Sunday, December 29, 2013

57 Things I Thought While Watching 47 Ronin

Here are 57 things I thought while watching the movie: 47 Ronin

Before the show
1.     A small soda is 32 oz. and costs $5.
2.     They made a movie out of Mr. Peabody?
3.     47 will be a lot of ronin. Or is it ronii? #ThePluralofRoninIs?
4.     So far the ronin outnumber the audience 5:1.
5.     I’m wearing white socks with black pants and shoes. Oh.
6.     Polar bears are now sponsored by Coca-Cola
7.     Why would I attend an opera “live” at a movie theatre? If I want to sleep, I’ll do it in an Opera House, thank you very much.
8.     Score! No kids in the audience.
9.     Why is it the last two couples to walk into this practically empty theatre have to sit down directly behind and next to me? #crowders
10.  The woman next to me cracks her knuckles. A lot.
11.    Similar looking previews: The 300 sequel; Pompeii in 3D; Hercules. The worst of the lot looks like Hercules. A story about a man named Hercules who has nothing in common story-wise with the legendary Hercules. #RIPKevinSorbo
During the Show
12.   Hey, Neo’s in this movie. I hope he’s the chosen one.
13.    So far there’s only one ronin. #ripoff
14.     What’s has horns, antlers, feathers, scales, prehensile whiptail and six eyes? I don’t know but it’s trying to kill Keanu. #gobeast
15.     The beast is dead. I wonder what it was? #IVoteForKirin
16.      Why go to the trouble to have your main character marred by scars, to have the scars on his head beneath his hairline. #ChicksWantToSeeScars
        17. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as the main Shogun. #FlawlessCasting
18.     The Shogun’s hat looks like a cooking pot spray-painted gold. #NiceHat
19.     The Shogun rides a cow? #HorseArmorWithHornsEqualsCow
20.     Everyone is being a dick to Keanu. Is that part of the Samurai code? I can get behind that.
21.     Fight! Fight! Fight!
22.     That was over quick
23.     The Shogun is a dick. He has no tolerance for sleepwalkers or love, but he’s okay with witchcraft and other evil shenanigans. #ExecutionTime
24.     CGI ogre fight!
25.     That was over quick. These ronin don’t mess around.
26.     Now there are 3 ronin
27.     Now there are 6 ronin
28.     Now there are 12 ronin
29.     I’m sensing a theme
30.     I got to get me one of those smiling, two-different-eye-colored foxes. #BeatsACat
31.     The witch chick has a significantly sleazy vibe going on. #HeyNow
32.     Octo-hair! I can’t even use a pair of chop sticks correctly with my hands, let alone feed someone else using chopsticks with my dreadlocks.
33.     Waiter, there’s a hair in my sushi.
34.     Keanu was raised by unattractive owl people. #spoiler
35.     Magic swords are awesome.
36.     That was a good sword joke. Well played, overweight ronin.
37.     Fat ronin bathing are funny. #PerTheAudience #Jiggly #IDon’tGetIt
38.     My eyes, my eyes! Full frontal on the tubby ronin getting out of the bathing pond. Thank goodness for the samur-diaper. #ClothingIDon’tKnowTheRealNameOf
39.    The overweight samurai is one of the six ronin who have a personality. #HeIsGoingToDie
40.    It’s a trap!
41.    They killed the overweight ronin. At least Keanu had time for one more fat joke.
42.    It’s Long Duk Dong and he’s helping the ronii. I hope he uses his catch-phrase at the wedding.
43.    Entertainment at samurai weddings blows. #FriggingPuppetShow
44.    Shoot arrows at the bride! #WhyAreTheyTryingToKillKeanusLoveInterest?
45.    Finally, 47 ronin and they are kicking ass! #ThisPartIsPrettyGood
46.    Q: How many ronin does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. 47 ronin show up and kick major ass. The lightbulb is screwed by default.
47.    Magic swords are still cool.
48.    A dragon with dreadlocks? Someone involved with this movie really loves animating hair. Just sayin’.
49.    Dragon’s are powerless in the Matrix. Go Neo!
50.    Hurray! It seems like the other 46 ronin survived with no casualties.
51.     Shit. The main Shogun is back, dispensing justice. “The bushido code was followed,” he says, “Soooooo, you all get to kill yourselves.” #WorstShogunEver #KeanusBadDay
52.    For a movie that ends with 45 or so suicides, the ending wasn’t nearly as depressing as it could have been. #NotAHollywoodEnding #CanILeaveNow?
53.    This is based on a true story. Even the parts with the Kirin, Ogre and Dragon? My reality just got better. #ProbablyChÅ«shingura
After The Show
54.    This movie was filmed on location just about everywhere BUT Japan. The most common name in the credits: Attila
55.    Are Ken Watanabe and Gedde Watanabe related? #ItTurnsOutNo
56.    Award for best Caucasian in a samurai/ronin movie goes to…. Keanu Reeves? Tom Cruise? Richard Chamberlain? #TheJurysStillOut
57.    What, no gag reel?

