[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
Part 2 will run next week.
It’s almost the end of 2010 and you know what that means: “Best of 2010” lists. Not wanting to let other sites have all the listy fun, we asked our panelists this question:
Not necessarily new in 2010, but new to ‘you’ in 2010. Here is how they responded.
I read more nonfiction than fiction, so it’s perhaps predictable that my two favorite genre-related reads this past year were indeed genre-related books, rather than genre novels.
I thoroughly enjoyed Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2009 by science fiction bestseller John Scalzi. This volume, which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Related Book, is a collection of essays from his blog’s first ten years of existence. (Since Scalzi’s blog has an estimated audience of more than 40,000, you can safely assume it’s more interesting than most blogs.) I’m unfamiliar with the author’s fiction (like I said: I read more nonfiction than fiction), but I find his nonfiction writing style engaging and lively, and the essays here are intelligent, often funny, always opinionated, and very original, covering a wide range of social, scientific, political, artistic, and absurd topics. And because each essay is self-contained, it’s a great book to carry with you for occasions when you’ve got short spurts of reading time: waiting rooms, airports, the hairdresser’s, jury duty, etc.
In 2010, I also enjoyed The View From the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and A Life in Hollywood. This is well-written and entertaining autobiography is by Nicholas Meyer, the writer and director who is probably best known for his association with the better Star Trek films (he wrote and directed The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, and worked on The Voyage Home). Meyer also directed several other films that I really enjoyed (the delightful comedy, Volunteers, starring Tom Hanks; The Deceivers, a compelling historical adventure in India; Time After Time, in which H.G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper), and he is additionally an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and a New York Times bestselling novelist. The book is an engaging look at his experiences in publishing and filmmaking, and it contains some laugh-out-loud anecdotes about his misadventures in both industries.
- Ashes to Ashes season three (TV)
- Blacksad by Diaz Canales and Guarnido (graphic novel)
- We by John Dickinson
- Doctor Who season five (TV)
- Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson
- Jumper by Steven Gould
- Liar by Justine Larbalestier
- The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
- Moon (movie)
- The Prestige by Christopher Priest
The year isn’t over yet, and I’m really enjoying the new Brilliance Audio (Audible Frontiers) reading of The Speed Of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. Of the audiobooks I’ve reviewed this year I’m pleased to report the first audiobook released in the Gabriel Hunt series, Hunt: Through The Cradle Of Fear, and it’s bonus short story “Nor Idolatry Blind the Eye” have really scratched the Fantasy Adventure itch that I occasionally get. Another pair of novels released by Blackstone Audio, written by the recently deceased John Steakley, were designated SFFaudio Essentials. As read by the powerful Tom Weiner Armor and Vampire$ make for a very interesting pair of novels – they have multiple character names in common and yet one is Science Fiction (in the tradition of Starship Troopers) and the other is Fantasy (with vampires). Similarly, Full Cast Audio’s unabridged reading of Robert A. Heinlein’s Red Planet is, in my mind, now the definitive telling of the novel. It features a full cast of actors performing the entirety of the novel’s text (minus attributions). This brings the story to life in a way no TV or movie adaptation ever could – it doesn’t change a single golden word. Finally, George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, available through Audible.com and Brilliance Audio, was perhaps the highlight of my audiobook year. Earth Abides had me reconsidering much of my outlook on life – that’s a powerful piece of SF.
In the audio drama department BrokenSea’s expansive adaptation of Escape From New York blew my socks off! It’s a hardcore retelling of the movie of the same name with enhancements and inspiration from the novelization of the script. And, as always, the ever dependable Red Panda Adventures, now in it’s fifth season, is ramping up to a wonderful World War II arc – turning Toronto superheroes against the baddest baddies of them all – those evil Nazi scum. 2010 was a very good year for audiobooks and audio drama.
