a karate Christmas

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I got two of my holiday gifts today, and here I am modeling them plus a third.

I’m wearing a new embroidered gi (uniform), one of two gifted to me by The Mom. The two gis arrived back from the embroiderer yesterday, and I got them this morning.

I’m holding my two new sais, which were a gift from Shuseki Shihan. I had other sais, but they were old and worn and unbalanced (they were a gift from a student years ago). As a sandan, we’re now responsible for knowing sai techniques. As a shodan and nidan, we did bo and jo techniques, and I’ve been joking that at third-degree we’ve moved on to our next Ninja Turtle…..

The sais are in a spiffy new case, which was a gift from Meredith, who also gave me a pair of rubber practice sais, which are good for around-the-house practice.

It is, indeed, a karate Christmas. Osu!

 

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2017 draws to a close…..

2017 was a helluva year. A lot of things in the world were crummy, most of them relating to the gibbering moron currently occupying the White House, but a lot of things in my life were pretty goddamn fantastic. So I’m focusing purely on the pretty goddamn fantastic part.

The two big things, of course, were that Wrenn and I got married in April and I achieved my third-degree black belt in October.

The wedding was, in a word, magnificent. Our dearest friends and family were there, with the only glaring absence an unavoidable one — Wrenn’s brother got critically ill (he was hospitalized with a heart issue — he’s better now), so we had neither her brother nor her father (who was staying with his son). But it was otherwise spectacular. Glenn Hauman was the officiant, everyone looked great, Wrenn in the dress she made for herself (based on an Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun portrait we saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year), me in my shiny new Brooks Brothers suit and Spider-Man tie. The tables were all decorated with geeky pillows that Wrenn made, we had lovely flowers from a local florist, and the whole thing was held at Mario’s on Arthur Avenue, one of our absolute favorite restaurants, where they treat us like family. This also meant the food was superb.

The ceremony was the perfect mix of solemn and silly, and a good time was had by all.

We also had a lot of people staying at our new home that weekend, and I loved that we could do that with ease. We’ve settled wonderfully into the new place, with the added bonus this winter of now having a parking spot behind the house! (The first-floor denizens moved out and took all four of their cars with them, so now there’s room for us to put our vehicle and we are no longer subject to the vicissitudes of street parking.) We can accommodate a lot of overnight guests in this place, and over the course of the year we, as is our wont, accommodated many, from folks who crashed here during Toy Fair to folks up for the wedding to various travellers needing a warm bed on a cold night or a cool bed on a hot night. Our landlords love us and renewed our lease without an increase in rent, which was a boon, as it’s right on the edge of what we can afford. But it’s totally worth it. We love it here, we love our new neighborhood, we love being right near my parents, we just love it.

The other big thing that happened was that I achieved my sandan (third-degree black belt) in Kenshikai Karate.

This is no small accomplishment. When I first started at the dojo, we didn’t even have any sandans. At that point, the dojo was only 12 years old, and all the black belts were either shodans or nidans (first- and second-degree). This changed in pretty short order, but even so, counting me and Senpai Charles (who accomplished his sandan alongside me) there are only eight active sandans right now (and two others who are still in touch with the dojo, but only come to special events and things, they don’t really train, one due to being too busy with life and family, the other due to being retired and spending half his time with kids and grandchildren on the other coast).

This is rarefied air, is what I’m saying. There are some martial arts disciplines (not ours, mind you) that don’t even consider you a real black belt until you’re third degree. It’s an honor and a privilege to be at this level, and I’m still kind of shocked at myself. Even after thirteen years of training, even after eight years of being a black belt, even after six years of teaching at least one class a week (and sometimes as many as fifteen), my self-image still doesn’t include me being physically strong and athletic. (Never mind that I’m constantly doing things that involve feats of strength around the house.)

Speaking of teaching, that continued to go well. My two afterschool programs are doing swimmingly, and while my kids fighting class has had lower attendance this past month due to the holidays, it’s still going strong. Plus, Shuseki Shihan Paul had to undergo hip surgery over the summer, and I was one of the black belts assigned to take over teaching duties while he recovered, which included teaching a lot of the kids classes. More impressively, he actually tasked me with teaching the Monday evening black belt class a couple of times, which was quite a surprise — I was still a nidan at this point, and to trust me with a black belt class was a tremendous honor.

The promotion itself was an amazing experience, as I not only got to go up with Senpai Charles — who is a pleasure to train with, a great teacher in his own right, and a fine human being — but also Senpai Dylan going for his junior nidan — Dylan is only a teenager, but he carries himself better than most adults I know, and is a really great kid who is, I think, destined for amazing things — and four women who came up the color-belt ranks together all achieving their shodan together: Senpais Vivian, Helene, Alicia, and Libby.

