring the team down to the hotel?”

Veronica Fisher smiled; he could hear it in her voice. “Which hotel?”

Outside the colonnade,” Figlia told her. “Follow the smoke; we have a bomb, black powder composition.”

Some priest playing with leftover fireworks?”

A double homicide.”

Fisher paused a moment. “Gianni, isn’t the hotel outside our jurisdiction?”

The body isn’t. You’ll also have to process what’s left of our car.”

Fisher, who was Figlia’s forensics expert as well as his wife, paused a moment. “The bomb destroyed the Jetta?”

No, the corpse did it.” Figlia paused for a moment, wondering if that was a double entendre, as the corpse had done both the first murder and the destruction to the car. Perhaps in American English. “I’ll have the locals secure the crime scene.”

You sound like the FBI back home.”

Heaven forbid. A più tardi. I won’t be here when you arrive, I have a guest.”

You picked him up?” Fisher asked.

Figlia furrowed his brow. “Him?”

There was some light laughter. “You weren’t sent to pick up Hashim Abasi? Remember, the Egyptian coordinating with you about Josh’s visit … what am I, your secretary?”

Figlia felt like the dead man had it easy. “I’ll get him as soon as possible.”

*

The Secret Service agent, Goldberg, leaned against the door of the dead car, glancing at the priest. “When did he start thinking he was a homicide detective?”

The priest said, “You should ask him about it sometime.”

Commander Figlia dashed out of the hotel and waved at Goldberg to follow him. She offered the priest her hand. “It’s been nice talking with you, Father…?”

Francis Williams, of the Compania.”

Ah, a Jesuit.”

The priest smiled. “Just call me Frank.”

So, have enough fun yet? 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.

The Love at First Bite series. 

St. Lucian’s Star: A Catholic Science Fiction Short Is Published

Out today at Lyonesse, a short fiction subscription service, is my science fiction adventure tale, St. Lucian’s Star. It’s the story from the POV of Lillyanne Troppe, a young lady with a gift for locating lost objects. Set in 2087, she gets the chance of a lifetime to accompany the handsome Relic Hunter, Darrion Artenan, on the recovery mission. The exciting adventure turns into a nightmare as things go wrong.

St. Lucian’s Star
By Dawn Witzke

Earth, 2087

“I’m closed!” I didn’t look when the bell jingled on the front door. It was likely just Alma. Again. The 103-year-old woman could never keep track of her keys. Or her purse. Or her teeth. Locating another lost set of keys was not on my agenda for the evening, but saying no to Alma wasn’t an option. What she lacked in size and strength, she made up for in attitude. The majority of my referrals were from Alma. If I denied her once, most of my clients would go with her. Finding lost keys wasn’t very exciting, but it paid the bills. At least it would be quick and then I could go upstairs, get in my pj’s, eat cold pizza, curl up with Jake and read the latest Declan Finn novel.

I inherited the building that served as both my home and office a few years past when the gentlemen I was renting from died. He had left me everything, which wasn’t much beyond the building and a cabin at Spirit Lake. I sold the cabin and used the money to fix up the building and upgrade the outdated appliances. I didn’t have much, but I didn’t need much.

On the first floor, the front door opened into a hallway that led to two rooms. The larger of the two was my work room, where I entertained clients. The other was my closet sized office where I kept the records for my floundering locating service.

Troppe Recovery.
Nothing is too small to locate.

Read the rest of the story at Lyonesse, then stop back and let me know what you think.

If you like it, consider signing up for my mailing list on my website. I have a new Lillyanne & Jake story coming out, exclusively for my subscribers.

And don’t forget to sign up for the Superversive SF Newsletter. You don’t want to miss anything. Trust me on this.

 

Review: Specter

In Bleeder, by John Desjarlais, we were introduced to philosophy professor Reed Stubblefield, who thought in Aristotle quotes. During a bit of R and R in the countryside, in a quiet, sleepy little village right out of a Miss Marple novel, he meets a priest, the local stigmatic. When the priest is murdered, Reed becomes the primary suspect.

What follows is an intricate, brilliant work that Agatha Christie would have been happy with.  Desjarlais’ prose is tight, erudite and powerful. His vocabulary is well-used. He knows how to engage the reader, and is very good with turning a phrase.

I enjoyed this book, and I was surprised by the villain-reveal at the end. Five stars all the way.

In Viper, new names appear in the local church’s book of the dead.  Except, none of these people are dead yet. When the names on the list begin to correlate to the fresh homicides in the neighborhood, it’s clear that this is a hitlist.  At the bottom of that list is the former undercover DEA agent Selena De La Cruz. Selena’s passions are guns, shoes, fast cars, and kickboxing, so if someone wants to kill her, it’s going to be a fight they’re going to regret. It was more of a thriller than Bleeder, though it’s set in the same universe — Selena is even dating Reed. This was a fun, solid ride from start to finish.

My only problem with the book was the unrealistic character of a DEA agent who was not only racist, but whose solution to everything was a SWAT team breaking down the front door (Seriously, how did the guy not get fired? Did he have a relative in the hierarchy? Was he a nephew to the AG?).  Even that only knocks it down to a 4.5 star rating.

Finally, we come to Desjarlais’ third book, Specter. And no, not a crappy James Bond movie of a similar name.

In our opening prologue, a Cardinal is murdered in an orchestrated hit that looks like the end of a brilliantly executed caper movie … only with an assassination.  The incident is loosely based off of the death of Cardinal Ocampo in 1993, which was presumed to be the worst case of timing and luck on the planet Earth.

But what if it wasn’t?

16 years later, former undercover DEA agent Selena De La Cruz (of Viper) is about to get married to Reed Stubblefield (of Bleeder), and then the Vatican comes by and says “Hi, we think your family was in on the hit, and you were in town at the time.”

Desjarlais

And we’re off to the races.

A fun part of this is the dynamic between Reed and Selena.  Bleeder was very much Reed’s book, where Selena first appeared. Viper was all Selena, with a few cameos by Reed. Specter is their book. Even the alternating points of views (third person personal) are very distinct. Their chemistry is very much a part of the narrative as it is part of their relationship.  She’s very a very tough, outgoing modern woman who has little problem with a shootout, and he’s a quiet, bookish, old-fashioned gentleman who thinks in Aristotle quotes. And I really like these two together, even though we hadn’t seen much of their developing relationship.  Looking at the two of them deal with the trials of dealing with the wedding is more than enough evidence for why these two belong together.

There’s even one entire conversion that sums it up quite nicely.

Him “We’re incompatible. I’m North Side, you’re South Side. I’m Cubs, you’re white Sox …. I’m publicly-employed pro-union Democrat for gun control and you’re small-business owner-Republican with a gun….I drive a Volvo, you drive a Charger.”
Her: “My godmother is very traditional and is having a hard time thinking of me as Selena Perez de La Cruz Stubblefield.”
“You don’t have to adopt my last name…”

See what I mean? They work so well together, I’m surprised more of this wasn’t a romance novel.  I would have read it twice for banter like that.

Okay, the fact that John Desjarlais has a female badass teamed up with the nerd just like I did in The Pius Trilogy really doesn’t have anything to do with my enjoyment of the book. Honest. It just works really well.  It’s like Baldacci’s King and Maxwell series — they just have this great dynamic together. And if you don’t like Baldacci, don’t worry, that’s the only overlap I can think of.

As for the rest … if you’re thinking that this is going to be exactly like Bleeder or Viper, it is and it isn’t. The overall plot feels like an excuse to watch Reed and Selena on screen, which, frankly, I’m happy with. If you read Desjarlais’ books for the intricate puzzle solving (like Bleeder), you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re in this only for a knock-down shootout (like Viper), you’re going to enjoy the second half of the book a lot.

