Cirsova – The Idol In The Sewers

A thief, strong-armed into stealing an idol from a subterranean inhuman stronghold, is the story of story cliché that has been done to death.  Kenneth Gower breathes new life into this staple of sword and sorcery by not only moving the action underground but by putting the protagonist in the center of a long-running clash between the sewer dwelling ratmen and the deep cave frogmen.

Several things elevate this piece above the routine MacGuffin heist.  Most notably, the non-routine MacGuffin, whose magical properties reach out from the page to manipulate the reader himself.  At one point, the nature of the thing pulled me from the story to question if I had read things correctly.  Reading on, the explanation for the idol’s became clear in the next passage.  The breaking of the fourth wall in this manner normally ruins the flow of a story, but in this case it only added to the sense of alien mystery.

A careful handling of the ratmen and frogmen also elevates this story.  Both are presented as a curious mix of civilized and savage, with no doubt ever entertained that they are at thier core inhuman monsters.  They may have a sense of honor and they may fight well, but they are trapped in prisons of thier monstrous origin.  Prone to backbiting and cannibalism and a life of squalor they are all little better than drug addicts who refuse to kick their habits.  Never  likable, they remain pitifully sympathetic even as thier nature allows our protagonist to do whatever he must to escape the frying pan and fire of being caught between them.

As if that isn’t enough, Gower even managed to squeeze in a tight little romance subplot.  It’s smoothly done, and presents the hero with a much needed moral quandry that forces him to rise above mere thiefdom and into the realms of the heroic.  It’s a nice touch, and emblematic of the kind of compact storytelling that made the pulps so beloved.

I’m not familiar with Gower’s other works.  He’s new to me, and if he can match the energy and precision of The Idol in the Sewers, I look forward to reading more from him.

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Cirsova 2.1.2 – Atop the Cliffs of Ral-Gri

The second story in the first issue of the second volume of the first rate magazine Cirsova once more takes us to a remote corner of the earth where lurk things best left to slumber.   Though I’m looking forward to reading Xavier Lastra’s The Elephant Idol, we’re going to power through this issue in the order the publisher presented them.  He ordered them this way for a reason, and who are we to judge?

Atop the Cliffs of Ral-Gri, by Jeff Stoner making his Cirsova debut here, takes the daring path of presenting actual Nazis as the protagonists.  Somebody get Antifa on the phone, they’re going to want to read this one because in it, Nazi’s definitely get punched.  They get dragged to the top of a Himalayan mountain in the search for one of Himmler’s super-weapons, fight an army of unusually creative of zombie guardians, and waken an angry demonic godling.  Some of them even die in gruesome ways before the author bio shuts the door on the story.

Do they all die?

You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.  Because one of the great things about independent works like this is that they don’t have to follow the path laid out by the mainstream publishing gatekeepers.  In most anthologies published today, the ending would have been telegraphed from paragraph one.  Stoner sets up some inter-party rivalries among the Germans, and never lets you forget that these are the historical bad guys, but he also dangles the results of the encounter with the godling just out of reach until the last possible minute.  He touches on and eludes to the holocaust in a way that leaves the reader in doubt as to whether this is an Indiana Jones style story where our archaeologist learns just enough to pull back at the last instant, or whether it is actually an alternate earth where the events of the story lead directly to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Well played, Mister Stoner.

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Cirsova: The Revenge!

The second volume of one of my favorite new anthology magazine…things…arrived some time ago, and it’s high time it got the proper reviewing that it so richly deserves.  This second volume leads off with a new header – The Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense – and we’ll have to see if it lives up to the hype.  As usual we’ll go through one story at a time and use the entire issue as content fodder for the blog mill.

Things kick off with the cover story, which has an insane pedigree.  As described on the publisher’s website:

Based on a fragment from 1930, this previously “Lost” Tarzan adventure takes place in the Jungle Tales period and, in addition to being a cool adventure in and of itself, ties into and resolves some issues from The Jewels of Opar.  Young Tarzan ponders his nature among his ape family in the jungle when he hears there may yet be another such as he! Who is the white-skinned she who lives among the Gomangani tribes, and is it she whose visage haunts the ape-man’s dreams?!

The first publication of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, all these many years later, represents a huge coup for Cirsova.  That this didn’t make a much bigger splash in the SF/F culture over recent months represents a strong symptom of just how fallen and insular the mainstream publishing world and its sycophants have become.  The Tarzan brand is strong even after all these years.  Letting this slide past them really marks the modern mainstream fandom as the clueless MOPs they are.

But the story…is it any good?

Of course it is.  Michael Tierney did the heavy lifting here to prepare the work for publishing, and his stitch-work comes off as invisible.  Tierney has made more than a few appearances in previous editions of Cirsova, including the excellent frontier fantasy The Bears of 1812 in Volume 1, Issue 5 and the dream-like man versus nature(?) tale Shark Fighter in Volume 1, Issue 2.  He’s a solid writer that’s hard to pigeonhole, as his stories always speak with a different voice.  He dons the voice of Burroughs in his Tarzan narration, and it works well.

It’s been a fair few decades since I’ve read Burroughs, but reading Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She takes me right back to high school when I powered through a stack of library sale paperbacks.  Here, Tarzan has yet to fully realize how much of a stranger he is in a strange gorilla land.  The eponymous SHE turns out to be the first white face Tarzan ever encounters, and both she and her tribe turn out to be as deadly as any of the she-gorillas of Tarzan’s own tribe.  It’s a haunting tale both for how it conveys Tarzan’s deep melancholy and loneliness and for the more direct magic of the confrontation with the villain of the piece.  As such, it stands as a fitting posthumous tribute to one of the all time greats.

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Andy the Talking Hedgehog

It’s hard to take adults who ironically like bad cinema very seriously.

Over time one can’t help but notice a distinct pattern amongst the hard-core MST3K fanbase of people marking time until they die.  Don’t get me wrong, in these jaded times it’s nice that people just like liking stuff, and they don’t get too wrapped up in trying to be the coolest kid on the block by liking all (and only) the right things.  But the love of objectively bad cinema speaks to a need for a low-grade soporific.  In some ways it’s worse than enjoying the latest Devil Mouse blockbuster popcorn flick.  At least popcorn is filling.  At least the Devil Mouse allows a viewer to maintain links to the wider community of regular people.  That’s something at least.  Wallowing in bad cinema smacks of rolling with pigs – even if you do it ironically, you’re still rolling with pigs.

That might sound odd coming from a guy that religiously watches Red Letter Media’s series “Best of the Worst”.  Not quite.  The RLM crew adds value to the process by dissecting what works and what doesn’t work about the films they endure.  They’ve got a real talent for diagnosing what films do wrong, from plot to character to visuals.  A guy could learn a lot from their breakdown of a dozen random films.

With all of that out of the way, let’s talk about “Andy the Talking Hedgehog”.

Wait, one more preface, you can thank The Mixed GM for this one.  He live-tweeted his viewing, and the thread was enough fun to read through for me to plunk down four bucks for the SD rental.

Okay, now that all of that is out of the way, we can talk about “Andy the Talking Hedgehog”.

This is not a good movie.  Put frankly, it’s low budget shovelware.  It’s plagued with all of the usual problems of low-budget films, from bad performances to obvious stock footage to padded out scenes to a scattershot script that really needed to be tidied up with at least one more pass by a competent script doctor.  Dean Cain’s presence adds stark relief on the acting front.  He does wonders with the material given, and his obvious charm and talent only highlights the weakness of the rest of the cast.

The plot revolves around a young girl who wishes that animals (and flowers!) could talk.  Her Fairy BFF makes it so, and hijinks ensue.  A couple of crooked janitor types try to steal the talking hedgehog.  Mean girls at school get their come-uppance.  A young girl learns the value of understanding and embracing God’s natural law.  Typical kid movie stuff.

And yet…there are diamonds amidst the rough.

