Godzilla 3: Dream of a Deadly Death

Today I watched Godzilla: The Planet Eater, the third part of the impressively animated Netflix series released last year. Whereas the second part was largely a UPS van stuffed with technobabble, this story swapped that out for a cathedral stuffed with religiobabble. I thought this part might have a slower build, because the characters must have exhausted themselves by this point, but having to listen to the priest of the deadly death for at least forty-five minutes was boring.

Viewers would be excused for thinking this was a screed against religion as a whole. Words are said to that effect, but the religion in question is the cult of the void, the enlightened understanding that nothing is everything, death is peace, and all struggle should be assisted into oblivion preferably by a physician or qualified government agent.

No, this story seems to come from the root of Godzilla mythology. Those nuclear bombs we made, all that E=MC2 stuff (written clearly on a chalkboard during one of the priest’s expositions), brought judgment on our heads. Godzilla rose from the earth because our civilization was too advanced, but he was only phase one. Ghidorah the Golden Demise is phase two.

I may not be smart enough to run with this, but this series may be an effectively illustration against atheism. Godzilla embodies the earth fighting for itself. Ghidorah is a nihilistic void. Mankind has only its own wits to use and cannot keep up. All of the talk here of gods and salvation only makes a kind of sense because of the echoes of actual sense found in the Bible and other major religions. Many atheists understand this implicitly. What they call the nonsense of Christianity is more of an argument against what they think God may actually be, an actual creator who has every right to hold his creation accountable for their actions. Far better to paint priests and believers as a death cult.

But Christians (and Jews, Muslims, and some others) aren’t the ones arguing for death in our civilization. We’re the ones saying the weapons of war must be used wisely. Nuking a city must be a last resort, because we want everyone to live in peace.

But nuclear bombs have been dropped. Maybe the idea of a god-like monster rising up to lay down the smack on our hubris appeals to some who have no knowledge of a far greater, far more terrifying judge.

Time Passes Hand in Hand with Seasons

Dylan Thomas wrote about the seasons washing over
the Welsh Glamorgan county–the summer so beautiful, the winter barren. Time repeatedly rides up from the coast, bringing nothing unusual, nothing but change. Here’s the sound of a winter thaw.

And now the horns of England, in the sound of shape,
Summon your snowy horsemen, and the four-stringed hill,
Over the sea-gut loudening, sets a rock alive;
Hurdles and guns and railings, as the boulders heave,
Crack like a spring in vice, bone breaking April,
Spill the lank folly’s hunter and the hard-held hope.

Read the whole thing here: “Hold Hard, These Ancient Minutes in the Cuckoo’s Mouth”

( Photo by Bit Cloud on Unsplash )

‘Deceptive Appearances,’ by P. F. Ford

I’ve been following P.F. Ford’s series of detective novels set in the fictional town of Tinton, in England. They started out as police procedurals – of a sort – and then became private eye stories when both the heroes, Dave Slater and Norman Norman (sic) went into that business.

In Deceptive Appearances, the thirteenth in the series, Dave and Norman get a visit from a young man who tells them his sister, Martha Dennis, is missing. Would they try to find her?

The two detectives are suspicious. The young man’s story seems improbably convoluted, and he just strikes them as shifty. But they’re not in a position to turn business down, and the fellow pays an advance, so why not check it out?

They will find that the sister isn’t a sister, but is an investigative journalist. Who has been using an assumed identity. And who may or may not be the same person as an unidentified body in the morgue. Their investigation will lead them to an elderly recluse, a millionaire pornographer, and the world of human trafficking. Also Dave will enter a tentative romance with a damaged woman.

I’m not sure why I enjoy the Slater/Norman books so much. They are, to be frank, not terribly well written. The steps of the investigation seemed a little improbable to me. The dialogue tends to be flaccid – it could use a lot of tightening up.

But I like the characters, and the generally upbeat tone of the books. And there’s little objectionable material in them. So I recommend them, as light reading, for the appropriate audience. Like me.

‘The Vikings on Film,’ by Kevin J. Harty

You know this film has a reputation of being a very bloody film, lots of blood, lots of fighting, and it’s just not true; there is in fact no blood shown in this picture except in this one shot where Kirk has his hand up holding the hawk and you see a small stream of blood trickling down between his fingers … but everybody talks about how bloody it was because of the impression you get. (Director Richard Fleischer on the 1958 film, “The Vikings.”)

The world of Viking reenactment is not without its controversies. I’ve seen many a dispute over subjects like acceptable levels of authenticity, whether heathenism should be compulsory, or the authenticity of the Kensington Rune Stone.

But one subject that almost always yields agreement is Viking movies.

We hate them all.

Some of them we hate fondly, and we enjoy watching them even as we scoff at them.