Mark enjoyed the movie, despite the 57 thoughts above. No ronin were killed in the writing of this blog post. Mark is not a ronin, samurai or even a kirin. Any similarity is completely coincidental.

Happy New Year!

~ Mark

Friday, December 13, 2013

More Ursula

I've been reading my way through the novels in Le Guin's Hainish Cycle, her series of philosophical/anthropological musings about what happens when differing groups of hilfs (highly intelligent life forms) cross the stars and interact with native populations. I've taken Ian Watson's suggestion for the internal chronology of the cycle as a starting point. This is not, however, the order in which Le Guin wrote the novels.

What I have finished so far, in order:

The Dispossessed (published in 1974)
The Word for World is Forest (1976)
Rocannon's World (1966)

I had a revelation in reading this last one. As far as I have been to tell Rocannon's World was Le Guin's first published novel. And in reading this early work, I realized that up until then, I have thought of UKLG as She Who Can Do No Wrong. As the epitome of excellence in the craft of writing.

But Rocannon's World is a mess.   Let's go on an adventure! Ah, look here at this creature, what will happen in our interacting with it? Interaction. Conflict. Move on to another interesting creature or group of people. What will happen now? And on and on. And all these creatures, all these peoples, all these events, none of them feel fully tied together into a whole. There are some very beautiful passages, and some striking ideas that Le Guin carries on to explore in the later-written novels. But in those later novels every passage is right, is a piece of the whole, is said beautifully, correctly, just as the story needs it to be said.

For me this was an important discovery. Ursula herself learned her craft. She got better. She got fantastic. But she wasn't always fantastic, she seems to have practiced her way there.

Perhaps some of us are gifted with something like a natural talent for story-telling, but we aren't necessarily lost if we haven't been  born into it. We all can practice our way toward excellence.

That was a good thing to be reminded of.

Tonight I finish Planet of Exile. (Which interestingly, though published in the same year as Rocannon's World, is a much more integrated and so more engaging novel.) A quote by Le Guin, from the introduction to this novel, nicely captures what I've been trying to think through here: "I learn by going where I have to go."

Next up: City of Illusions.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ancillary Justice

My office, left-center

With the advent of my newly indentured servitude in the dusty and shadowed corridors at the Great Institute of Secret Learning and Ancient Knowledge, I've had plenty of time to catch up on my reading while crammed into the moldy dark of the commuter cattle cars with the rest of the plebeian laborers.

And so, I recently finished Ancillary Justice.

It's the first book by Author Ann Leckie. You might have heard something about it not too long ago. It was making quite a splash in the genre-fiction world, gaining the type of pre-release hype a debut author only dreams about. This is how I heard of it and ended up picking it up.

But for our desert island readers, here is what the back cover synopsis had to say:

"On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren--a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose--to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch."

Weird, huh? Kind of interesting though, right?

I certainly thought so.

So, maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, the synopsis has the long and short of it. The story is about Breq. Breq is a dead person filled with the last remnant of an AI which was once housed in a massive starship and the hundreds of corpses that made up its crew. Its only living crew members had been its officers. During this time, Breq was known as The Justice of Toren, part of a grand fleet on a continuing mission of annexing planets one by one for the galaxy-spanning empire that built her, all in the service of their nearly omni-present and conquering Emperor Anaander Mianaai. But then something happened--something bad, something blood-soaked--and now Breq is all that is left and she is consumed with a thirst for revenge on the Emperor she once bowed to.

So despite the initial odd edges and ideas, the book is actually a pretty basic set-up when you get right down to it, but also perhaps unsurprisingly, it's those odd edges that really make it stand apart. They are well-written and smart--if maybe somewhat light on the more exciting "action" descriptions, but that's really only a minor complaint. Ancillary Justice is a fun read, stuffed with ideas and coolness, but it moves at a quick pace.

The really interesting part about this book is that it's all written in the First Person. Okay, sure, that's not all that revolutionary at all, actually, except in this case the POV is from that of an AI that used to be a giant starship, and for a large part of the book, also inhabits multiple bodies simultaneously. It's a testament to Leckie's sure hand that the POV jump between the ship and it's many bodies (or Ancillaries... see what she did there with the title? Eh? Eh?) is not only smooth and easy to follow, but feels natural.

Another interesting aspect--very interesting actually--is that, as a result of being a spaceship in a human body, gender is a confusing idea to Breq, and not always readily apparent to her whenever she has to deal with other humans. It's a bit of an issue for her and she often worries if she's guessing right. And what's really great about that is that the default pronoun she uses in the story ends up being "she". Thus, gender is not only a bit opaque for Breq, but for the reader too. And, much like the multiple POV shifts between the same character in its multiple bodies, it feels very natural. In fact, it didn't take long before I didn't notice the lack of "hes" in the book at all. Really, despite Breq's confusion, the gender of the other characters is not only often easily distinguishable, but it quickly becomes apparent that it doesn't really matter.

It's all very well done. Very impressive.

In the end, I really enjoyed the book. The answer to what's going on and what happened to Breq and why she wants her revenge is interesting and fun. Some folks out there might complain that the book turns out to mostly be a prequel for a greater story yet to be told, but I didn't mind that at all. If that tale is ever shared, I will definitely show up for it. All in all, Ancillary Justice is worth the hype and worth the read.

Very recommended.

Buy it, read it,

Friday, November 22, 2013


In my Plotting in Fiction class at Hamline University this semester we’ve had a series of guest authors who have come in to discuss their books. Most are somehow affiliated with the University; all of them have had interesting things to say. One of our recent guests was mystery author Mary Logue. She asked everyone in class to say if they were working on a short story or novel—and to say a few words about their work. One of my fellow students (I’ll keep his identity confidential) had an awesome answer that went something like this:
“I have a novel. I wouldn’t say I’m working on it. There’s school, there’s work, there’s life. But my book is always on my mind. It’s always there.”

I feel that way about my novels. They are there, too, always with me. I think about them in odd moments, dream about them at times when I’m not just sitting down to write. I suspect most writers feel the same way. Novels aren’t written in a day, a month, or just several months. Often they take many months, many revisions, and maybe years’ worth of time. And they don’t just happen during your “writing time.”

Also, then there is life. I have writer friends who have gone through recent job transitions (new job/lost a job), writer friends with relationship changes (fell in love/got divorced. My own writing challenge has been my health—recovering from cancer. Some days when the pain is there, I’m exhausted, the last thing that’s going to happen is writing. Often life comes first before writing. Sometimes it insists.

My second novel Sunlight just turned three years old. How long will it be until it’s completed? I just don’t know. My intent is to get back to its second revision (I’m about ½ way there) and share it with my critique group for their awesome insights. My first novel Blackheart is over ten years old now, stuck somewhere between a third and fourth revision. I got out Chapter One recently and worked on it, got some feedback from some new readers who had positive things to say. It’s still my book. It also longs for completion. It will happen. I just don’t know exactly when. (I also know I don’t have forever.)

