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.

17 Again Pt 3: The Meeting of Two Minds

Everything is going well, but it’s not long before a Liang hits a bump. Old Liang overhears Mao saying that he will probably never get back together with her. Deeply hurt, Liang turns to crying and eating junk food. All the while, she is watching the video of herself and Mao on that fateful day when he asked her to be his girlfriend. In her sad frenzy, she accidentally eats one of the chocolates.

Little Liang wakes up, very confused, in a pile of junk food. But then she sees the video that is playing, and she finds out about the younger Mao. She learns about how he said he loved her and that he gave his word that if he ever broke his promise of loving her, he’d run through the streets naked. Little Liang also realizes the inner turmoil her older self has been suffering because of him. For the first time, Little Liang is sober and serious. She realizes that even though she’s seen Mao as a jerk and boring, her older self still deeply misses him and loves him.

Little Liang does something to stand up for her older self, by leaving Mao the CD of that video and a note scolding him about the promise he broke. This makes Mao begin to question, and to remember why he and Liang got together in the first place. He is also reminded of his younger self. Because before this point, Mao has only been interested in business deals. He had little faith in Liang and stayed very skeptical of her abilities. He had only been going along with everything because that’s how Mr. Geo wanted it. But now… What should he think now? My guess about Mao is that it has been far too long since he’s seen Liang as anything more than a docile, house not-wife. He doesn’t even bother remembering what she used to be like. But now that’s starting to change, and so is he.

Liang has been struggling with Mao’s lack of faith in her, but that’s not her only trouble. Over the news, they find out the factory that makes the magic chocolate was hit by a meteor and destroyed. Now, I will admit that it is a bit odd, and a bit overly dramatic, with the whole explosion-by-space-rock. I’ve heard people ask, “Why the heck is that there?” For me, I thought it was hilarious. And the purpose is to give a limited time that Little Liang can be around. That adds just a little bit more conflict, and it pushes Older Liang to take action and get Little Liang to teach her how to paint again. But aside from that, things are going great. Her art has taken off, and she is enjoying herself. Life is going well.

And then she lives the dream of attending the opening of her new art gallery.

In the car with Ning on the way to the event, she decides to eat a chocolate and let Little Liang enjoy this moment. Because, as Old Liang tells her best friend, “She made me who I am.”

Little Liang is perfect for the clapping crowds and photographers. She bounces and glides and waves to everyone. Filled with life, youth, and energy, she gives a charming little speech. However, while on stage, she turns back into her 28 year old self and can do nothing but give the audience a blank stare. Ning saves her by clapping like that was the end of the speech, and everyone joins in.

At that moment, Mr. Geo announces he has a surprise. Liang will do a live painting for them! Everyone cheers as a blank canvas is brought out for her, but you can see Old Liang is seriously nervous. Apparently, no one told her about this. Liang excuses herself for a moment and runs off the stage.

In the bathroom, she is holding up the piece of chocolate. It would be the easiest thing to do, simply hide behind Little Liang’s skill and confidence. However, she hesitates, then slowly sets down the chocolate, deciding she will do this one on her own. Old Liang returns with her head held high. She pauses to hand the chocolate back to her friend, who watches in shock as she goes up to paint as her older self.

This is a very important moment. Up until now, Old Liang has been relying on Little Liang to paint for people, but now she is taking it into her own hands. When Little Liang stands up to Mao it is like she is becoming a little more like her older self: for she is thinking of others and trying to look out for them. Painting in front of everyone is Old Liang’s way of becoming a little more like her younger self: finding her passion and confidence once again.

With only ten chocolates left, but her art doing well and some of her confidence restored, Older Liang gives little Liang the rest of her time to do whatever she likes. At last! Little Liang can go see Yan! She’s been so caught up working, that she’s barely been able to see him, and now she’s no doubt envisioning a great reunion between them! But if only she had the vision to see that Yan had grown weary of waiting for her and moved on. She would have saved herself the heartbreak of see her beloved Yan with some other girl – cozying up with him on his motorcycle.

This time, it’s Older Liang who wakes up to find herself surrounded by junk food. Getting up, she discovers a painting Little Liang had done in her misery. The girl in the painting is crying and gray. Perhaps she even looks a lot like the Liang from the beginning of the moving, which would be an interesting parallel. Now it’s time for Older Liang to stand up for her younger self.