The movie scored more laughs out of me than the last two Marvel films I’ve seen combined.  The movie features an intact and loving family, including two sisters who actually like each other throughout.  A complete lack of obvious Diversity casting distracting from the plot.  In the end, it’s Dad who brings down the hammer of justice and protects his kith and kin. The aforementioned character arc where a young girl learns that there are larger things in this world than what she rilly rilly wants to be true.  These are all things that work well, and they were surprising by their inclusion.  It’s a wholesome film from start to finish, and that’s saying something these days.

For what it’s worth, the producers showed a few flashes of brilliance by explicitly hand-waving away the limitations of their budget.  Why don’t the animals’ lips move in time with the words?  Why does a bathroom lead to Fairyland?  Why would two janitors want a talking hedgehog?  Why is the old cat such a sourpuss?  All of these are answered, and in the latter case in a particularly touching way.

I don’t know the whole story behind “Andy the Talking Hedgehog”.  For all I know it was one big scam where the producers found ten million dollars in investors to make a one million dollar film and pocketed the other nine million.  Or maybe it’s a couple of fresh out of film school kids thrown some money to see what they could do with it.  Or a vanity project by one of the actresses that played a 25-year-old high school cheerleader on Daddy’s dime.  All I know is that the only thing more ridiculous than this film is that it provided just as entertainment as “Detective Pikachu”, and that might be the most damning indictment of woke Hollywood yet.

In the final analysis, I cannot recommend this film.  Not because of the shoddy Foley work, the odd editing, the questionable voice-over work of the star of the show, the stiff acting of the human characters, or the workmanlike writing.  Mainly because, even a full day later, I just can’t get the damn thing off my mind.  We’re nearly a thousand words into a detailed review of the film and there’s still so much more that I’ve barely even touched upon.  Like the rush job of the bullies at school who almost immediately get what’s coming to them.  Or the copyright questions that revolve around what is clearly an American Girl doll sitting on the main character’s bed grinning with that buck-toothed grin the whole time like all of this is perfectly normal.

It sticks to you.  Worms its way into you.  Makes you want to climb a high mountain and grow a long beard to hide your shame and spend the rest of your life contemplating your life, the mistakes you’ve made along the way, and man’s connection to a wider and more wonderful universe.

It’s haunting.

Oh, “Andy the Talking Hedgehog”, I wish I knew how to quit you.

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Not so Good Omens

Not impressed.

Terry Pratchett has an impressive gift for stringing words together.  The man could make the back of a cereal box interesting to read.  His brain works in strange ways that follow clever paths, a trait that helps him paper over the thinness of his works’ overall plots and characters and underlying worldview.  That wizardry doesn’t lend itself to translation to the screen, particularly when the producers of said translation choose to translate Pratchett’s words literally.

This series opens with a long spiel and a cute animatic that explains the literal translation of Genesis is the literal history of the world in Pratchett’s style.  Smash cut to an overhead view of the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve which tells us the exact same thing AGAIN, only this time without all the self-congratulatory clever-clever voice-over.  It doesn’t establish a mood, it just insults the viewer.  The same thing happens later in the episode when the birth of the anti-Christ goes awry with said anti-Christ switched at birth with a normie baby.  Rather than let the gag play out, the producers inject a heavy-handed explanation of three-card monte that ruins the flow of the story and again, insults the viewer.  Not done yet, they later show a dark and foggy cemetery where two diseased snakes-like men wriggle out of the earth to meet with David Tenant’s demonic character, and hold up – gotta tell everyone these are demons!

Just in case.

Stick it out, and you get a very clever show that plays itself to mediocrity.  Propped up entirely by the performances of the slithering demon of David Tennant and the twee guardian angel of Michael Sheen, it features all the usual gender-swapped silliness of the BBC and Hollywood complete with a bumbling white male witchfinder seduced by a world-wise and not-at-all-author-insert witch.  The Christian witch-finder is a scam artist and a hypocrite, as all voluble Christians are in modren media these days.  All of these little nods to progressive fantasies step on the toes of the central fantasy tale they want to tell and lead to the usual emptiness and lack of viewer investment in the world.  Nothing means anything.  Everything is strange and hollow and unpredictable in all the worst ways.