Some we consider insults to our intelligence.

But we pretty generally agree that we’re still waiting to see a good one.

So I was curious to read Kevin J. Harty’s collection of critical essays, The Vikings on Film.

My verdict: Not as enlightening as I hoped, and way too much Film Studies jargon.

There was a certain degree of the sort of thing I wanted most – stories about how the various films came to be, and evaluations of how they worked – or didn’t. As I should have expected, there were numerous critical lamentations over the levels of “problematic” masculinity in the stories.

I was surprised by some of the evaluations. The reviewer who writes on “The 13th Warrior,” doesn’t think it works very well. I think it works quite well as a story – it’s the costumes and armor that appall me. Another reviewer thought “Outlander” (the Sci-Fi version of Beowulf with Jim Caviezel) was generally successful – not my impression at all.

And some movies, like “Beowulf and Grendel” (which I hated, but which had good costumes), are barely touched on.

I didn’t read all the reviews, because they concerned movies I haven’t seen, or that don’t interest me – such as the animated “Asterix and the Vikings.”

All in all, I didn’t regret reading The Vikings on Film, but I wasn’t much enlightened by it either.

Dana Gioia on Catholic Writers

Poet Dana Gioia from a recent interview with Image Journal

Image: Do you consciously think of yourself as part of a tradition of Catholic writers?

DG: I am a Catholic, and I am a writer. I don’t think you can separate the two identities. But I have never wanted to be “a Catholic writer” in some narrow sense. Was Evelyn Waugh a Catholic writer? Was Flannery O’Connor or Muriel Spark? Well, yes and no. They were first and foremost writers who strived for expressive intensity and imaginative power. Their Catholicism entered into their work along with their humor, violence, sexuality, and imaginative verve. The few devotional works Waugh wrote are his worst books. His merciless early comic novels, which are Catholic only in their depiction of a hopelessly fallen world, are probably his best. Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange is a deeply Catholic novel about free will, but it is also a violent, dystopian science fiction novel about social collapse and political hypocrisy, all of which is written in an invented futuristic slang. There is something complicated going on here that cannot be simplified into faith-based writing.

A Conversation with Dana Gioia

‘A Deadly Lesson,’ by Paul Gitsham

There is no lack of British police procedural mystery series out there, so I tried A Deadly Lesson, a Scottish mystery by Paul Gitsham, more or less on a whim. I liked it better than I should have, considering the nature of the product.

Jillian Gwinnett, an instructor and administrator at a Catholic school, is found strangled to death at her desk. The murder weapon appears to have been a length of hemp rope. Detective Chief Inspector Warren Jones is assigned to investigate. He and his assistant begin looking into her fellow workers and her job history, and find old conflicts involving educational philosophy and career rivalries. Through systematic investigation, they identify the culprit at last.

And that’s pretty much it. This was one of the most straightforward mysteries I’ve read in a long time. There were very few distractions in this book – either in terms of action scenes or interesting characters. Inspector Jones, as a person, was almost entirely a closed book. We learned he was married, and almost nothing more about him. It’s almost mandatory these days for British detectives to have a slew of eccentricities, but there’s none of that here. Just a plain mystery, plainly solved.

I didn’t find a lot to love here, but on the other hand, the mystery was interesting in itself, and it kept me reading. So, although I didn’t love A Deadly Lesson, I didn’t dislike it either. Recommended for readers who prefer puzzles to characters. I don’t recall any objectionable elements.

‘The Wedding Guest,’ by Jonathan Kellerman

Reading a new Alex Delaware novel by Jonathan Kellerman is like dropping in on an old friend, whose place is comfortable and nobody expects you to dress up or bring a bottle. It’s welcome and easy.

In The Wedding Guest, Detective Milo Sturgis invites his psychologist friend/consultant, Dr. Delaware, to help him interview witnesses at a murder scene. The scene is a former strip club repurposed as a party venue, where a wedding party had been going on. One of the bridesmaids went to use a washroom most of the other guests didn’t know about, and found a dead body inside. A young and beautiful woman dressed in red, drugged and strangled.

The bride’s family are Los Angeles nouveau-riche, beautiful people with rough edges. The groom’s parents run a veterinary practice and are more down-to-earth, but they have money too – and access to the drug that helped kill the victim. The chief problem at first is that the dead girl seems to be entirely off the grid – no identification, no police record, and nobody at the wedding will admit to knowing her.

Putting a name on her takes hard work, but when it’s done there’s still the question of discovering why she was there that night, and who among those present would have a reason to end her life.

I thought the climax was a little perfunctory, but it was all about the ride anyway. The Wedding Guest could have been three times as long and I’d have enjoyed it all the way through. I particularly liked the non-stereotyped characters. Cautions for language and adult themes. Recommended, as is the entire Alex Delaware series.

