[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
Note: Part 1 can be found here.
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 take my TV seriously. So seriously, in fact, that I refuse to watch it on actual tv with adds breaking up the rhythm and pace. I don’t download. I wait for the DVD. This means I’m usually running a tad behind behind the zeitgist.
Fringe was definitely one of my favourite shows of the year. X-Files for grownups. JJ at his best. A show that makes you think along with it. Currently jonesing for season 3.
I had low expectations of Ashes to Ashes, the sequel to the UK’s Life on Mars, a series so close to perfect that the mere intention of conjuring up a sequel was almost an act of blasphemy. A2A season one was pretty meh. Season 2 engaged and improved. By season 3 I was totally in love and not just with Phillip Glennister either. With all of them — Don’t look at me like that! It could have happened to anyone.
Spooks‘ high tech hardware and blitzkrieg pacing puts it firmly in the spec fic zone, in my mind anyway. Spooks kicked off with a bang back in 2002 and things are still exploding all over the place in season 8. Best consumed with a chamomile tea chaser if you’re hopeful of a good night’s rest afterwards.
When a ghost, a werewolf and a vampire inhabit a share house together, a light, comedic romp does not ensue. Being Human is one of those shows that ended up being more than the sum of its parts due to fine character performances overlaying dark undercurrents of addiction and issues surrounding conformity.
Witty and clever with some amusing riffs on favourite characters, Lost in Austen stars the fabulous Jemima Rooper from Hex and is worth it alone for Mr Collins’ three hitherto unmentioned, repugnant brothers.
Also enjoyed Dexter, Flash Forward, The 4400 and the BBC production of Sherlock Holmes set in 21st century London.
Blackout by Connie Willis. She made us wait nine years for this one, an endurance worth every minute. Time traveling historians stuck in and around the London Blitz, rendered with the author’s trademark attention to intricate detail. I turned those pages quickly, my heart wedged firmly in my mouth. Currently reading part 2, All Clear, slowly, this time because I don’t want the adventure to ever end.
The City and the City by China Mieville. And there was me thinking his earlier books were good! Clearly, he was just warming up with Perdido Street Station and The Scar. The City and the City is a sophisticated tale based on a conceit that should be both utterly ridiculous and unbelievable. Two cities existing on top of each other? Inhabitants trained to unsee one or the other, living in perpetual fear of ‘breach’. The perfect setting for a murder mystery.
Anything written by Graham Joyce, ever. Seriously, is this man even capable of writing a boring book? And they’re not all the same kind, either. He dips and ploughs through all manner of subjects, his key trick being engaging, authentic characters. This year I enjoyed Requiem, Smoking Poppy, Dreamside and The Limits of Enchantment. I’m pleased to see he has a massive backlist to keep me out of mischief for years to come.
I’m still working through an enormous backlog of old books– the result of an addiction to used-book binge-buying and some growing bibliographical obsessions– so most of what I read this year was not new. The best was probably Samuel Delany’s Empire Star. I’ve struggled with Delany’s novels, which I want to love, but his shorter stuff– especially this and The Star-Pit— are great. I also greatly enjoyed Michael Bishop’s Transfigurations (1979), a brilliant and mysterious novel about alien anthropology, and Robert Silverberg’s Tower of Glass, which puts the Babel story in the context of a struggle for android rights.
For new releases, I enjoyed Cory Doctorow’s For the Win (which is not, alas, as good as Little Brother, but definitely holds its own). I also rather liked a new horror novel from Tor– Dan Wells’ I Am Not a Serial Killer. I thought the fantasy elements of the story, when they popped up, felt a bit out of place, but I liked the well-meaning but sociopathic protagonist quite a bit, and the sequel, Mr. Monster, is high on my to-read list.
There have been some great comics coming out, as well. Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Scarlet is off to a promising, radical start. Paul Levitz’s return to the Legion of Super-Heroes has been quite fun as well. More subjectively, I caught up on the last six years or so of Green Lantern earlier this year, and it was an is remarkable stuff.
On the non-fiction end, I was thrilled at the long-delayed release of The Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick 1980-1982, the final volume of a series that’s been coming out sporadically since the mid-’90s. These letters are from the final years of Dick’s life, and are filled with both personal insight and mind-twisting theology. I also greatly enjoyed Douglas E. Cowan’s Sacred Space: The Quest for Transcendence in Science Fiction Film and Television, which contains some excellent exegesis of the likes of Stargate and War of the Worlds. (I think he misrepresents my own writing a bit, but in the grand scheme that’s a very, very small quibble.)