So what’s my point? Besides maybe I’m crazy spending all this time in front of a keyboard and monitor making up imaginary people, places and things, telling a story that for the time being is entertaining only to mostly just me.

No. That like most good things in life, good writing takes time, and it takes more than that. It takes tenacity.

Best-selling author Tom Clancy died in October of this year. He once said this of writing: “Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.”

I feel that way about my writing. I’ve written two books. They’re not published yet. But I’ve succeeded in reaching my goal. I wanted to write a book (two) and I have. I’ve leaned a lot over the years from the process. Like many writers I stay tenacious. (I think of some of my favorite authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz who’ve each written 50+ books! Talk about tenacity and dedication to craft!) I have put in my time and I keep fighting the good fight. I keep on keeping on. I keep on writing.

And don’t even get my started on rejection. I think about the author Robert Pirsig and his great book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Supposedly rejected 121 times before it became published and sold millions of copies. Tenacity again, in spades.

Most importantly I’m just reminded you (and me) to stay at it. Writing can be a lonely business, but when it comes to spending time to create your work of art, you’re not alone. You have lots of other good company out there in all the other writers who are taking their time, figuring out who their characters are, where the story is really going, trying to build stories and worlds worth reading about. Hang in there.

Mark Teats

How old is your writing project? What keeps you writing? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Kaiju and Punishment

This week I started the novel Russian novel Crime and Punishment for my plotting in fiction class. I also watched the Kaiju (giant monster) movie, Pacific Rim for the second time. This caused some confusion in my mind. It also made me wonder how many other people mix up Kaiju movies with great Russian novels. So here is a quiz to test your knowledge on both subjects. The key is at the bottom. No cheating!

Quiz: Russian Novelist or Kaiju?

 1. Select the Russian Novelist who did NOT direct King Kong?
    a)  Merian C. Cooper
b)      Peter Jackson
c)      Nikolai Gogol
d)      John Guillermin

2. Matthew Broderick’s character in the 1998 Godzilla:
    a)  Nikolai Blagoveshchensky
b)      Niko Tatopoulos
c)      Nikolay Karamzin
d)      Nikolai Negorev

3. “Drift” Pilot Team of the Russian Alpha Jaeger in Pacific Rim:
        a)     Sasha and Aleksis Kaidonovsky
b)      Alyona and Lizaveta Ivanovna
c)      Vadim and Nadezhda Kozhevnikova
d)      Sofia and Sasha Sokolov

4. This epic story revolves around a giant monster attack on a major metropolitan area as told by a small group of people.
    a)    Taras Bulba
b)      Demons
c)      Cloverfield
d)      One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

5. This controversial story tells of the aging Humbert Humbert's obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze.
        a) Ghidora
b)      Rodan
c)      Cloverfield
d)      Lolita

6. An experimental Kaiju escapes from his captors and is suspected to be the creature that is killing people all over the countryside. But when the Kaiju from the lab appears at the same time as the evil Kaiju, the two begin to battle across Japan.
        a)  War
b)      War and Peace
c)      The War of the Gargantuas
d)      The Duel

7. Name the female character played by Fay Wray and Naomi Watts in King Kong who was the “Beauty who slayed the beast.”
        a)  Anna Karenina
b)      Anna Dostoyevskaya
c)      Anna Kashina
d)     Ann Darrow

8. Godzilla’s lovable, flying, comic relief Kaiju son introduced in the 1979 animated Hanna-Barbera/Toho production:
        a)  Gaidar
b)      Gogol
c)       Godzuki
d)      Guro

9. Thought by many to be the number one Russian Novel of all time. When the student Raskolnikov puts his philosophical theory to the ultimate test of murder, a tragic tale of suffering and redemption unfolds in the dismal setting of the slums of czarist, prerevolutionary St. Petersburg.
        a)    Gamera vs. Monster X
b)      The Host
c)      Crime and Punishment
d)      The Brothers Karamazov
e)      Monster Zero

10. Thought to be the King of All Giant Monsters, this Kaiju appears in over 25 films.
        a) Tolstoy
b)      Dostoyevsky
c)      Zamyatin
d)      Godzilla
e)      Gigan

So how did you do? If you got only the Russian Novelist questions right, go see more Kaiju movies. If you got only the Kaiju questions right, good on you. And if you got both types of questions right, well, you are one messed up person. Seek help immediately.

     ~ Mark - @ManOWords

(Answer Key Below)

1. C  Gogol did NOT direct Kong (but he wanted to)
2. B   Niko Tatopoulos
3. A  Sasha and Aleksis Kaidonovsky
4. C  Cloverfied
5. D  Lolita
6. C  The War of the Gargantuas
7. A  Ann Darrow
8. C  Godzuki
9. C  Crime and Punishment
10. D  Godzilla!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Saga Reader Survey

Way back at the beginning of the year, I posted a blog called: 13 comics in '13. It was informative. It was insightful. It was very well received. The subject matter is probably apparent. Anyway, one of the books I mentioned is called Saga, in fact, it was the first one I mentioned. It's pretty good, a mash-up of epic sci-fi and fantasy adventure and romance, it's about two soldiers from adversarial worlds--young and in love and on the run from the forces of their respective armies, a few bounty hunters, a robot Prince and the occasional monster. It's funny, cool, and narrated by the brand new baby of our star-crossed and star-crossing Romeo and Juliet. Great art. Great characters. Like I said: Great book.

So around this time last year, the Creative Team behind Saga were a little curious as to the crowd that was reading their book, so they put up a reader survey. It was random and cute and all la-de-dah and mostly in good fun. They encouraged their readers to fill it out and send it in and then published some of the responses in a later issue. The results were more fun than a barrel of monkeys, so this year they're doing it all again. I have posted the questions below, along with my answers for your reading enjoyment, so if you're interested in the book and also maybe interested in participating in the survey, then fill it out yourself and snail mail that shit to the address posted below: 

Sags Reader Survey
4335 Van Nuys Boulevard, Suite 332
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

I'll be honest, at this point, I probably won't be sending it in myself, because... meh, but feel free to do as you wish on your own: Fill it out for fun, fill it out and send it in, or do nothing. Whatever. Free country.

Ready? Let's go!

1) In the parlance of these newfangled “chat rooms,” what is your A/S/L?


2) And if you don’t mind us asking, where do you buy your comical books?

The Comic Book College on 32nd and Hennepin. They know me there, I'm kind of a big deal...

3) Okay, but when was the last time you climbed a rope and/or used a rope to aid your ascent?

Climbed a rope? I don't remember the last time I climbed a rope... But to aid my ascent? ...'97?

4) Do you believe in any kind of afterlife?

I don't worry about it.

5) Who’s the most famous person you went to school with?

I know one kid went to jail for stealing christmas trees and then crashing during the getaway. He's famous for being a pretty big dumbshit, does that count? Also, there was a girl a few years older than me who had quite the storied reputation when it came to sex. She was very well known among the kids... but admittedly, that was all probably a bit exaggerated. She seemed really nice the few times I talked to her. I think a kid a year below me and some of his friends ended up killing somebody (maybe over drugs) and then tried to burn the body in a backyard fire-pit, but once again: That's a possible exaggeration. Although honestly? It's a lot more likely than the whole gang-bang kegger story. Hmmm... I once saw a guy drink 24 Keystone Lights in a single night. How about that? No? Well then... no one.

6) In adolescent sex talk, what does “third base” represent to you?

Finger-banging. 1st base is kissing. 2nd base is boobs, over AND under. 3rd base is hands in the pants. A home run is sex (oral, anal, vaginal--that's why it's called "scoring").

7) President Obama probably hasn’t had too much free time since he was elected, so which (non-Saga) comics that have been released in the last five years would you most recommend to him?