‘Blood Guilt,’ by Ben Cheetham

An interesting read, which I found, in the end, over the top and under the moral line. But definitely exciting and readable.

Ben Cheetham’s Blood Guilt tells the story of Harlan Miller, an English cop (in London, I assume, though I don’t think it’s ever specified) whose promising career ends when his young son dies in an accident. After that, Harlan slides into depression and alcohol, until one terrible night he kills a man in a bar fight.

Four years later, he’s out of prison. His wife would like to start over again, but Harlan just can’t find a way to care. His guilt consumes him.

Then a shocking thing happens. One of the sons of the man he killed is kidnapped. Ben takes hold of the hope that he can somehow redeem himself through using his investigative skills to find and rescue the boy. He has an advantage over the regular police in not being bound by rules of evidence – or limitations on the use of force.

The premise of Blood Guilt is intriguing, and I think it could have been, not only a good thriller, but an interesting moral experiment. However – for me – it didn’t entirely work on either plane. The action seemed to me excessive and improbable (in one instance, we’re treated to yet another hero who checks himself out of the hospital against doctor’s orders and somehow manages to function in violent action). And the moral elements – though they seemed promising – collapsed entirely at the end, in a climax that satisfied me in no way.

Maybe I’m blinkered by my Christian theology, but this story didn’t work for me. Your mileage may vary. It’s definitely a page-turner, though. Cautions for language and violence.

‘The High Costs of Fantasy Sainthood’

It’s always nice — rare as it is — to be cited as an author. Jessica McAdams praises my novel, The Year of the Warrior in an article just published at Tor.com. My book even closes the show:

I love this book for its clear insistence that sainthood requires transformation. In order to follow the call, Aillil must change. He can’t stay the man he is: sort of bad, sort of good, mostly selfish and sorrowing. He has to be courageous—worse yet, he has to be charitable. If there is real evil in the world and real good, he has to pick a side, and then he has to let that choice manifest itself and become real in his own self—living it out in his own inclinations and actions and habits.

And that might be the most costly sacrifice of all.

Read it all here.

‘The Woods Murder,’ by Roy Lewis

Inspector John Crow is a tall, ungainly man. He never looks like he fits in anywhere, and even less when he’s called in to a small town to take over a murder investigation from the locals. They have a murder case to deal with already – an unusual circumstance – so they’ll have to endure his presence, and that of his assistant, Sergeant Wilson.

In The Woods Murder, by Roy Lewis, a solicitor named Charles Lendon has been found in a forest hut, an iron skewer thrust through his heart. There are many people who might possibly have wanted Lendon dead. For one thing, he was an inveterate womanizer, and made no distinction between married and unmarried women. Also there’s a farmer who blames him for the death of his daughter (this is the previous murder mentioned above). Lendon closed off a lane through his woods which children used to use as a shortcut. With that way blocked, they have to take a longer route now – and the farmer’s daughter was killed along that route.

But there’s more to Lendon than is commonly known. As Inspector Crow uncovers layers of old secrets and lies, it becomes a possibility that his death might not have sprung from his sins – but from his (few) virtues.

The Woods Murder is part of a series of books published back in the late 1960s, and republished now. I thought I might find it more congenial than a lot of politically correct contemporary books. And it was all right, but I must admit I didn’t love it. I guess I’ve gotten used to a more character-driven style of storytelling. Nothing against this book, but it didn’t ring my bell.

I do have to note one remarkable line of prose – not typical of the book as a whole: “…for her mind was patterned with doubt and incomprehension, a cicatriced amorphous mass criss-crossed with questions and uncertainty.”

I’m not sure how any publisher would let a self-indulgent line like that stand in a popular novel. But I suppose the rules were different back then.

‘Dead Man’s Walk,’ by Antony James

A “fan-fic” novel, set between the end of the “Endeavour” TV series, and before the beginning of “Morse?” And written by the chairman of the Inspector Morse Society? Available free in e-book form? I was willing to take a chance on that. And all in all, I thought Dead Man’s Walk worked pretty well.

The year is 1971, and Morse is a Detective Sergeant in the Oxford police. A stamp dealer named Hugo Latimer is found dead next to his tumbled bicycle, cause of death suspicious. Shortly after, a man named Ridler is found murdered in a similar manner. Young detective Morse is immediately suspicious, because the crime scenes are both near the Martyrs’ Memorial in Oxford, where Protestants Latimer and Ridley were famously burned at the stake. This is obviously a puzzle meant for him.

Die-hard Morse fans may find non-canonical elements here to carp at – I myself only noticed a couple homonym problems, like “populous” for “populace,” to complain of (Morse would have been on those like a terrier on a rat). There’s romance. There’s an appreciative scene set in the Eagle & Child pub, with (laudatory) comments on the Inklings. The author sometimes indulges in presenting travelogues – telling us too much about the histories of places where Morse visits. There’s a depiction of a Christian family that seemed to me unsympathetic – but then Morse was an atheist, so what do I expect?