As for television– well, how could anything other than Doctor Who be the best show? (I reviewed basically every episode of the past season, so I don’t think I need to say much more here.) I have also been really, really enjoying the post-hiatus episodes of Caprica, and was thus quite annoyed to hear about its cancellation. Boo, Syfy!
I didn’t make it to the theater too much this year, but Predators was everything I wanted it to be, and a fine heir to the original. And the same goes for Iron Man 2.
For movies, the best thing I’ve seen this year was Moon. A really excellent flick, and I know it came out last year and I was probably the last person to see it, but still. (Also, if you ever want to talk about how Sam Rockwell was robbed by not being nominated for an Oscar, call me.)
As for novels, The Narrator by Michael Cisco was a real treat. I reviewed it on my blog (http://fishmonkey.blogspot.com/2010/11/narrator-michael-cisco.html), if someone wants more details on why you need this book now. Leonardo’s Handwriting by Dina Rubina was an excellent read as well, treading that vast and amazing terrain between mimetic and fantastic. A lovely and thought-provoking book about the hero refusing her destiny, without ever looking back.
In short stories, I loved Haunted Legends (eds. Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas). Disclaimer: I do have a story there, but I recommend this book without reservations and regardless of the fact, because there are so many brilliant stories in it by established writers as well as some newcomers. I’ve read it in small bits because some of the stories left me creeped out for days. If you like shorts that really get under your skin, quietly, and fester, this is a great read.
These are the things that stuck with me and spring most readily to mind — and that’s the best compliment I can offer.
Kelly McCullough’s WebMage Series
Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s The Fey Series
Rob Thurman’s Cal Leandros Series
Naked Heat Richard Castle
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Vampire Diaries
Ghost Hunters on Syfy
Eureka on Syfy
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows prt 1
The Lovely Bones
Psychic Detective Yakumo
The Legend of the Legendary Heroes
Here is my top five genre manga for 2010.
1. Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka by Naoki Urasawa (8 volumes) Urasawa took one of the most beloved Astro Boy stories by Osamu Tezuka, The World’s Greatest Robot, and reworked it for modern readers. In the process, Urasawa created one of the greatest robot stories ever written. His contribution to the genre ranks up there with Asimov’s robot stories. Pluto can be read on multiple levels. Some will see it as futuristic crime thriller, while others will dig deeper and find an exploration into the meaning of personhood. Urasawa has created a future with robots who are as fully sentient as the humans they live alongside. Pluto is a must read for anyone who calls themselves a science fiction fan.
2. Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow (1 volume) Just re-released under the new Kodansha label, Ghost in the Shell is a cyberpunk classic. Major Kusanagi heads Section 9, an elite government squadron designed to fight cybercrime in all forms from brain hacking to international espionage. Written in 1989, Shirow’s vision of the internet seems to be unfolding before us daily. This book has it all: political intrigue, beautiful women, tank battles, philosophical musings, a dystopic vision of the future, etc. Many sci-fi fans are already familiar with Mamoru Oshii’s film based on this manga. Fans of William Gibson will find Shirow a kindred spirit.
3. Vampire Hunter D by Hideyuki Kikuchi (15 novels and counting) If Pluto is an example of high concept science fiction, Vampire Hunter D is a return to the plot-driven sci-fi/fantasy of R.E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. This series takes place in the distant future where the world is in decline. Vampires once tyrannically ruled over humans, but now their race has all but died out. Enter Vampire Hunter D, half human and half vampire. He has rejected his vampire heritage and hunts the last of the vampires and their minions. A wonderful blend of sci-fi, fantasy and classic horror. Vampire Hunter D is a great series to read and let yourself get lost in the world Kikuchi has created. There is a manga adaptation out by Saiko Takaki. Four volumes of the manga are currently available in English.
4. Twin Spica by Kou Yaginuma (16 volumes) This is really a coming of age story with a sci-fi setting. Japan’s first attempt at a domestically built, manned space craft ends in catastrophe. Fifteen years later and Japan wants to restart it’s space program. Asuma is part of the first class attending Tokyo Space Academy with a focus on becoming astronauts. Asuma and her classmates undergo rigorous physical training along with classroom instruction. The art has a slighty cutesy look to it, but don’t be fooled. Twin Spica is a serious series with a lot of emotional depth. Asumi has an infectious positive attitude tempered with realism of the difficulties she faces in becoming an astronaut. It’s an engaging read. There are currently four volumes available in English with more coming next year.