I’ll say this, though, it handled the crucifixion of Christ with admirable restraint.  The scene where our angel and demon watch with evident confusion proves to be the most suspenseful scene in the first four episodes.  Accidentally.  The suspense arises not  from the level of the narrative, but from the meta-level of wondering how the producers are going to smarm and snark their way through one of the central holiest events in the history of Christendom.  That tension – will they or won’t they – sucks the energy out of the scene on screen.

Perhaps it isn’t fair to lay the blame at the feet of the writers of Good Omens.  They have inherited a new world where the intersectionalists thought that forcing everyone to constantly weigh every production choice would lead to the surrender of the cis-hetero-patriarchal zeitgeist.  Instead, they gave us the tools and excuse to notice how we’ve been played by Hollywood for decades.  And in encouraging us to notice things, they played themselves.

They have ruined their best tool for keeping us asleep while the culture boils around us.

Now we know.

And we notice that what might have been great is just another polished turd more interested in scoring points on those dastardly Christians than telling a good story.

It’s so bad that I didn’t get angry or turn off the show in disgust.  I just went to bed and completely forgot to watch the next episode.  It’s just another show with no heart in a long string of shows with no heart.

Come for the Tennant.  Leave for the lack of everything else.

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New Review: Five Million Watts

Fenton Woods produced a sequel one of my favorite reads of last year, Pirates of the Electromagnetic AirwavesI have an in-depth review of the sequel, Five Million Watts up today over at the Castalia House blog.  Give her a read – you won’t regret it.

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Needs More Templars

What sort of conspiracy theory digs into the Catholic Church and doesn’t find Templars at the bottom of everything?

This kind.

The past decade has seen considerable upheaval in the Catholic Church, an upheaval driven in part by the decreased cost of gathering information.  No longer reliant on pliable media willing to trade their integrity for a little money and influence, the common man has a much better grasp on the rot attacking the heart of so many of Western Civilization’s institutions than he did in decades passed.  And yet, the shadows linger, and the bits of truth that have seeped out have only added to the confusion and discord.  The erosion of trust in our leaders has left most men of good will at a complete loss.

We are fallen souls blundering about in the wilderness of a fallen world, and the guiding light of the Church grows dim as we lose faith men holding that light aloft.  Our footsteps falter as we realize that too many of the men we’ve defended from a hostile secular world have colluded to commit, or enable, unspeakable sins against God’s natural law.  We’ve awoken to the reality that our path is not straight and narrow – we stand amid thorn bushes with our way littered by pits and snares.  How did things come to this pass?  To whom shall we turn?

And yet, even in the midst of the confusion, our faith grows.  We know something is wrong, even if we cannot fully articulate it.  We know where our destination lies, even if we cannot fully see the path.  We know good men abound, even if we struggle to identify them.

We just need some guidance.

And that’s where Infiltration enters the scene.

Taylor Marshall presents a history of the Catholic Church over the past 150 years, both the supernatural history of visions and visitations, and the natural history of political maneuvering at the highest level of the Vatican.  These two aspects of the Catholic experience weave together to paint a grim picture of the many and varied ways that Modernist thought has insinuated itself into the Church – an institution that fought long and valiantly to guard herself from the errors that lead inexorably to Holodomors, genocides, and mass starvation on both physical and spiritual levels.  It’s not so much a conspiracy theory as it is an honest study of the history of the struggle for leadership of the Church, and an analysis of the many failures along the way.

Which is not to say this book paints an ugly and hopeless Heironymous Bosch hellscape vision of the Church.  To the contrary, even the ugly parts of this book are laden with a refrain of hope and reminders of the glory that awaits at the end of All Of This.   (Spoilers: He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.)  All of the slow leaks and confused reporting by secular media and muddled quotes and misquotes are stripped away so that the facts of the Church’s changes over a century and a half can be presented.  The resultant narrative illuminates the events in an easily understood and digested manner, and Infiltration is worth reading by anyone confused by the complex and often obscured events that it details.