I’ve been swept up in Eric Shanower’s epic quest to retell the entirety of the Trojan War in his Age Of Bronze series of graphic novels. I am also currently reading The Walking Dead and enjoying it very much. But I am not yet ready to admit that either The Walking Dead comics or on the TV show are even half as great as the zombie freaky awesomeness in the Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows series Crossed (which I read in the spring). Crossed is one scary good comic. I also thoroughly enjoyed Logicomix: An Epic Search For Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou. It’s kind of about Bertrand Russell and kind of about the only part of philosophy that I am really bad at, natural deductive logic.
Movies and TV
The only movies that I’ve seen, worthy of the designation Science Fiction, in 2010, were Moon and Inception. If you made me pick which was superior I’d take Moon over Inception and not just because I root for the underdog. In TV, Spartacus: Blood and Sand turned out to be well worth wading through – it’s 300-style green screen visual effects nearly drowned me, but I stuck with it, and the story and acting paid-off supremely.
I’ve been reading a lot of young adult books lately, and the ones that stood out for me this year were The Hunger Games (and its follow-ups) by Suzanne Collins and Gracling by Kristin Cashore. Interestingly, both featured girls in their teens which happen to be good at killing people, really. Yet, both authors tackle this issue seriously. Even though I found Mockingjay, in particular, unrelentingly grim I felt the story to be a worthy, important one. Gracling surprised me with its subtle, subversive feminism, which I don’t want to spoil for readers who haven’t read the book yet, but it renewed my faith that BFFWMs can be good.
In graphic novels, I liked, for very different reasons, both The Martian Confederacy by Jason McNammara/Paige Braddock and Haven by Leonardo Rameriez/Davy Fisher. The Martian Confederacy is just kind of a fun, old school romp on Mars featuring a clever caper and a cast of odd-ball characters. Haven is funky re-telling/re-imagining of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” with killer art.
Thanks to a seven-year old at home, I’m so ridiculously behind in movies and TV that we only just now finished watching LOST. I’m not sure I’d put that in any “best of” category, but I ended up enjoying its genre-relatedness, in that I got excited once the science fictional time-travel started and I, with my interests being what they are, actually found the ending vaguely satisfying.
2010 was a fantastic year for me, on all levels. I look back and am amazed at how much I managed during a year which began, in March, with us having a second son (an event guaranteed to rob you of sleep and working, functional, human time for months thereafter). In 2010, I wrote better than ever. Stuff which felt like I had achieved something useful and could be proud of it. It was also a great year for my intake of amazing art in all mediums.
It was only a little to my surprise, as I began putting together this list, when I discovered that most of the year’s best experiences were in film. It was a year in film. I don’t mind that, we should have those once in a while. Let’s start with other categories first, though.
Locke & Key by Joe Hill (volumes 1, 2, and 3) – Joe Hill’s been on my radar since Heart-Shaped Box came out, and the magazine I was working with did a long interview with him. He was an amazing guy, who wrote a stellar book. I devoured his other two books as well, then came to Locke & Key last of all. Amazing comic series. It’s funny and brutal and sad and uplifting and mysterious and gorgeous to look at it. Just the layout of panels, all in service of the rhythm, takes my breath away. It’s not hyperbole to say that this is the first comic series I’ve been genuinely captivated by since Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. This is the first time, in all my intervening comic-reading years, that I’ve ended each issue going “Oh. My. God. What happens next?”
Edgar Allan Poe – That nice Mister Poe didn’t release a new book this year. No, I don’t know why not either. The reason he’s on my list, though, is that I was a vicarious reader of Poe when I was a child and in my early teens, but hadn’t approached his work even once, until this year. This year, spurred on by a Horror Cinema class, I revisited Poe. I was startled to find how much of my internal landscape he had constructed, early on, and I was amazed at how powerful the stories have maintained. It doesn’t matter how far removed we become from the time frame of The Pit and the Pendulum, it becomes no less powerful, primal, desperate. Perhaps it’s cheating to put this on my list, but I consider it valid. In a sense, I’ve come to him with entirely new eyes, and it’s a new encounter.