It was also the 25th anniversary of our dojo, which was cause for lots of celebration, including a nifty workout at Wave Hill and a phenomenal party at which our teacher went from rokudan (sixth-degree) to nanadan (seventh-degree), going from being Shihan Paul to Shuseki Shihan Paul, an honor that was way overdue.

My writing career is going pretty dang well, all things considered. I had a bunch of short stories out this year, and I’m extremely proud of every one:

  • “Identity” in Baker Street Irregulars, the first of what I hope to be many Conan Doyle pastiche stories featuring Shirley Holmes and Jack Watson in modern-day New York City
  • “Deep Background” in Aliens: Bug Hunt
  • “Behind the Wheel” in TV Gods: Summer Programming, the latest tale of Cassie Zukav, weirdness magnet
  • “Baker’s Dozen,” a Dragon Precinct story that I finally got out to its Kickstarter supporters (and only a couple of years late!)
  • “Sun-Breaker” in Stargate SG-1/Atlantis: Homeworlds
  • “Live and on the Scene” in Nights of the Living Dead, an anthology co-edited by George Romero his own self, and the last project he worked on before his tragic death this past summer; being in this anthology was one of the great honors of my career
  • Ganbatte” in Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, a story I’m particularly proud of
  • “House Arrest,” another Dragon Precinct story, was reprinted in The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries

My pop-culture commentary for Tor.com continued and expanded — in addition to concluding both the Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch and Holy Rewatch Batman! I started up “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch,” a weekly look at live-action movies based on superhero comics, and also wrote about Wonder Woman, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher. Plus I’ve been reviewing each episode of Star Trek Discovery as it comes out.

The only actual novel of mine that came out this year was the third book in the “Tales of Asgard” trilogy, Marvel’s Warriors Three: Godhood’s End, released as an eBook, and also included in the omnibus Marvel’s Thor: Tales of Asgard, released at the same time as Thor: Ragnarok and including Marvel’s Thor: Dueling with GiantsMarvel’s Sif: Even Dragons Have Their Endings, and the W3 book.

But I also had three Super City Cops novellas out to start the year, as Orphan Black concluded its five-year run, my companion book, Classified Clone Report, was released by the fine folks at Harper, and I closed the year with a story in MINE!, a comics anthology from ComicMix that benefits Planned Parenthood, which had art by my friend and fellow karateka Tom Daly. Plus I wrote a thriller in collaboration with Munish K. Batra, MD, which is currently with my agent.

To end the year, I started up a Patreon, for which I’m doing weekly TV reviews (so far, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, MacGyver, and The Librarians, with Doctor Who coming up), monthly movie reviews (so far, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), cat pictures, weekly excerpts from my work in progress, monthly vignettes featuring my original characters (so far, a holiday bit featuring Cassie Zukav, weirdness magnet), and more.

Not everything was perfect — I had one big project fall through, I didn’t actually finish A Furnace Sealed or Mermaid Precinct like I wanted to, I didn’t have time to work on the mystery — but hey, nothing is ever perfect.

Wrenn and I will be ringing in the new year with some of our dearest friends in a night of gift-exchanging, eating, drinking, and being merry.

Happy new year to all!

 

from the archives: Allegiance on Broadway

On this day in 2015, I went to see Allegiance on Broadway alongside Wrenn and Meredith. The play is no longer on Broadway, sadly, though it’s been a Fathom Events thing a couple times, and it could be revived any number of places and times. Here’s what I had to say about it.

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So last week, Wrenn, Meredith, and I went to see Allegiance. This play was inspired by George Takei, and he has also been starring in it. It’s a musical about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, something Takei lived through in his youth. This particular story focuses on the fictional Kimura family, who had a farm in Salinas, California, that they were forced to sell for pennies on the dollar before they were interned at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. The primary characters are the two youngest members of the family, Sammy — who wants to enlist in the Army to prove his people’s loyalty, and who didn’t get into law school, disappointing his father — and Keiko — who all but raised Sammy, as their mother died giving birth to him. There’s also Frankie, also interned at Heart Mountain, whose parents were arrested after Pearl Harbor, and who engages in several forms of civil disobedience, culminating in his burning his draft card.

Sammy winds up enlisting and joining the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a unit of entirely Asian personnel (a real regiment, as it happens), while Kei marries Frankie and has a daughter by him.