5. Saturn Aparments by Hisae Iwaoka (2 volumes and counting) Ever wonder what life would be like aboard a space colony in permanent orbit above the Earth? Ever wonder what it would be like to make a living as a window washer for the space colony? Well, Saturn Apartments will help answer your questions. The series is sci-fi from the working man’s perspective. Mitsu’s father was a window washer, who was killed on the job. His father’s guild watched over Mitsu and took care of him. When Mitsu graduated high school he decides to joins the window washer guild to pay them back for all their help over the years. The manga is deliberately paced and almost meditative in tone. Saturn Apartment serves as a good balance against science fiction that gets lost in creating fantastical science. Iwaoka reminds us human nature doesn’t change just because our technology does.
I didn’t realize how much I was reading YA until I made a list of books I had read during 2010 and saw that almost half of them were YA! On the YA side, my two favorites were The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan and Nation by Terry Pratchett. Riordan’s series is part of the trend toward mythological fantasy, while Nation was an alternate history with a lot of humor. Other strong YA contenders were The Inferior, by Peadar O’Guilin (almost not YA, what with the cannibalism and all), and Fur-Face, by Jon Gibbs (more MG than YA). I found The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, compelling but the present tense narrative so distracted me I could never finish it.
As for adult books (not adult in the naughty sense), I was surprised that I am now reading so much more fantasy than science fiction. I enjoyed Blood of Ambrose, a classic fantasy by James Enge, Blackout by Connie Willis (my only science fiction favorite, and really it’s almost an historical novel), The Spirit Lens (another classic fantasy), by Carol Berg, and When Good Wishes Go Bad, an amusing contemporary fantasy by Mindy Klasky. I was torn about whether to list Finder, a fantasy by Terri-Lynne DeFino, as adult or YA, as the protagonist starts as a teenager, but I think it has to go as adult because of what happens later. Also, I would have included Under the Dome, by Stephen King, as a favorite, as I loved the writing but I absolutely hated the ending!
I guess my two favorites were Dr. Who— still deciding about the new Doctor– and The Big Bang Theory. I know that’s not strictly science fiction, but the category as described said “genre-related” and all the geniuses on that show are science fiction fans in a big way. I love the writing on the show, and I love that really smart people are shown as liking science fiction. Yay, fandom!
Somehow in 2010 I went to almost no movies, not even Inception. Now that I have FiOS/cable TV, I tend to think, “Oh, I’ll catch it later,” but then somehow I don’t.
Although a number of my favourite authors had new books published in 2010, I’ve yet to read many of them. I’d sooner spread my reading across genres and decades, rather than simply focusing exclusively on the “new shiny” in science fiction. And, to be honest, less than half of the books I read during the year were sf… and none of the sf books published in 2010 which I read actually struck me as “best of the year” material. Having said that, Iain M Banks’ Surface Detail, Alexander Jablokov’s Brain Thief, Ken MacLeod’s The Restoration Game, Gary Gibson’s Empire of Light, and Michael Cobley’s The Orphaned Worlds were all good reads.
But, happily, there were indeed some “best of the year” sf books. While I’ve appreciated DG Compton’s novels over the years, his The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe persuaded me that I want to read still more by him. The book should be considered a genre classic. Compton’s wasn’t the only British sf novel from past decades I read in 2010. Also very good was Richard Cowper’s White Bird of Kinship trilogy — The Road to Corlay, A Dream of Kinship and A Tapestry of Time. Not as good, but certainly not deserving their fate as “forgotten” British sf writers of last century were Rex Gordon and Leonard Daventry. Gordon’s No Man Friday hasn’t aged especially well, but the opening chapter describes such a quintessentially British way of building a rocket to Mars that all else is forgiven. And Daventry’s A Man of Double Deed, the first book of the Keyman trilogy, proved surprisingly enjoyable, with a nicely cynical, and yet thoughtful, protagonist. They don’t write books like they used to.
I read a pair of excellent short story collections during 2010: The Turing Test by Chris Beckett (a name to watch), and Troy by Simon Brown (who deserves to be better known outside his native Australia). I also worked my way through two excellent sf quintets: Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love Cycle, and L Timmel Duchamp’s Marq’ssan Cycle. The first is intensely English, and the second is intensely political. Both should be required reading.