There is also the best look at supernatural phenomenon I’ve seen in years.  Even little conversations like “ever have a seance or use a ouja board? Those things attract all sorts of nasty things.”

Awesome.

However, if you want to read this book to follow Reed and Selena, dive right in.  As far as I’m concerned, these two are right up there with Nick and Nora Charles. And, from what I’ve heard, Chesterton Press wants more books in this universe from John Desjarlais, despite that it’s “just” a trilogy.

Frankly, I own all six Nick and Nora Charles movies, so I’m perfectly happy with the idea that we’ll see more of these two.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award Nominated Author for Honor At Stake, book 1 of his Love at First Bite Series.  Finn’s own work and collections of essays can be found at his personal web page.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners, a review

Image

John Ringo’s second book in the Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners, is both better and worse than Grunge.Our hero from the last book, Chad, is continuing his mission to be a Monster Hunting killing machine. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he has to leave Seattle, his home base in Grunge. After complaining — a lot — about never wanting to be in the heat ever again, MHI headquarters has the perfect gig for him: New Orleans. The Big Easy has got a lot of problems, and it needs all the help it can get.

Sinners does a great job of capturing the flavor of New Orleans, especially when you consider that standard policy can boil down to “Don’t scare the tourists.” Every local either believes in the dark arts, or practices the dark arts. Of course, we have at least one team member who really wants to turn every other beastie into jambalaya, shootouts in cities of the dead, and one massive shootout at marti gras.

Oh, yes, and for the record, Mr. Ringo, I saw what you did there with those chapter titles.

Another thing Ringo did better here than in Grungeis build an emotional connection to his teammates. At the end of Grunge, one of Chad’s teammates dies.  Listening to John Ringo at DragonCon, we were supposed to feel the emotional impact of the character death. I didn’t then. Here? Oh yes. Characters were much better established, and for the most part, when characters died, I felt it.

Chad also has had a interesting, as well as a deep and abiding faith. This comes very apparent at the end, with a conclusion that’s uplifting enough that it deserves the label of Superversive.

Critics of Grungewill be happy to know that Chad spends less time getting lucky and more time being pummeled. There is even less sex in this book than in Grunge, and seriously, people, he spent more time on politics than sex. And for some reason, people claimed he was a Mary Sue …. to which I will soon reply with a blog post explaining what a Mary Sue looks like, because obviously, people have little to no experience with the phenomenon. Yes, he’s a super genius who’s good at shooting people, but he’s also hospitalized every few chapters.

The only thing that’s really off-putting about this novel is the marked shift from “looking backwards.”  In Grunge, there is a lot of time spend on his family, and Ringo outright states that the larger evil behind everything Chad is fighting is Chad’s brother. This book? Nope. Barely a whisper of Chad’s family, and not a whisper about what’s the ultimate evil of the trilogy. I’m wondering how much of that is editorial, or how much was in the process of the novel. These books are thinner than Ringo’s usual fair, so if you told me he wrote them as one continuous novel, broken up into a trilogy, that would explain certain things.

Also, in Grunge, time was spent on the moral of the story: “Chad” wrote each chapter to illustrate a point. Here, there’s no such clear lesson plan; “Chad” does have “pro-tips” scattered throughout, but the concept seems strangely abandoned. Perhaps this is due to the chaotic nature of New Orleans, where every night is insane, and the full moon is like Arkham asylum let everyone out on a day pass, so Chad is merely fitting in tips where he can.

Heh, it’s a coin toss.

Final verdict is still the same: Sinnersis even better than Grunge

Anyway, if you like this review, you might want to consider one of the following books for your reading pleasure.

 

Superversive Blog: Guest Post — Where Religion and Fantasy Meet

This essay began as a post on John C. Wright’s blog. I mentioned that I’d love to post something on this subject for the Superversive Blog. And, here it is!

dore hell 5

Theologic License

by Matthew Schmidt.

An apologia before I begin. Being Christian, and more particularly Catholic, I am writing this from the perspective of a writer considering Catholic theology while writing. However, I believe the same issue will occur to anyone who is attempting to write but also is concerned about their theological accuracy, whatever their theology may be.

The problem of mixing speculative fiction with actual religion has existed since the first time Og told a ghost story around the cave’s fire, and, having returned to hunting the next day, wondered what ghosts meant for the Great Spirit. Whatever Og’s conclusion was has been lost to time, but we see it again more recently (relatively speaking) in The Divine Comedy. In the depths of Hell, Dante comes across Odysseus, who is eternally punished for attempting to reach Purgatory by the sole effort of humans. What exactly the presence of Odysseus implied for the panoply of feuding Greek divinities of the Iliad and the Odyssey, in the further reality of the True Divine, is not considered.

But while Og needed only entertain his tribesmen for a few minutes, and Dante used Odysseus as a symbol of the inadequacy of mortal powers, the modern speculative fiction author does not get off so easily.
The questions for the fantasy author have plagued the genre since Tolkien. They arrive like rubberneckers at the world’s construction site, incessantly pestering the author. If there is a fictional pantheon, are those gods “real?” Are they angelic like the Valar of Valinor, or noble beings like the Overcyns of Skai? Or are they mere frauds as Tash—a safe choice, but then Tash actually appears at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia and the issues are immediately raised. Add magic and ethical issues enter immediately, and whole essays have been written on the topic (see the excellent one by Tom Simon.)

The science fiction author can only avoid the same questions with sufficiently hard science and sufficient planning ahead. (Be sure to put three or so bishops on your generation ship to avoid issues of apostolic succession.) Reach for any other ingredient—time travel, artificial intelligence, or worse yet, extraterrestrial life—and now you have some irritating theological question, one that will devour your creative energies like a black hole.

And avoiding that singularity is the key. In my experience as a writer, attempting to write any kind of speculative fiction while staying behind every jot and tittle of established theology is futile. Fear of writing heretical ideas will do more damage to your writing than actually writing something theologically inaccurate.

After all, by the very definition of fiction, we write of things which God did not do. For Divine Wisdom did not see fit to make Mars habitable to life, allow steam to be able to power giant battle mechs, give information the ability to travel faster than light, or open doors to adjacent dimensions on a convenient schedule. Even “literary” fiction cannot escape this, as whenever it invents an character or happening that does not exist, it tells of an option that the Creator did not take. This leaves only fiction which describes events exactly as they happened, i.e. nonfiction.

But suppose you are willing to stretch the bounds of theology. Should you create a new theology to encompass your alterations? It depends. I’ve found that attempting to construct a sound theology for an idea before using it, unless this is actually relevant to the story, is also pointless, and also hamstringing. There was no point in Lewis breaking off onto a discourse on what Tash actually was in the middle of The Last Battle. At the same time, had he never considered what Jesus would be like in a world like Narnia, we would never have Aslan.

But let us return to Dante for a moment. The Divine Comedy is inaccurate in multiple ways, even setting aside the unexplained existence of various figures of Greek myth. The Catholic Church does not teach anyone specific is in Hell, let alone their location and specific punishment, and Dante must have been well aware of this. But the point of the Inferno is not to map judgments to sinners, or a soapbox for Dante to place his adversaries in eternal damnation. The Inferno depicts the soul of the unjust, and whatever liberties it takes to do this are to show poetic truths, not theological ones. Odyesseus is placed where he is to show the inadequacy of natural powers to reach the supernatural.

But could Dante had succeeded if he had stayed within the boundaries of theology? No. There was no one more suited to attempt Purgatory than Odysseus, and fail. Had Dante even invented another figure, that figure would require his own odyssey, which, to have the same power, would require yet more theological inaccuracies to create dangers against which mortal strength could prevail. Only then could this new Odysseus fail against the supernatural.