The acting and the singing are both superb. Takei plays both Sammy as an older man in 2001 and the grandfather of the family, who is both wise counselor and comic relief, and Takei plays both roles superbly. In particular the ending where Sammy is reunited with a niece he only met as an infant, it’s heartstring-tugging in the best way. And as Ojii-san, he gets a lot of the best lines. The rest of the cast is also fantastic. Lea Salonga — who originated the role of Kim in Miss Saigon, and did the singing voice for the female lead in both Mulan and Aladdin — plays Kei, while Telly Leung — probably best known for his role on Glee — plays young Sammy. Opera singer Christopheren Nomura brings an amazing singing voice and tremendous dignity to the role of Tetsuo, Sammy and Kei’s disapproving father, while theatre vet Michael K. Lee brings a good mix of humor and outrage to Frankie.

The most fascinating performance, though, is by Greg Watanabe, who plays Mike Masaoka, who was the head of the Japanese American Citizens League, and served as the liaison between the government and the Japanese-American community. Masaoka was a complicated individual, and Watanabe gives a brilliantly nuanced performance, as Masaoka has to dance on the line between government stooge and advocate for his people. There are times — particularly early on — when Masaoka is entirely on the stooge side of that line, but as the play progresses you see him trying really hard to get back to the advocate side, and only occasionally succeeding. (Masaoka was responsible for getting the government to agree to form the 442nd.)

The pacing is also superb, as is the dialogue. Characters are allowed to be complicated, and nuanced, and interesting. These are people we see being interned, not stereotypes, with flaws and hobbies and friendships and foibles and eccentricities and all the rest. And the story doesn’t shy away from negatives, nor does it paint anything in black and white — indeed, the main conflict of the story (Sammy’s gung-ho patriotism versus Frankie’s civil disobedience) is one in which both sides are completely right.

The part of the play I admired the most, though, was the structure of how they portrayed the end of the war. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was done in a very stylized, very nastily effective manner, and that was immediately followed by a happy-go-lucky swing number called “442 Victory Swing,” in which three white USO troops sing a joyous song about how the U.S. has won and everything is really swell, with lots of 1940s smiles and winks and finger-snaps and Yankee Doodle patriotism, and of course we’ll let all the Japs out of the camps! Here’s twenty-five bucks and bus ticket, and everything’s square now, right?

The play has come under criticism for some inaccuracies, mostly in terms of the harshness of the camps. Despite what is seen in the play, Heart Mountain didn’t have a huge military presence, prisoners weren’t beaten, there wasn’t a curfew (they were in the middle of nowhere, so there was nowhere for them to go anyhow), and the medical processing on arrival wasn’t nearly as invasive as portrayed. Frank Abe wrote a piece for Nichi Bei that excoriated the play, and while I sorta kinda see his point, he’s also missing the point. It’s the same point missed by people who watch film versions of books and complain that they’re not exactly alike.

That point being: this is not a documentary. This is a musical, and it’s designed to entertain and — in this particular case — to enlighten. This is a segment of American history that is rarely mentioned or acknowledged. Indeed, one of the reasons why it’s known at all is due to the tireless activism by Takei. Yes, it’s melodramatic, but the primary complaint Abe has is that the internment camps weren’t as bad as shown in the play — but how effective would it be to softpedal the nastiness? Yes, it’s more accurate to say that the treatment was more civilized, but that makes for lesser theatre, and also makes for lesser emotional impact. Most Americans’ view of World War II is embodied by the “442 Victory Swing” number: shiny happy Americans beating on those awful Nazis who put Jews in concentration camps. The ugliness of what was done to Japanese-Americans needs not to be prettified or seen as not that bad — it needs to be portrayed in as negative a light as possible, otherwise it won’t be effective. Worse, it could be seen as not that big a deal.

Having said all that, the play is far from perfect. In particular, the music is remarkably unmemorable. Not a single song stuck with me after I left the theatre. And there was one number in particular, that threw in a bit about them playing baseball that kind of, you’ll pardon the expression, came out of left field, and nothing was done with it afterward, so I’m not sure why it was there. Very weird.

The phrase “after I left the theatre” in the previous paragraph is important: the play is gripping while you’re in your seat, and the flaws don’t really reveal themselves until you think about it later. But it’s still a very good play that is both entertaining and important, and absolutely worth your time. Takei’s performance in particular is delightful, and you gotta admire the guy for doing a performance seven times a week that forces him to relive the worst thing that happened in his childhood…..

So if you’re in NYC, go see it! It’s playing at the Longacre Theatre on 48th and Broadway.

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from the archives: a spoilery ramble on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The following is a blog post I wrote on 23 December 2015, shortly after seeing The Force Awakens in theatres. Some of the rant here still applies after having seen The Last Jedi two years later….