Finally, a pair of sf graphic novels: The Chimpanzee Complex by Richard Marazano and Jean-Michel Ponzio is a translation of an original French bande desinée, published in English in three parts during 2009 and 2010 by Cinebook. The first installment, Paradox, opens with the Apollo 11 CM splashing down — again — in 2035, but containing only Armstrong and Aldrin. The second book, The Sons of Ares, has a mission to Mars discovering a Soviet colony commanded by Yuri Gagarin. There are some stunning ideas in The Chimpanzee Complex but, unfortunately, the final book, Civilisation, can’t quite maintain the level of inventiveness. Warren Ellis’s Ignition City (art by Gianluca Pagliarani), on the other hand, has a single idea at its core , but it’s a good one — a world in which the likes of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were real, but Earth is suffering after a Martian invasion and attacks by a Ming-like alien dictator. Ignition City also deserves a prize for the dialogue: “… your house smells weird.” / “It smells of SCIENCE.”
I’ve no idea if 2010 was a good year for science fiction films. I rarely visit the cinema, and watch most movies on DVD. But, without a doubt, the best science fiction film I watched during 2010 was Cargo, a Swiss sf movie directed by Ivan Engler and Ralph Retter. I was sent it for review for www.zone-sf.com, and gave it top marks. It is, perhaps, not the most original sf film ever made, but it deploys tropes first seen in other films with confidence and entirely in service to a clever plot. The special effects and production design are also top-notch. Another foreign-language film which impressed me this year was the Spanish Timecrimes, directed by Nacho Vigalondo. An ordinary man becomes embroiled in a moebius-like plot after being tricked into hiding in what proves to be an experimental time machine. It’s cleverly done and all makes perfect sense. It’s not as complex or confusing as Primer, but you do need to keep your wits about you.
I saw Moon, directed by Duncan Jones, for the first time in 2010, and thought it the best of the five films on the year’s Hugo Award shortlist (don’t get me started on Star Trek or District 9…). The plot didn’t quite add up, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Derek Meddings-like model work. All it needed was Ed Bishop in the cast and it could have been a Gerry Anderson production. It’s not science fiction, but it is also set (partly) on the Moon: For All Mankind, Al Reinert’s 1989 documentary about the Apollo space programme. It’s the best documentary on the subject I’ve seen, and I’ve watched most of them. Reinert used, and had restored, NASA footage which had not be seen before. It’s impossible to forget what those thirty-three men achieved, and For All Mankind provides an excellent indication of exactly how they, and everyone else involved, did it.
I wasn’t entirely convinced regarding the science fiction credentials of Michel Houellebecq’s novel, Atomised (The Elementary Particles in the US), although the book’s coda firmly identified it as genre. The film Atomised, a German adaptation of the French novel, directed by Oskar Roehler, throws away the book’s ending and so renders itself almost entirely non-genre. One of the two main characters is a molecular biologist, and his work in cloning has science-fictional connotations, but they’re peripheral to the story. However, and perhaps only because of its source material, I’m including it here because it is an excellent film.
In 2010, I watched a couple of scattered episodes of assorted genre television series, but none captured my attention enough for me to want to tune in each week. Except, of course, for Dr Who. Matt Smith appears to suit the role of the Doctor, but I was never really convinced by the series’ story-arc. If you think too hard about it, the sense seems to slip away. Dr Who was never a programme that withstood too much scrutiny, with all those rubber aliens and cardboard sets; but now they’ve got the fancy CGI, it looks great and makes even less sense. Spitfires in space. Right…
But, mostly, I watch television series on DVD. Such as Fringe season one. I came late to this as what little I’d heard of it didn’t actually bode all that well. But when I saw down to watch it, the series proved to be more than just an X-Files clone. The parallel universe and weird science mythology is fascinating, and I can’t wait to get season two on DVD. Another TV series about which I’d heard little that was good was Flash Gordon. It lasted only a single season. The story takes place in the present day in some small US town, but Mongo is in a parallel dimension. The programme is as much about the spillover between the two worlds as it is Flash trying to defeat Ming. I expected to hate it, but it proved to have a charm of its own. The acting is hardly top-drawer, and the special effects were done on the cheap; but Flash Gordon had some good characters and some good stories. It deserved another season.