Iron Maiden – “The Final Frontier” – this was Iron Maiden’s latest album, which came out this past summer. I’m a big Iron Maiden fan, with a particular love for their post-2000 albums. I think “Brave New World” is an amazing masterpiece, and “The Final Frontier” feels, in a lot of ways, like a continuation of the stuff they were exploring in that older album. May I suggest you go onto Youtube, or buy the album, and turn your attention at once to the song Where The Wild Wind Blows? Beautiful, poignant and epic. It summarizes why I love ’em.
My Chemical Romance – “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys” – It’s science fiction, in a dystopian technopunk style. It feels like a Grant Morrison comic, and I don’t think that’s entirely on accident. (Not least because, if you watch their videos, Grant Morrison is charging around having way, way too much fun being an over-the-top bad guy). The album is described as a post-apocalyptic radio-station playing a variety of music, all done by MCR. That’s how it feels. The album’s style veers wildly from one song to the next, but they’re all catchy and sharp. My personal favorite songs on the disc – at the moment; it always changes – are Bulletproof Heart, Destroya, and S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W a song title which they chose just to irritate me every time I type the bloody thing out.
Assassin’s Creed I & II – I experienced both games this year, and have been agonizingly waiting for Christmas to, I hope, bring me the third. These are amazing games. The first one is beautifully designed and huge, but the narrative does drag a bit. The second one takes all the places the first one succeeded and expands them, goes beyond them, building an amazingly huge and powerful game set during the Renaissance. Your alley is Leonardo Da Vinci, and you are a man named Ezio. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, in case you haven’t encountered it yet, because to give it away is really a shame. Play the games. They are amazing.
Hayao Miyazaki – in this, I include a dozen or more of his films. This was the year I went beyond Howl’s Moving Castle, which I had seen some time ago, and I began to work through his entire career. If you have any interest in films, or animation, you probably don’t need me to tell you how incredible he is, so I won’t. Some of his films I took in included Ponyo (the story is a simple five-year-old tale, which my sons love…but the pure, hand-drawn animation is beyond belief), Princess Mononoke (I knew it wasn’t a film intended for children on any level, but I was surprised at its darkness and violence. Amazing film. One of his best.), Spirited Away (I think one of his films that I can hand to anyone and turn them into Miyazaki fans. A beautiful fairy tale, love story, tragedy.), My Neighbor Totoro (I. Want. A. Cat-Bus. If I say that again, louder, can I have one?). The list goes on, from Porco Rosso to The Cat Returns. Pick a Miyazaki film and put it here, under this category. They all belong.
The Devil’s Backbone – I am a very big Guillermo del Toro fan. The way certain people think about art and make art resonates with me, as it does with anyone, and he’s one of those. I still maintain that Hellboy II is one of the most creative and interesting super-hero films. I had been waiting for The Devil’s Backbone, because a college class I was in was going to show it to me. It was a hard wait. But it was worth it. An amazing film which might be my favorite of his, because I have a fascination with ghost stories. Easily as powerful and amazing as his much-lauded Pan’s Labyrinth. There are no bad points in this film.
28 Days Later – I never saw it when it came out. I don’t know why, I just didn’t. This year, I got around to it and was surprised at it. It was intelligent and powerful, with amazing filmmaking and brilliant storytelling. It’s my favorite zombie film, because it took the topic and used it as intelligently as del Toro did, up there, with a classical ghost story. And there was a deliberate nature to the framing of certain shots that thrilled me. I love it when I can feel an artist, beyond the scenes, doing things on purpose, because they care.
The Blair Witch Project – the sheer amount of talk about it, and all the parodies, kept me away from the film when it first came out. I saw it this year and was left hyper and spooked by it. Once the hype goes away and you just watch the film, it’s a terrific piece of work. Intelligent and clever, and it justifies the question of why are they still filming if they are in danger? That’s something that Cloverfield failed at. And I have to say, the ending of Blair Witch is brilliant, in that it just gives you the pieces and leaves your brain to scare the shit out of you. Very smart.