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So we have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There are spoilers here, because I don’t want to keep anything secret — in particular, I want to shout to the rafters that we finally have a heroic-journey action movie, and the chosen one isn’t a white male!

Okay, I’m a hetero white guy, and I’m done with hetero-white-guy heroes. I’m sick to fucking death of all the women and all the brown-skinned folks and all the Asian folks and all the gay folks being reduced to the sidekick, the hired help, the boss, the assistant, the comic relief, the person who dies to motivate our hetero-white-guy hero, who is always the one who gets to do the fun shit. This is true even if the hetero-white-guy hero is far from the most worthy person in the story. I mean, let’s face it, Hermione is smarter and more capable than anyone else at Hogwarts, yet we keep hearing about how Harry is the chosen one and the focus of everyone’s admiration and approbation in the *sigh* Harry Potter books. Lord Bowler was far more capable than Brisco County Jr., yet it was The Brisco County Jr. Show, so guess who got to do the cool stuff? Trinity was a kickass bruja who could take on anyone, yet she had to be subordinate to this incompetent corporate drone with delusions in The Matrix, because someone decided he was the chosen one. Hope Van Dyne was obviously ready to be a superhero, but instead Scott Lang gets to wear the suit and save the day, but Hope can be the sidekick in the next movie! (This grated even more because the Wasp is actually a much more significant character in Marvel Comics than Ant-Man ever was.) For that matter, why does fucking Ant-Man get a movie when the Black Widow — who has been the most interesting character in all four movies she’s been in — doesn’t?

So fuck spoilers, because I want to shout to the rafters that the heroes of the new Star Wars trilogy are a woman and a black guy, with the secondary hero being a Latino guy. And nobody makes a big deal out of it, and it doesn’t alter the story in any way that matters.

Of course, people are complaining about how unrealistic it is (in a world with magic Force powers, not to mention ray-beams that can cross solar systems in an instant, I don’t see where realism enters into it, but whatever) that Rey suddenly becomes all Force-proficient and stuff, and can pilot the Falcon. Thing is — Rey doesn’t do a single thing that Luke didn’t do in the 1977 film. In fact, her journey is more convincing than his. At the beginning of The Force Awakens, we see that Rey has lived a hardscrabble life as a scavenger, can more than hold her own in a fight, and is proficient with a staff. This puts her about fifty steps ahead of Luke — at the beginning of Star Wars, Luke mostly just whines a lot when asked to do simple chores. Yet he gets to save the day in the end and no one talks about how “unrealistic” it is that he flies an X-wing in the climax.

There have also been complaints that she’s so incredibly proficient with a light sabre without any training, and those complaints are, to be blunt, ignorant. We know from jump that Rey is proficient with a staff, and all the techniques she uses in her climactic duel with Kylo are actually staff techniques. (I’m also trained in staff techniques as part of my karate training, so I’m not just pulling this out of my ass.)

Basically, all these complaints boil down to “she’s a girl, she can’t do that stuff,” to which I say, fuck you. She can too do that stuff, and it’s no more or less convincing and/or realistic that she does what she does than it is that Luke did what he did 38 years ago. If you bought it then, you have no excuse for not buying it now that doesn’t boil down to being a sexist asshole.

The movie is not perfect. It apes the structure of Star Wars a little too closely, Poe’s recovery from the tie-fighter crash and return from Jakku really should not have happened off-camera (nor should our first view of him since the crash be a brief one while he’s wearing the big orange helmet — the response to seeing him again should be “yay!” not “shit, was that him?”), the coincidences are credulity-stretching even by the low standards of this franchise, and the plot is barreled through a bit too quickly with relationships formed a bit too unconvincingly quickly. Finn’s journey from Stormtrooper to hero is a bit shortchanged, though John Boyega plays him delightfully. And the First Order apparently follows all the tenets of the Empire, including by far the most important: guardrails are for wussies!

OTOH, I totally want my own BB8, Harrison Ford was letter-perfect as the older Han Solo, and I loved the fact that, after so many decades together, Chewbacca no longer takes a single atom of Han’s shit.

I’m on the fence about Han Solo’s death. It wasn’t quite as contrived as the equivalent death in Star Wars (Obi-Wan’s), but it felt pretty contrived anyhow. Hell, as I’m watching it, all I can think is, “Okay, Ford only agreed to come back if they killed him.”

But the most important thing is that, after years and years of bullshit about how women don’t sell movies (while top-grossing movies keep having female leads, from The Hunger Games films to Frozen), we now have the most popular pop-culture franchise in the history of the world telling us that the primary hero, the one in whom the Force is strong, is a woman. And Daisy Ridley plays her magnificently. Indeed, she’s a better actor at this stage in her career than Mark Hamill was in 1977 (though Hamill improved tremendously in the subsequent two films).