The historical portions of the book flow naturally into an analysis of how faithful Catholics can resist the slow march of Modernism through the institution founded by Christ.  Marshall weighs the pros and cons of strategies such as:

  • surrendering to Modernism and living swallowing the constantly shifting heresies
  • sliding into Protestantism or full-blown atheism
  • hooking up with the sedevacantists or the sedeprivationists
  • recognizing that the Church, though not healthy is also not dead, and working to heal Her

It’s no surprise that a man willing to wade through the history of the Church would find all but the last item wanting.  What’s surprising is the simplicity of Marshall’s recommendations for fighting back against the Modernist heresies.  The shortest section of the book, his answer to the challenge may be the hardest one to internalize.  He offers a concise plan of action as simple to explain as it is difficult to implement.

Taylor Marshall has no easy fix, no magic bullet, and no One Weird Trick.  The path he illuminates is a long and difficult one, and it is a path that requires a considerable amount of courage and faith and…well, it requires a healthy dose of all seven of the Great Virtues.  But it is a hopeful path we walk, and one that leads to a glorious end, and if you are serious about finding your way out of the Modernist shadows and brambles, you will find Infiltration a solid map to guide your way.




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Get In, Loser

A big fat No Prize to anyone that can successfully identify all five authors in this photo, and you get no credit for the unmistakable HP Lovecraft.

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Detective Pikachu Post-Mortem

First, the disclaimers:  Came into some gift cards and when going to the movies, it’s better to go see children’s movies.  People talk in every screening these days.  Might as well go to a movie where half the talkers have the excuse of being four year olds.

The lead is a cowardly and stupid bugman who hates Pokémon.  There is literally no reason for the audience to connect with him.  He is incompetent and unlikable to a stomach-churning degree.  I think they tried to paint the Hero’s Journey with broad strokes to make it recognizable to kids.  Or maybe they took the short cut to HumorTown by writing him as bumbling for slapstick reasons.  Either way, but the decision to make him so craven killed any interest in the movie after ten minutes.

Also, he’s a black kid raised by his grandma.  Yeah.  Plot twist – Dad didn’t walk out on him, he walked out on Dad.  Twisted twist:  Turns out Dad is a white guy that’s been trying to be a part of his life ever since Mom died.  Whoops.  How’d that one slip by the sensitivity readers?

The film-makers faced the challenge of introducing non-Pokémon people to the world of Pokémon.  Added to the challenge was a need to explain that the monsters are no longer slaves, they are willing companions and partners of the humans that they tag along behind and mostly obey exactly as though they were partners.  They shoe-horned in a clunky expository video that did the job early so that they could get back to the story.  It was a little on-the-nose, but

Here’s what the film did right:  It’s a noir film for the pint-sized crowd and aside from the protagonist, it works.  It has everything from the strong silhouettes to the convoluted murder investigation, to the billionaire industrialist ready to throw his own offspring down Moloch’s gullet.  They even make nods towards Fake News and the silliness of listicles and clickbait articles.  Like the vastly superior Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the younger set can enjoy the host of Pokémon Easter eggs, while still experiencing a convoluted murder investigation that helps them see there’s more to the world than it seems at first bluch.

It  also features has an interrogation scene that slides down into torture.  No joke, Detective Bugman sort of douses a mime with gasoline and threatens to burn the guy alive if he doesn’t…uh, talk?  He’s a mime, so I sues the word “talk” lightly.  It’s weird, it’s appropriate, and it fits.

He deserves everything he gets

It’s actually a natural fit.  A kid-friendly noir detective story faces some challenges in translating the grimdark of adult fare down to age-appropriate material, but the Pokémon world is perfect for this.  The fantasy elements creates a remove that allows children to experience the gut punches of dark material with a layer of psychological insulation.  The Mime interrogation scene makes for a perfect illustration.  The mime guy’s magic power is that whatever he mimes becomes real.  It’s invisible, but it’s real.  So our hero pretends to soak him in gasoline, and like a 40k Ork, his belief means that our hero pretending to light a match just might actually burn the mime guy alive.  It’s a dark concept made light by the make-believe charades and the clownish victim.  And yet…it’s still a pretty dark scene.  It’s like training wheels for more adult fare, and kid’s movies could use more stories along this vein.

The bright spots shine in this movie, but they are surrounded by a lot of clumsy editing, rushed scenes, empty spectacle, and clunky casting choices.  As usual, Hollywood flirts with greatness, but just can’t unclench enough to allow the concept of kid-friendly noir really shine.

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The Fantasy of Dystopian Fiction

Did you ever notice how most dystopian fiction feels so fake?  That’s probably because in the last final analysis we know what happens.

Spoiler alert: Good wins.

Somebody should really tell James Cameron that.

Science fiction has dealt with the subject of the dark future almost from the very beginning, and no that doesn’t mean Frankenstein. Get outta here with that pleb-tier analysis. The story of Ragnarok is a dystopian future, as is the Revelation of Saint John and other myths from cultures around the world. The fourth episode in James Cameron’s story of science fiction mockumentary takes the same shallow approach as previous episodes.  It seeks to appeal to the popcorn crowd that just wants to be reminded that, when they considering how the world might end from a purely secular standpoint makes, that makes them teh smart.

For the most part, this episode revolves around the same sort of “Boy, people sure are terrible, amirite” approach that the other episodes did.  Broken people, broken dreams, I beat that idea to death before, and you already get it, so we’ll move on to some scattered observations.

Briefly, they mention that most post-apocalypse films end with a note of hope.   They gnash their teeth when they admit that normal people – the healthy people who pay good money to go to the movies – prefer movies that make them feel good at the end.  Most people aren’t sick in the soul, so they get annoyed when story-tellers try to drag them down into the mud.  Oh, they’ll spend a little time there as a novelty, but Western Man knows how the story of everything ends, and even if they cannot put it into words, they feel it on a visceral level.

The eggheads in the documentary identify Mad Max: Fury Road as the first film in the franchise that does so, completely forgetting the end of Road Warrior in which the good guys escape with the go-juice, and the end Beyond Thunderdome which ends with lights shining in the night amid the bones of Old Sydney.  Whoops.

So the film-makers understand that in most instances, end-of-the-world stories are really civilizational collapse stories that take place at the low point in the cycle of history. They just can’t explicitly state, indeed they chafe at the idea that things always get better, because for them History takes sides, donchy’know?  The documentary walks the viewer through the pain they feel at having to share a ray of hope with humanity.

When they discuss Will Smith’s I Am Legend it all gets laid bare. To recap – the story is an inversion of the vampire myth. A favored story among Hollywood types, who by their love of this story display a clear sympathy for the devil. In Wil Smith’s  I Am Legend, the last human preys upon the hapless monsters, who just want to be loved and safe from the predations of the horrible, terrible, no-good human scientist. At test screenings, the audiences went ballistic, and the film-makers realized their attempt to paint humanity as unworthy of inheriting the earth, let alone heaven, failed. The people recognized that achievements of beauty and growth are a treasure and those who take this fallen world and make beauty out of it are far superior to the rat-like degenerates huddled in stinking basements. They saw everything they loved mocked, and for once audiences did not fall for the siren song of modern cinema, and when they rebelled and rejected the movie, the money-men listened.  The soulsick ground their teeth, took out the poison, and gave America a film that reflects the ultimate triumph of good (America) versus evil (monsters).

All the audiences had to do was stand firm and say, “No!”

There’s a valuable lesson in that.

While not a fan of this documentary series, I’m finding it opening up some very interesting and valuable insights into modern media. It’s inadvertently laying bare some connections that the producers probably don’t want made. This doesn’t seem to be foolishness, but arrogance. They are telling us what they are doing, and smiling all the while, safe in the knowledge that there’s nothing we can do about it.   Once more, they give us a reminder that they want us dead, our people enslaved, our children raped and they think it’s funny.

We’ll see who is laughing when their ugly world ends and we can begin the arduous task of rebuilding a better one using their ashes for mortar.  We have the stories to inspire us, even if we had to wrest them from Hollywood ourselves.

Speaking of post-apocalyptic stories with an upbeat ending…here’s the kind of story they don’t want you to read.  See if you can guess where it takes place.

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