She goes and disrupts the biker’s party to talk to Yan. She asks him why, after she spent all her time drawing for others just so that she could see him, why he would go find someone else? He replied, “If you can’t give me what I want, why can’t I find someone else?” Liang splashes his drink in his face and storms off.

Finding her best friend, Older Liang gives Ning her phone, and tells her to show Little Liang the video of Yan rejecting her. “Tell her not to waste any more time on him,” Older Liang says, then she eats a chocolate.

Little Liang doesn’t listen (big surprise there) and runs after Yan. Banging on his door, she storms into his place. She says that he’s wrong, she can give him what he wants, and begins to try to kiss him and take her clothes off. She assumes when he said, “You can’t give me what I want” he meant physically. But we find out he meant that in a totally different sense. He pushes her away, and his new girlfriend comes up and slaps Liang, saying, “I can follow him wherever he goes, can you?” But the thing is, if Liang was to say yes, she’d be making the same mistake she made with Mao; giving up all her plans and dreams to follow his. So in the end, it’s good she doesn’t end up with Yan.

But Little Liang does not see it this way. She goes crazy, lashing out in an immature way by fighting with Ning to find the rest of the chocolates. Then when she does, she eats them all at once and chases after Yan. She is in love, heart broken, young, and crazy. As you might guess, this doesn’t end well. In other words, she passes out in the train station and falls into shock.

Then comes a dream sequence in which the two Liangs confront each other. Older Liang is trying to call Little Liang; trying to get her to come back. But just as Little Liang is starting to calm down and come, they encounter a wall, and Little Liang starts slipping away again. Out of desperation Older Liang breaks the wall and catches Little Liang. They share a moment together in this dream world, while out in the real world (on a hospital bed)her heart has flat lined.

This is the moment where the two Liangs finally come together. All throughout the movie, it’s been the story of the younger and older Liang finding each other and working together. At the beginning, they are so far apart they aren’t even aware of each other. Then they tolerate each other. Then they help each other. And now, at least, they make peace with each other. As Little Liang slips away for the last time, Big Liang promises to never forget her and to always hold her near.

In a hospital bed, Liang wakes up. No longer Little Liang or Big Liang, but just simply, Liang.

At first I thought this was the end of the movie. I was a little disappointed and almost clicked away…. but I’m so glad I didn’t! I would have missed something very important! What I had mistaken as the credits rolling in, was actually a montage of all of Liang’s art and accomplishments over the next few years. And then the loose ends are tied up, and we see what became of the two men in the story.

17 Again Pt 2: When a Boulder Meets a Lake

 It takes some time for the Little Liang and Old Liang to become aware of each other. In the meantime, every time Little Liang is let loose, she wreaks havoc and chaos wherever she goes. And on top of that, she meets a guy, and starts falling for him.

This happens when Little Liang is taking the train somewhere. A cute guy catches her eye, so she takes out her sketchbook and starts drawing. Just as she finishes the picture, the train stops… and the spell cast by the chocolate ends as well. Old Liang drops the notebook and walks out, totally unaware of what she has just done or of the boy who’d seen her doing it.

Later, we see Mao is talking to the all-important Mr. Geo. The businessman is not impressed with the designs for his new perfumes that Mao’s company is providing. He explains they need something fresh! And exciting! Like….. He pulls up a photo that has been going viral online. It’s a photo of the picture Liang drew and left on the train, along with a picture of Liang herself. Yan, the guy from the train, is apparently trying to find the girl who drew the picture. Mao is dumbfounded as he immediately recognizes Liang. When Mr. Geo finds out Mao knows the girl, he says he’ll invest in Mao’s company….. IF Mao will have Liang do the designs. Mao tires to argue that Liang is not right for this. But Mr. Geo just waves him off, and leaves Mao with no other choice.

And thus we enter the real meat of the story: Old Liang must convince Little Liang to draw the pictures. Old Liang has lost all her skill and passion, but she wants to win Mao back, (because when Little Liang was around, she kicked him out of the house and told him to push off). But Little Liang is not at all interested in painting for her older self. All she wants to do is go hangout with Yan and have fun.