In that sense, even the Odyssey must contain poetic truths, no matter its pantheon. So, too, can we bring a great many works into the realm of the holy things.

But how far can we stretch this?

I will now take an example from the world of videogames. Of all the games I have ever played, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor: Overclocked is by far the most blasphemous. Aside from the game-enforced necessity of summoning demons (in the post-apocalyptic Tokyo of the game’s dark plot), and the consequentialism which drenches every “choice”, its greatest offense against sound theology is its “God.” The theology of “God” (as identified by the direct use of the Divine Name) is bizarre and contradictory, both shown as an omnipotent Judeo-Christian Deity and also only a most powerful being that overpowered the previous most powerful being. Said “God” is as if from the Old Testament filtered through a pagan lens: no mercy for sins, no remorse over doing evil to do good, and no ability to raise the dead. (Not even the Messiah can raise the dead, one character says to another in one scene.)

But even despite that theology, and the extreme liberties which the game takes with biblical stories, even then there is a kind of poetic truth that would have been lost with a more accurate theology. Only if resorting to the use of demons, and only if demons are powerful, can it speak of the desire of power and its abuse. Only with the pagan need to justify blood with blood can it offer the choices it does, which sacrifice a few for the many. And only if God would create a paradise on Earth through violence would there be any reason against joining Him, and only if God could possibly be defeated would there by any reason for attempting to oppose Him. By a bad theology, it makes that final real choice: paradise of ruthless order, or hellscape of freedom. And even with all its darkness, at the very end of one of the last battles comes one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen in a game, a true eucatastrophy.

Do I recommend anyone go as far as DSO? No. I think there are ways to tell a similar story with much less darkness, and far less blasphemy. But such a different story would only be able to tell different truths. Yet, while different, possibly better.

And that is my final advice. What matters not is if a work fiction bends the truth. What matters is the truth it tells. A story can be utterly, and knowingly, inaccurate, yet still show a beauty it could not otherwise. Or, I believe, a story can stay within the boundaries of theology, and show nothing but evil. (For even demons believe there is a God.) And that is determined not by studying theology, or ignoring it, but hearing the call of Beauty in the wild.

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Why Spock mattered

The National Catholic Register has an article up called Why ‘Star Trek’ — and Mr. Spock — Matters and it is an interesting read.

I think my earliest memory of Star Trek is of an episode I watched at my grandparents’ house, a rerun of “Arena” — the original series episode pitting William Shatner’s Capt. James T. Kirk against a hissing, reptilian alien captain of a race called the Gorn.
To a young kid in the 1970s, the Gorn was terrifying in the way that the Sleestak on Land of the Lost were terrifying, slow and inhuman and incalculable behind a rigid, inexpressive mask. (A few years ago, I showed “Arena” to my kids, and there was much hooting and merriment at the first appearance of the Gorn, who looks much cheesier on our widescreen TV than I remember him on my grandparents’ console television. “Taste my foam rubber fist!” my oldest son chortled. Kids these days.)
But “Arena” was about more than going toe-to-toe with a menacing adversary in a dragon mask. It was ultimately about the power of technology — not just the shiny, now-quaintly futuristic technology of creator Gene Roddenberry’s 1960s vision of the 23rd century, but about the technological leaps that got us there. Specifically, it was about the importance of the discovery of gunpowder.
“Arena” was also about a moral leap — the leap from self-interest and concern for one’s kin and clan to universal empathy and compassion. “By sparing your helpless enemy, who surely would have destroyed you,” Kirk is told in the end by a super-powerful alien sitting in judgment, “you demonstrated the advanced trait of mercy — something we hardly expected. We feel there may be hope for your kind.”

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/why-star-trek-and-mr-spock-matters?utm_content=buffercebc7&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer#.VPbXAfmUcyN#ixzz3TPg6UXxp