Anything by Jonathan Hickman. The 1st issue of Matt Fraction's Sex Criminals was pretty not too bad, too. Prophet is great. Also I would generally recommend that he avoid all of the current DC books for the most part. Mostly though, I'd just recommend that he shut down Guantanamo, free Chelsea Manning, and then kick Boehner in his stupid fucking overly-tanning-creamed ass, know what I'm saying?

8) It’s your final meal; what would you like to drink with that?

Two Cream Sodas, please.

9) On Star Trek The Next Generation, which two characters had a never-acknowledged love affair that only you know about?

Ensign Ro Laren and Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of course. Summer and Winter. Fire and Ice.

10) What’s the best thing you’ve ever stolen?

My wife's heart... aw, yeah...

11) Who or what do you miss?

A time when life seemed to have endless possibilities and we had all the time in the world. That, and Firefly.

12)  Have you ever had a possible supernatural experience, and if so, what happened?

I'm pretty sure the house I lived in in high school was haunted by an old woman named Elizabeth. There was always this feeling living there, as if someone was standing in the doorway behind you, but of course, there usually wasn't. And sometimes you'd see someone pass by a door out of the corner of your eye when you thought you were alone in the house--which was somewhat disconcerting when pooping with the door open--but there was never any one there, and other times you could hear someone moving around down in the kitchen when there was no one downstairs, opening cupboards and whatnot. Lots of things like that. Heavy things moved. Doors shutting. Little things. Lots of little things. But the main reason I tend to lean more toward believing this to be true is because even though I definitely experienced this on my own, I didn't talk about it. Not ever, at least not until other members of my family mentioned it on their own, without any prompting. I know what I experienced, I know it happened enough to not just be me being jumpy, and I didn't tell anyone, and they experienced the same things. And it wasn't like the first weekend either, we weren't just being unsure in a new house, this was after having lived there a couple of years. Who knows. I'm not saying it's definitive proof of anything. It was what it was and whatever that was, all I know is that it was something weird I can't explain. Not dangerous, just weird.

13) Do you know anyone currently in prison?

Yes, but I don't write or call.

14)  Which field or fields do you consider yourself an expert in?

Pop culture debates. Befriending babies and animals. Fucking off.

15) Have you ever been given an award?


16)  Has Twitter made you a happier person?

Is it supposed to?

17) What did your parents almost name you.

William. Richard. Ramsey... Ramsey? What the fuck, mom? Talk about dodging a bullet...

18) Did you watch any of those videos that Chelsea Manning helped leak, especially that one?

Yes. I saw the one where the journalists were gunned down by the U.S. Army helicopters. That was pretty fucked up. Although, I honestly couldn't tell gun from camera, but then that might have been due to the film quality.

19) If you had to fight in any war from human history, which would you choose?

The Culture Wars.

20) Isn’t there someone you should finally apologize to this week?

Fuck them

21)  What is the most important article of clothing that you own?

My shoes. Going barefoot outside all the time is gross.

22)  Are you happily addicted to anything?

Oh yeah! Oh yeah... Shyeah.

23) We’re having a dance!  Would you like to come to our dance?


24) You have to permanently give up either movies or television, so what’s it gonna be?

Wait, wait... Why would I have to do that? That's dumb. Could I watch movies on my TV, but not TV shows? Or can I just not use an actual TV? Could I watch TV shows on my Ipod and/or laptop? And if I subscribed to HBO, would I only be allowed to watch half of their programming? Can I not watch movies at all or can I watch them at home, but not in the theatre? What are mini-series or made-for-TV movies considered to be? Who would police this?

Dumb. Neither. Fuck you.

25) Finally, please draw a quick doodle of yourself, especially if you’re not an artist:

I call it: Moment before the Meteor.

So there you go. What are your thoughts? Are you going to fill it out on your own? Come on, it's fun. Either way, you can pick up the first volume of the Graphic Novel here. Buy it. It's good.

Still pooping with the door open, but only when--presumably--alone in the house,