It is very interesting, and amusing, watching the two Liangs learn how to communicate with each other and make deals. Slowly, the young and the old Liang become closer, working better together, and getting along. Many things happen. Little Liang discovers that not everything is fun and games, and that life and relationships can be hard and confusing. Meanwhile the Old Liang, while she still has many bumps and trials, is remembering there is still color and wonder in the world

It’s an interesting dilemma set up here. At this point I was totally committed. The two Liangs couldn’t be more different; it was like watching a boulder crashing into a lake and making waves without end. So how are they going to resolve this? I just had to keep watching to see.

17 Again Pt 1: Looking For Love, Finding Chocolate

 I have fallen in love with this story. I want to tell you all about it, so prepare yourselves.

It all started one night on YouTube. I’m not sure why, but in the suggestions next to the video I was watching, was a movie called 17 again. I’ve seen a movie by this title starring Zac Efron, but the thumbnail of this video was of a Chinese woman….. Definitely not the same movie.

So, it was already close to midnight and the question is: do I click on it and risk some loss of sleep?

The answer: Yes! (Curiosity is a cruel master.)

I’m not sure if I was expecting to watch the entire hour-and-a-half movie, but I soon found I had no choice. And boy, was I glad I did! Here are just a few reasons why:

It was funny.

It was entertaining.

You never knew what would happen next.

There was chocolate!!

It was strong girl story, without discounting the men.

It left me inspired.

It was superverise.

It fascinates me, and so I simply must talk about it! But I like to talk a lot, and there’s a lot I have to say. So my review/analysis of this story will be broken up into parts. But I suggest you watch the movie first if you can. There will be many spoilers ahead.

It starts off following the morning of this prim and proper house not-wife, Liang. Because even though she has been with her guy for 10 years and seems to act just like a housewife, they are not married. We find out today is the day she expects her boyfriend to finally propose to her. However, to the boyfriend Mao, today is just another day. He has work to get to, things on his mind, and he doesn’t pick up on the dreamy gaze of his girlfriend.

The breaking point comes when Liang plucks something out from his suit pocket, a case with a diamond in it, and holds it up in triumph – much to Mao’s confusion and annoyance. With a sigh, and a bit of hesitation, Mao explains, “Mr. Geo’s wife likes diamonds. So, when I was in Dubai last week, I brought one back for her.  As you know, it’s a critical stage for my company. Mr Geo is important.”

In that moment, we see Liang flash back to the moment when Mao asked her to be his girlfriend. He is bright and energetic, promising that he loved her, and in 10 years they’d be married and have lots of kids. Back in the present, Liang’s face turns from bright and flirtatious, to lost, to completely crushed; until she is reduced to nibbling on a piece of bread and staring at the table, as her not-husband leaves for work.

From there, I had to keep watching. What would become of Liang? Would she get her guy to propose? Or would she leave him? Would it all be for naught, and 10 years would have been lost on being the perfect woman and trying to get this guy to commit to her?

She does what any heartbroken girl would do in this situation. She sits on the couch eating junk food, watching TV, and crying. And in this dark and lonely place, a TV infomercial comes on, advertising this amazing chocolate that makes you feel young and revived again. Being the heartbroken, crying girl that she is, Liang orders the chocolate. Then promptly forgets about it.

Meanwhile, the plot moves on as Liang and her best friend, Ning, make a plan to get Mao to propose at Ning’s wedding reception. This gives Liang some hope, and she agrees to it. Unfortunately, the plan ends in embarrassment instead of a ring. Mao is hesitant when pulled up on stage. Liang tells Mao he is her one and only prince, but Mao is freaked out in front of the crowd of people chanting “Propose! Propose! Propose!” He says instead, “This is Ning and her husband’s special day, we should not intrude.” Again, we see Liang’s face crumpled by rejection. Mao then receives a business call and takes that as his cue to run away.

Liang can’t believe what is happening and chases after Mao. During the intense little car chase that follows, Liang finally gets Mao to pick up his phone. She tries to apologize, but she is cut off by Mao informing her that he thinks they should break up. Right at that moment, Liang is stopped by a traffic light, and when her cars slams to a stop, so does her whole world. Liang stares in shock as she watches Mao’s car drive away. And, at last, she completely breaks.

It starts raining, of course, as Liang sobs uncontrollably. And after noticing the chocolate on the seat next to her, she picks one up and eats it. That’s when things start going crazy.

Now, I forgot the mention one small, but very important detail. Where did the chocolate come from? Well, if you rewind just a little bit, to right as Liang arrives at the wedding, there is a very short scene in which a man steps in front of her car. He then delivers the box of chocolates she ordered from the commercial. Liang sets them on the seat next to her, and promptly forgets about them.

But in that moment in the car, because of those chocolates, something surreal happens. Liang is no longer the heartbroken, stale, and lost 28 year old. She is suddenly the wild, mischievous, and passionate 17 year old Liang.

And thus adventures and chaos ensues!

This opening is pretty well done. It sets up a character, makes you like her, then crushes all her dreams and throws her into an adventure. It starts out good, and only gets better. I can’t wait to tell you more about it!

Review: The Big Sheep

Rob Kroese’s The Big Sheep makes me want to go out and buy everything else the author has written. Dang it, have you even seen how many novels this guy has out? They’d have my book collection bury me alive if they were collected in physical format.This book was quite a shock. I was expecting something over the top and insane. This was more like if Jasper Fforde, Tom Holt, or Terry Pratchett went out and wrote a Raymond Chandler novel.

As the back of the cover says,

Los Angeles of 2039 is a baffling and bifurcated place. After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city. Navigating the boundaries between DZ and LA proper is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. When a valuable genetically altered sheep mysteriously goes missing from Esper Corporation’s labs, Keane is the one they call.

 

But while the erratic Keane and his more grounded partner, Blake Fowler, are on the trail of the lost sheep, they land an even bigger case. Beautiful television star Priya Mistry suspects that someone is trying to kill her – and she wants Keane to find out who. When Priya vanishes and then reappears with no memory of having hired them, Keane and Fowler realize something very strange is going on. As they unravel the threads of the mystery, it soon becomes clear that the two cases are connected – and both point to a sinister conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the city. Saving Priya and the sheep will take all of Keane’s wits and Fowler’s skills, but in the end, they may discover that some secrets are better left hidden.

Despite the opening paragraph, I would not even consider slandering this book with the label of dystopia. In this future, there was a problem, everything fell apart for a while, it was never entirely fixed, and government, being government, just walled off the problem area and declared it fixed. There’s a reason it’s called the DZ.

But, in short, the bad parts of LA still suck. No one is surprised.

This was incredibly well put together. The city itself was even a character. Hell, the DZ is a character before you even get to the wretched place.

The jokes are sly without being overly cute. The sheep they’re trying to find is called “Mary.” So of course, they suspect that there’s …. wait for it … something about Mary, and part of the problem is that she doesn’t have a little lamb.

We won’t even get into the titanium shoulder and the crematorium. You have to experience that one for yourself.

Part of the nice thing about this story is that Kroese knows what the reader will conclude as they work through the mystery. And of course, like any good mystery writer, he cuts ahead of them, and pushes the reader down a flight of stairs. Not only does he offer what the reader is thinking as the solution, he also debunks it within five pages after that.

So this was fun. And how can you not enjoy someone named Erasmus Keane?

Keane and Fowler follow the Holmes and Watson school of detective work. Or perhaps Doctor Who. Every great detective in literature seems to need a handler, and Keane is no exception. Unlike needing Archie Goodwin to make Nero Wolfe work, or Watson to tell the stories that Holmes couldn’t narrate to save his life, Keane almost needs Fowler to keep him tethered to the planet. They make for an interesting team. Though unlike Arthur Conan Doyle, Kroese doesn’t cheat. Fowler sees everything Keane sees, just doesn’t see the big picture, which Kroese puts together quite well.

Just do yourself a favor and buy a copy of The Big Sheep

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award and Planetary 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: Murder in the Vatican, the Church Mysteries of Sherlock Homes

Reviewing Murder in the Vatican requires a bit of backstory. When I was 13, I started reading through the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes. I made it about halfway through. stopped dead by “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott”—the first time Holmes was the narrator.  Even G.K. Chesterton noted that it showed why Watson was relevant: because Holmes was a terrible storyteller.

Since then, I have been critical of anything about Sherlock Holmes written after the death of Arthur Conan Doyle.
When Robert Downey Jr. starred in Sherlock Holmes, I crossed my fingers and hoped it didn’t suck … instead, I got a checklist of what they did right.

When they created Sherlock, I also crossed my fingers. It was surprisingly awesome.

Then I heard about Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. It had an interesting premise: author Ann Margaret Lewis takes Watson’s offhand references of Holmes working on cases for the Pope, or involving religious figures, and turns them into entire stories.

I experienced the same feeling of dread. How off would the narration be? Would someone try converting Holmes? How lost would a detective from Victorian, Anglican England be in Catholic Rome? How many different ways were there to screw this up?

I stopped worrying when I read the first sentence. And, oh my God, this book is awesome! I loved this book…

Lewis caught the voice of Dr. John Watson as though she had taken it, trapped in a bottle, and used it to refill her pen into as she wrote. I liked the voice. I liked Watson, the doctor, trying to diagnose an ailing Leo XIII (85 at the time of the events of the first story). I like the brief sketch of the political situation between the Vatican and Italy. I even enjoy Watson’s discomfort at the Pope slipping into “The Royal We” when he speaks of himself as the Pope.

Even the artwork was as though it had been lifted from issues of The Strand magazine. Someone had fun here.

Thankfully, there is no overt attempt to convert Holmes, evangelize or proselytize him. There is only enough theology in the entire novel that explains to the casual reader exactly what the heck the Pope is doing. The closest the book comes to exposing Holmes to theology is a page-long sequence that ends with Leo saying, “Perhaps you should spend some of your inactive time pondering that conundrum [of Jesus] instead of indulging in whatever narcotic it is with which you choose to entertain yourself.”

That is the best zinger I’ve ever seen a character use on Holmes regarding his drug use. Even the most secular person I know can appreciate a page of theology for one of the better one-liners I’ve ever seen.

Also, the little things were entertaining for a nerd like me. For example, the casual mention of John Cardinal Newman, referred to as “a recent convert.” The political situation at the time is given just enough of a sketch to explain what’s going on, but nothing obtrusive; history nerds like me can be satisfied, but you don’t have to have a degree in it to comprehend what’s going on.

There are truly parts where the novel seems to merge all the best qualities of Sherlock Holmes with those of G.K. Chesterton’s Fr. Brown short stories …

At this point, I must make a small confession. I write reviews as I read the book. There is plenty of backtracking, filling the blanks, and rewrite the review as the book goes. I wrote the Father Brown line when I finished the first tale. In fact, the interview questions I sent to Ann Margaret Lewis were written before I even received a review copy of the book.

I then read “The Vatican Cameos,” and discover a Deacon, named Brown …

I swear I didn’t see that coming.


The first story in this collection is “The Death of Cardinal Tosca.”

In this memorable year ’95 a curious and incongruous succession of cases had engaged his attention, ranging from his famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca — an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope . . . .

—Dr. John H. Watson, “The Adventure of Black Peter”

Imagine Sherlock Holmes on vacation … if you see that vacation turning out like an episode of Murder, She Wrote, with a body hitting the floor at some point, you pretty much have the setup. It has a poison pen letter, with real poison, some Masons, references to two different cases in the space of two paragraphs, and a Papal commando raid with a real pontiff. This story is so delightfully odd and over-the-top, but still preserves as much reality as any other Holmes tale. I enjoyed every moment of it. And I can’t argue with any story where the pope gets most of the amusing one-liners.

Heck, even the murderer gets in a good line. When confronted, our first killer sneers. “Let me guess. You’re going to explain, to the amazement of your friends, how I did the deed?” Holmes replies, “I’ve already told them that. It would be old news. They already know you blundered badly.”

I think the story concludes on a nice, solid note. As Holmes tells Watson, “[Leo XIII] is genuinely pious. He is also imperious, but in a most endearing way.”

Watson merely replies, “Yes, well. I’m used to that.”

Let’s see Martin Freeman deliver that line.


“I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases.”

—Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles

The second tale, “The Vatican Cameos,” is a bit of a flashback episode to when Holmes first met Pope Leo XIII. A collection of cameos is sent to Queen Victoria, secured tightly in the box, but upon their arrival in London, the box is empty. The Queen simply sends Sherlock Holmes. Watson is busy with a medical emergency, so he wasn’t around.

When Watson asks Sherlock about the incident, Holmes says, quite clearly “Watson, I am incapable of spinning a tale in the way you do. The narrative would read like a scientific treatise.” Thus, there is only one person left who to narrate this tale … Leo XIII. This was the story that truly showed that the author did her research, assembling little details of Leo XIII’s interests and hobbies and putting them together into a rich, vibrant character. He is shown here as witty, humorous, and bright.

The byplay between Leo XIII and Holmes in this story was marvelously entertaining. The Pope is shown to be about as smart as Watson … maybe a little smarter. When Holmes first meets the Pontiff, and rattles off conclusions in his usual rapid-fire manner, the Pope takes a minute, and deduces how Holmes came to most of them. Not all, but most. Making Leo this smart only serves to make Holmes as impressive as he should be—yes, everyone else may be smart, but Holmes is smarter.

Also, having Leo XIII using Thomas Aquinas to talk with Holmes of reason and science … it works for me.

And the scene with Holmes, the Pope, and the gunman was fun, too.


“You know that I am preoccupied with this case of the two Coptic Patriarchs, which should come to a head to-day.”

Sherlock Holmes, “The Retired Colourman”

“The Second Coptic Patriarch”: The third and final tale is from yet another throwaway line of Arthur Conan Doyle’s.

In this case, a former criminal comes to Holmes to solicit his services; the priest who converted him away from his life of crime is in jail for murder. A bookstore owner has been murdered with a book (“The Rule of Oliver Cromwell–weighty subject, no doubt,” Holmes quips), and the priest will only say that the victim was dead when he arrived.

It’s almost Sherlock Holmes meets Alfred Hitchcock … I didn’t know someone could do I Confess like this. It’s a fun little read, and possibly the most traditional of the Holmes stories — it’s a good tale. From the perspective of the overall book, it’s a perfect cap to the character arc.

Now, after reading Murder in the Vatican, I think I’m going to go back and finish the Sherlock Holmes series — and keep Murder in the Vatican handy, so I can read them all in chronological order.

Ann Lewis said that the book was “meant to be fun and lift your heart for a short time. I had a blast writing it, and I hope you have a blast reading it.”

Mission accomplished.

Frankly, between Cumberbatch, RDJ, or Elementary, if you had to live with only one expansion of Holmes works, you buy Ann Lewis. Period.

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.

Eta Cancri review

Please welcome Xewleer to Superversive SF, he is a new reviewer and you can expect a lot more from him. His review is cross posted from his blog millennialking.wordpress.com

Spoilers! It’s a great book, and worth reading.


I just finished Eta Cancri by Russell May. It was, surprisingly for an author who was not on my radar before, an excellent read chock full of delicious theology. It was a treat, to be sure. The characters are living and breathing with distinct personalities. The descriptions are on point. The science is a good medium-hard, with just the right amount of give for philosophical and theological conversations the teeth they need to grow. Ah… that more stories which pride themselves on science and philosophy would take this route!

The book switches through various characters’ POV. My personal favorites were Ed and June, along with the AI Archie. Each one has a solid voice and drive that breathes life into this book more than could be expected. Indeed, books that switch perspective live and die on this sword. I could tell that the POV shifted through the author’s choices in word play, character focus and other hints almost instantly.

The conceit of the story, which involves demonic possession, bacteria and genetic modification, was well done and quite unique to this author from my experiences. Though I have experimented and read up on demonic possession and stories about it, this is the first time I’ve seen it used in such a broad and interesting way. Nothing triggered any sort of violation of the suspension of disbelief. It holds up the story incredibly well. This is dreadfully important in this genre as Russell did it. If the suspension of Disbelief is violated, then the entire book will fall over itself and the threads that he depends on to carry the story forward logically will be lost, unable to be gained back.

Though there is no part of the story I groaned at the reading of, I did feel fatigue about halfway through on chapter 3 or 4 (?). The story before and after focuses on multiple characters, the evil of the Demon Legion, the science, philosophy and theology mix and POV shifts. This middle bit has nothing that really sticks out too hard. The story sticks to Pierce the techno-everyman and doesn’t shift too much. There’s just too much dialogue and not enough cool stuff to give us a rest between theological questions. Not that I was exhausted by the questions, I just wish the heady brew was cut a little with soda. Even a bit where Ed deals with his crazy and preps for the ship coming in, or June sees something which heightens our horror at the actions of Legion would do much for the pacing and general interest. I’ll point out that Ed has no reason to not succumb or struggle with Legion’s influence and a decent POV could have been written comparing and contrasting his belief in Dame Fortune and the belief in God, which is touched upon later but not to my satisfaction.

I’ll point out that, theologically, what we call Dame Fortune is the Will of God. That the saved man has free will is not something I debate or question. I question how much Dame Fortune impugns it. (I use Dame Fortune as a conceit from the story. Mentally, I use the term ‘Fate’) Does a belief in Fortune change how free will operates as we continue in Christian Free Will or Willfulness Against God? I think that there might have been an excellent few points to be made there between Ed and Father Justinian, more than was done in story. Though, there is a sequel in the cliff hanger, and I will be purchasing it as soon as it comes out.

I also wanted a little more debate on the nature on Transhumanism. I am not fond of it, as I believe that the body has the critical mass to keep the soul ‘Human’ and that, at a certain point, the ‘I as I’ that is ‘You as you are’ becomes warped into something that could be described as ‘ME’ 2.0. Also, what is morality to someone who is neither permanent or baseline human? (Though those points are touched on) June seemingly has no contrast in character, but rather is June personality as June soul is June without much debate despite much lycanthropy. Various ideas are presented with authority, but I don’t feel it is earned. The matrons producing ubermenschen in the asteroid belts are not properly repudiated in a manner that I call an argument. Rather, it is just presented as wrong. I dig, but I’m really hoping for a similar thing to Ed in the sequel.

I’ve not gone into the plot because it’s quite simple. A colony goes dark and a ragtag group of cyborgs, everymen and mercenaries go to figure it out and cleanse with fire whatever’s in there. Just about right, really. You don’t need fancy pants intrigue for stuff like this. Most of the characters are moral, upright and probably one of the best portrayals of Christians I’ve seen in Science Fiction. I’m sorry John C. Wright, but sort of randomly turning Mickey the Witch into the Space Pope of the Seventh Humans because of his wife without a redemption scene just doesn’t compare to baptism after flamebroiling demonic abominations with improvised explosives created by a literal Biblical evil. But it’s different scopes. That scene doesn’t compare to the Cathedral of Luna in the 4th book of Count to Eschaton. Ahhhh it’s perhaps differences in scale. But I’d be very interested in talking with Russel May some time to break down what he believes and what his reasoning is.

I wanted MORE, if you could believe it. I find that I have a hard time reading philosophy directly, so I have a better time consuming it if its regurgitated through literature, especially when the author provides examples within the story to provide a more definite framework for the reader to investigate. It really does wonders for the most artistically inclined philosophers, who may not be able to as readily read the great works directly. Of course, this assumes the reader is able to properly manage things that are presented vs. their origin points. Counter and counter-counter is appreciated through the characters of Archie, Father Justinian and even Legion. Legion’s absolute Nihilism is well presented without the usual tropes in plain evidence. There’s always a fresh horror from him. His unfetteredness and nihilism make an excellent baseline for the ‘evil’ of the universe. Nihilism is a hell of a drug, kids, and leads to madness.

I also think the book is missing a carnival scene. But then again, I’m a sucker for them. I also wanted more crazy bomb stuff fight scene flip outs from Michaud and Lars, but ah.

The combat scenes are fresh, well done. The weapons properly treated with excellent extensions of characterization through them. The creativity that Russell displays drives the story forward with brazen steps. Lar’s and the rest of the characters’ spirituality treated so delicately as to be art. Ah! There are few flaws and many boons to reading this book!

Overall this book is mos defs a purchase soft-cover, maybe hard-cover kinda book. Sadly, there are only kindle copies available at this time. It is worth a read! It is SUPERVERSIVE. I hope with fervent prayer that we are coming to an era where the dominant voice in Sci-Fi is Christianity! If Russell May joins the luminaries of the Superversives, Castalia House and others, shall not the glory of God be expanded in this genre of atheists, science worshippers and deviants?  DEUS VULT!

Xewleer

I, even I, drink ink like wine.