Let The Right One In – had I typed this list up last weekend, this wouldn’t have been on here. I just saw it. This is the 2008 Swedish film of which there has just been an American remake. Given the intelligence and brilliance of the Swedish film, I’m not in a rush to see the American one. I don’t see what else they can say on the topic (aside from “no subtitles, and we want the money”). A slow, thoughtful character study involving a vampire. This is, for me, the first and last word on the topic of vampires. I don’t like vampires overall, and didn’t well before Twilight, or even Anne Rice, did stuff with them. I just don’t see what there is to say with a vampire story. This film is in the same group, for me, as a Guillermo del Toro film. It has that level of thought in it. I want to see it again and again.
Tangled – again, a recent addition. I just saw it two nights ago. An amazing fantasy film by Disney. A seriously amazing film. I came out excited in a way that I haven’t from a Disney film since The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. If they can keep making films with this depth, fun, and intelligence, then Disney will take over the world again, and they’ll deserve it. This wasn’t a film Pixar could have made, brilliant though they be. It was pure Disney.
Last Exile – I’ve watched almost no TV this year. I don’t know why, I’ve just lost interest. This 26 episode anime which I took in via Netflix, though, was a high point of the year. Funny and smart and full of airplanes and gunfights, the closest comparison I can make is to something like Firefly. Terrific fun.
Doctor Who – Stephen Moffat’s first season helming the show, with his new Doctor and his companion, Amy, was beyond belief. It made all the stuff which had become before seem dowdy (especially after a very tired year of specials). The season is one big story, and while there were a few rough episodes, most of them were better than anything I had expected in my wildest hopes. We’re coming up on a new season here, and I’m giddy with anticipation.
Warehouse 13 – I was introduced to this show by a good friend of mine, and was initially hesitant. It was done by the Syfy channel, who are synonymous – for me – with utter shit these days. So I was surprised, watching Warehouse 13, to find that it was amazing. I’ve said before, probably after every new episode…if Warehouse 13 keeps going, it’s the American equivalent of Doctor Who. It’s more or less an infinite idea, new actors – and even warehouses– can come in and out and the show can keep going. The fact that it’s on the same channel as lotso’ wrestlin’ and lotso’ ghost-findin’ boggles my mind.
And that’s my list. The books section of it seems remarkably sparse, not because I’m not reading, but because my reading has shifted away from science fiction, fantasy, and horror (and quite often, away from fiction – I mean the hands down best book I read this year is Charlatan by Pope Brock).
All in all, a fantastic year. I can’t wait for 2011. The post-February-normal-temperature parts of it, anyway.
This year I did some remedial reading in fantasy and fantastic SF. There are classics I’d never gotten around to reading. I caught a few brand new genre books and movies as well. My best in 2010 list:
Avatar. Plot #3-a in the catalog of SFFNal plots, but transcendent special effects. I put it in the increasingly interesting and varied subgenre of theological SF.
The Blue Hackle is the fifth and final in Lillian Stewart Carl’s new series of romantic suspense with a soupcon of fantasy. The heroine and hero are both exceptionally sensitive (“allergic”) to the presence of ghosts. Published in November 2010, Blue Hackle ends the series with the romance carried to a perfect conclusion. The ghosts have their own arc, through various unhappy echoes of truncated lives to, finally, a joyous ghost.
Dragonflight. Some of the angles must have been startlingly new and exciting when Anne McCaffrey did it first, before other writers rang changes on her material. But it’s still an engaging good story.
Hat Full Of Sky by Terry Pratchett. And I *read* the prequel, Wee Free Men, in 2010 after giving the audio book a workout. This is YA that I like better than anything else Pratchett has written because I don’t care much for satire.
The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold. It took me long enough to get around to it, whereupon I discovered that I love this book and what it says about creativity and heroism.
This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman. Terrific book that was never on my radar screen until somebody gave it to me with a “You must read this.” He was right. That C.S. Friedman does in this parable of differently-abled people is intricate and hopeful and fun.