And I hear Caprica has now been canceled after a single season. I watched the pilot this year and thought the premise interesting. A science fiction television series that, well, isn’t science fiction. It just happens to be set on an invented planet. Well, yes, it has VR and robots (Cylons) in it, and they’re sf staples. But the idea of writing it as a drama struck me as a novel approach. Sadly, it seems most people disagreed, and the audience numbers plummeted. So now they’re tooling up for Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the demographic the SyFy Channel is chasing.
Finally, a pair of British science fiction series. I missed Threads when it was originally broadcast in 1984, but I finally got the chance to watch it on DVD this year. It depicts a nuclear attack on the UK, and specifically on the city of Sheffield. It then follows a handful of survivors for several years in the wasteland which results. It’s harrowing stuff, and done extremely well. Everyone should watch it. A series which became a favourite on watching it is the BBC’s Space Odyssey (Voyage to the Planets and Beyond in the US), about a Grand Tour of the Solar System by the multinational crew of the nuclear-thermal-powered spacecraft Pegasus. The spacecraft visits Venus, Mars, Io, Europa, Titan and Pluto. The programme is presented as a documentary in two episodes. It’s fascinating stuff. And it smells of SCIENCE too.
If The Big Bang Theory qualifies as “genre-related,” well, that’s my television pick for best of the year. The characters’ conversations sound like something out of a science fiction convention, and they’re funny, too. I’d been TV-bereft for years, but when a friend showed me a few recent episodes, I ended up laughing until the tears poured down.
I saw several genre movies this year; most were a waste of my time and money. The two best are animated. Up is marred only by the standard Pixar paucity of female characters. Meanwhile, the late Satoshi Kon’s SF dream-hacking anime film, Paprika (2006), is everything this year’s Inception is not. And all I need to do to prove it is have you watch the opening credits of Paprika (but you really should see the whole wonderful movie).
I didn’t read many SF/F/H anthologies this year, but among those few, Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing, edited by Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak, and Wilde Stories 2010: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction, edited by Steve Berman, are the standouts.
My graphic novel reading was somewhat less sparse. The best graphic novels include the Storm Watch/Authority volumes by Warren Ellis, Mark Miller, et alia; the uneven but ultimately powerful reprint volume The Essential Killraven by Don Gregor, P. Craig Russell, et alia; and a few reprint volumes of the Roy Thomas-penned Chronicles of Conan illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, et alia (in one volume of which the attentive reader can find my first story credit [of sorts]).
The best new urban fantasy novels I read in 2010 are also the best steampunk novels I read: Gail Carriger’s Soulless and Changeless (regrettably, I have not yet read the series’ new volume, Blameless). The best new high fantasy novel I read this year is The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Book One of the Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (regrettably, I haven’t yet read its sequel, The Broken Kingdoms, either). The best recent literary fantasy novel is The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia A. McKillip. The best new young-adult fantasy novels are Janni Lee Simner’s Bones of Faerie and Thief Eyes. Ian McDonald’s Ares Express is the best new science fiction novel I read this year, though I suppose I could as validly call it the best magical realism novel or the best metafictional novel.
The best collection I read this year is Filter House (2008) by Nisi Shawl. In the interests of full disclosure, I will mention she’s my friend and Writing the Other collaborator. But I’ll also mention Filter House is a Tiptree Award winner and World Fantasy Award finalist. Check it out.
I’ve not done as much genre-related reading this year as I would have liked, but far and away the stand-out novel of my reading year was Jeff Vandermeer’s Finch. I know Jeff sees it primarily as detective fiction, and I certainly enjoyed it as such, but I also admired it and the other Ambergris stories for the intensity of place and atmosphere that they offer the reader, as well as the really absorbing ethical issues that need to be grappled with. They chimed very well with my reading in postcolonional studies.
I remain ambivalent about Tachyon Press’s The Secret History of
Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle, as a package, not least that definite article in the title, and I’m not convinced about the ‘Secret’ either, but I have to commend the stories themselves, in particular Kij Johnson’s ’26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss’, which I loved for the juxtaposition of oddness and ordinariness.
Which leads me to think, in turn, of Sylvain Chomet’s The
Illusionist. I loved his previous piece, Belleville Rendezvous but this was somewhat different. It seems, on the one hand, to be an animated love-letter to Edinburgh attached to a whimsical story of an ageing magician, traveling the variety circuit in the early 1960s, and much play has been made of how charming it is. However, I see it as a rather darker piece, particularly the tension between the
magician Tatischeff’s desperate efforts to maintain the illusion for his young charge, who believes he really is magical, and her assumption that he can do anything. A much harder film than a lot of people seemed to realise.