(For an incredibly good take on Rey’s place as a role model check out this article.)

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: Mystery Men and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

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For the final “4-Color to 35-Millimeter” of 2017, I take a gander at two team movies that each failed at the box office. Only one of them actually deserved it. The great superhero movie rewatch examines Mystery Men and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

An excerpt:

Making Harker a vampire, and also a secondary character—she’s more or less the main character, along with Quartermain, in the comics—is a disservice, and Peta Wilson—who was superb in the title role in the USA TV series La Femme Nikita—is undercooked here to a surprising degree for someone who’s supposed to be a vampire. Re-casting Dorian Gray as a bored immortal doesn’t entirely work, nor does having him be an unrepentant villain (it doesn’t help that Stuart Townsend doesn’t really have the chops to elevate the role beyond the don’t-hate-me-because-I’m-beautiful mode that is all the script provides). Tom Sawyer adds nothing to the movie—it was done so there’d be an American, which was pointless, especially since there’s no relationship between Mark Twain’s character and this person.

Worse, because Sawyer and Quartermain are thrown together for most of the movie, we’re denied the much more interesting pairing of Quartermain with Naseeruddin Shah’s regally dignified Nemo. (Their exchange on Nautilus is delightful: “I may have been overly rude, earlier, when I called you a pirate.” “And I may have been overly charitable when I said I wasn’t.” The movie needed more of that, not less.)

a most excellent holiday season

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We were worried this would be a bad holiday season, as we are, as ever, short on funds, but an expected gift and the promise of money coming in the new year meant we could actually buy presents for people, which made us happy — though we’re still doing some homemade presents for some folks.

The holidays themselves were delightful. Christmas Eve morning I was scheduled to teach the Sunday adult white belt class, which I’ll be doing again on New Year’s Eve. However, nobody actually showed up for class. This happens sometimes, especially on holiday weekends. So I spent the hour practicing a bit, until the folks showed up for the conditioning class afterward.

Wrenn and I did two of our traditional holiday features, which we have on DVD: Hogfather that night and The Hebrew Hammer in the afternoon. Between those, we went over to my parents’ house for lasagna and presents and wine. Most of our presents had been bought already — renewal of our memberships to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Wildlife Conservation Society (which includes all five New York City zoos), and the New York Botanical Gardens, plus two new karate uniforms. But at Christmas Eve itself we got a gift card to a high-end local supermarket, plus Wrenn got some body lotion she likes, some Star Wars biscuit molds, and a pair of slippers, and Dale got beer and a Funko Pop Dalek, I got a sai case and practice sais, and we all got candy.

On Christmas Day, we went to my aunt’s for roast beast and more presents. (She gave us cash.) Then the three of us drove down to Times Square in the cold to see Murder on the Orient Express, which was only playing in two theatres in NYC — the AMC in Times Square, and then only once at 10.25 at night and a place in Greenwich Village. We went and enjoyed the heck out of it. Only two things marred the evening — when we left the AMC in Times Square, the last escalator down was out, and so was the elevator, which was an issue for Dale, who has a prosthetic leg, and orthotic on his remaining foot, and chronic pain. Walking down the escalator was possible, but painful, and he wound up having to do it, as there was nobody in authority to turn on the elevator at 1am on Christmas night. Sigh.

On the 26th, several of us gathered at a local pub, including both uncles, for a Boxing Day brunch. After that, Wrenn and Dale had some errands to take care of, and I had to work the dojo desk (I’m filling in until the new person starts in the new year) and take the 7.15 adult class.

Tuesday also brought a nice surprise: Dale’s daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids are in town! They asked to come over to dinner, and we invited them to come tonight, so some of Tuesday’s errands consisted of buying food to feed the hordes tonight.

When I got home from the dojo, we watched Doctor Who‘s Christmas special, which I’ll be reviewing on Patreon this week. Short version: it was a lovely capper to both the Peter Capaldi era and the Steven Moffat era. Looking forward to seeing Jodie Whittaker in front of the camera and Chris Chibnall behind it next fall.

Today I’ve been working on A Furnace Sealed, working at the dojo, and hanging out with Dale’s family. Tomorrow and Friday will be more of the first two, plus writing that Who review and a Cassie Zukav vignette for Patreon, plus the traditional year-end blog entry.

Saturday is the signing at the Forbidden Planet for Mine! as well as the last poker game of 2017. Sunday night we’ll be going to a friend’s house to ring in the new year with some of our dearest friends. There will be food and drink and merriment and presents.

Hope the rest of you are enjoying the season in whatever way you see fit!