There’s also a boy named Dexter here, who wants to be a writer – but it can’t be author Colin Dexter, because he was an adult by this time. I have no idea what that was about.

I found the final solution of the mystery a little disappointing, but all in all I enjoyed reading Dead Man’s Walk quite a lot. I recommend it, especially for fans of the Colin Dexter novels and the famous TV series (plural).

‘Rancour,’ by Pete Brassett

The Inspector Munro series by Pete Brassett is an enjoyable set of stories about an aging police detective in the west of Scotland, and the young female detective he mentors, “Charlie” West. I’ve reviewed the previous books, and here’s the new one, Rancour.

On the Arran islands, a young girl goes climbing on high Goat Fell on a winter night, and is found the next day frozen to death. When her companions, who turned back, are asked why they didn’t stop her, they say the girl was determined.

Soon after, another girl is found dead on the mainland, while a school friend is found unconscious. All three girls have been drugged.

Suspicions center on an Italian man of questionable morals and business ethics, who recently moved to the area and has cut a swathe through the ladies.

But looking into his life, and the girls’, brings up a lot of other questions, and the investigation grows quite complex. Inspector West is leading the squad now, since Munro is retired, but he’s keeping his hand in and gently guiding – while trying to remodel his cottage and decide how to handle a question of his own health.

It all turned out in ways that surprised me. I enjoyed spending time with my old friends Munro and West, and recommend Rancour, as well as the rest of the series.

‘Intelligences to Replace Us’

We are rushing into the unconsidered embrace of a computerized future that, deep in the core of its design process, hates us. “Engineers at our leading tech firms and universities tend to see human beings as the problem and technology as the solution,” Team Human notes. “When they are not developing interfaces to control us, they are building intelligences to replace us.”

Joseph Bottum in his review of Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff. It’s an uneven book, he says, with many good details and many mushy proposals presented as solutions.

‘Out of the Dark,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

Coming up: a review of Gregg Hurwitz’s Out of the Dark.

But first, this urgent news update:

January 25, Deadline.com: EXCLUSIVE: Gregg Hurwitz, author of the best-selling Orphan X series, has inked what’s described as a “significant seven-figure deal” with publisher Minotaur Books for the next three volumes in the series. The next book in the series, Out of the Dark: The Return of Orphan X, hits shelves on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Dave Lull just sent me the above item, and it pleases me no end, because there can’t be enough Orphan X books for me. No doubt the TV series will ruin the concept, but keep the books coming, Gregg.

And now for our book review:

Wetzel had read somewhere that Hollywood directors liked to hose down streets to make the asphalt sparkle on film. Washington was like that naturally, a black-ice kind of town—lose your focus and you’d slip and break your neck.

Any review of the Orphan X books requires a little orientation lecture, but that’s OK, because it’s fun to tell.

Evan Smoak is “Orphan X.” As a boy, he was “recruited” from a group home into the super-secret, ultra-deniable US government “Orphan” program. Under this program, smart, athletic kids whom no one would miss were trained to be the world’s most dangerous assassins and covert operatives. But gradually, under the direction of a bureaucrat named Jonathan Bennett, the program lost its focus and become badly corrupted. Jack managed to break free and, subsidized by income streams he can still tap (I never quite followed how that works), he now lives in secret in Los Angeles. His home is a luxury apartment, impenetrably secure, and from it he operates as “The Nowhere Man.” He’s a sort of a hero on call. People he helps refer him to other people who need a hero. One case at a time, Evan attempts to do penance for the sins of his earlier life.

He has one major existential challenge – Jonathan Bennett is now the president of the United States. And for several years he has been systematically been killing off the few surviving Orphans. But of all the Orphans, Evan Smoak is the one he is most determined to eliminate – though Evan has no idea why.

In Out of the Dark, Evan is busy planning the assassination of the president. A challenge, but he thinks he can carry it off. On top of that, he needs to save an autistic young man who, simply because of his naïve honesty, is targeted for murder – along with his whole family – by one of the most dangerous drug lords in the world.

All the usual pleasures of a great thriller are present in Out of the Dark – rising suspense, heart-pounding danger, lots of high-tech electronics and computer hacking. (Frankly I found some of the action scenes over the top, but I was happy to suspend disbelief.) But what sets the Orphan X books apart is the sharpness of the writing – great characters, crackling dialogue, moments of wit. As well as just good, well-crafted prose. It’s a pleasure to read Gregg Hurwitz.

Highly recommended, with cautions for violence, adult themes, and mature language.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture