This week, we asked our respondents about their favorite genre consumed in 2014:
This is what they had to say…
For me, it’s a pretty short list. Not because 2014 was in any way lacking, but when you live in Bujumbura, where it takes 14 hours to download an episode of Game of Thrones, it’s a little tricky to keep up with the times. For example, I didn’t get to see Guardians of the Galaxy until early December, in less than ideal conditions (on an aircraft). Even so, it immediately made The List. What I loved about Guardians was its unabashedly goofy humour. It was just so much fun, something I feel has been missing from a lot of SF/F lately, especially in comic book adaptations. The Marvel universe has had some fun outings recently – notably The Avengers and the Iron Man franchise – but these have distinguished themselves by being the exception rather than the norm, a flash of colour in a crowd of dark and brooding. And while I have nothing against dark and brooding (I write some of it myself, as E.L. Tettensor), I do think it’s maybe a bit over-represented in SF/F right now. I miss the fun sci-fi flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and before Guardians, the last one I can really think of was Serenity.
Another late entry that went straight to the top of my list was the deluxe edition of The Last Unicorn comic books. Bound together with a beautifully embossed cover, these comics are just a joy to look at. I particularly love the appendix featuring the work of several different artists, all of whom interpret the characters very differently. It’s a wonderful re-imagination of a childhood classic, and you can literally spend hours thumbing through it. I’m lucky enough to have snagged an autographed copy as a Christmas gift, and it will definitely take pride of place on my bookshelf.
Finally, I have to mention The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, just because it’s a bit of a moment. Peter Jackson’s adaptations have been a holiday tradition for over a decade, and this one feels like closure. The end of an era. I’m not suggesting we get all misty-eyed or anything, but I don’t think anyone can deny the impact this film franchise has had on the genre, and that’s something worth celebrating. I’ll definitely miss having new installments – though I’m sure we have a few years of Extra Features to look forward to, at least.
Ah, another year done and almost wrapped up. The end of the year always brings the arrival of a gazillion best of lists. I’ve already done all my bookish lists over at A Fantastical Librarian and, as I told Paul, I’m not a gamer, I haven’t actually seen any 2014 (genre-related) films, not to mention the fact that due to being in The Netherlands I’m perpetually behind on genre TV, so I had to think a bit before landing on my topic for today. I decided to go with my favourite podcast episodes of 2014.
To start off with the podcasts. I listen to a lot of podcasts and I have many favourites but the following episodes are the ones that have stayed with me the most and I think are a good reason to start listening to these podcasts. To start off with, an episode – well, actually two – from SF Signal’s own podcast. In the past year Patrick has gotten Jaym Gates to do some of his wrangling (as he calls it) for him and this has resulted in some of the most interesting discussions of the past year. My favourite of the bunch were the double episode on Military SF (episodes 236 & 238) not just for the broad take on what constitutes military SF, but because I really liked the different authors on the panels and the discussion they had.
Next, I’m going to stick close to my home and point you to Skiffy and Fanty’s Dutch SF Roundtable episode. In 2014 Skiffy and Fanty was all about World SF and I loved the way they traveled the globe, but to me the most surprising episode was the one on Dutch SF. This might be surprising, as I am Dutch, but since I only read in English (in any genre really) this was an eye-opening episode for me. It’s a great episode and I actually recommend checking out more of their World SF episodes because they are fascinating.
Back to a broader viewpoint and just as fascinating was tor.com’s Rocket Talk episode 23 with N.K. Jemisin and Kate Elliott. Rocket Talk only started in March this year, but it’s quickly become a firm favourite, with this episode standing out. I loved listening Nora and Kate school the internet on systemic bias, whether gender or race based, and this episode should be mandatory listening for anyone who doubts these biases exist in SFF.
To remain a bit in the activist space, my next one is a tie between two episodes from Galactic Suburbia. The first is episode 101 which talks about the brilliant Guest of Honour speeches at WisCon by N.K. Jemisin and Hiromi Goto and about #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen. The second is episode 108, which is their first episode discussing GamerGate. Both of these episodes discussed themes that have been so important and widely discussed in the past year and were very informative and interesting.
So those were my favourite genre podcast episodes for 2014. Of course, I was totally addicted to Serial as well and if you enjoy true crime reporting, then you should totally give that a listen as well. In any case, happy listening and I hope 2015 brings you nothing but fabulousness, great books and genre goodness. Happy New Year!
The things I loved this year ranged from the awesome ridiculous space opera of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie to a manga about making dinner every night for someone you love called What Did You Eat Yesterday?
It’s interesting looking at my list how little traditional science fiction/fantasy is on it. None of my favorite anime of the year have fantastical elements in them, beyond the typical random fox-faced rival/shonen power-up.
In fact, my very favorite this year, Barakamon is about very little at all. The story of Barakamon follows Handa-sensei, a calligraphy master, who is sent into a kind of self-imposed exile to a small southern island in Japan for having punched-out an art judge who criticized his work as ‘reaching for the mediocre’ (pretty hardcore dis, in my opinion, but you know: punching bad.) There on the island Handa meets up with the irascible Naru, a young prepubescent girl, who’s main job in the anime seems to be to teach our hero the power of play and the importance forging relationships with other human beings. City mouse meets country mouse; hijinks ensue. Only the hijinks are very slow and peaceful and often end with some kind of deep lesson for our hero, and, of course, the viewer. The very rare fish nearly gets caught, but doesn’t. But, during the process of fishing, Handa learns that sometimes the greatest risk is one of creative experimentation… even if it fails. Every episode is like this and I found it deeply charming and… relaxing. Since it’s new this year, there are only twelve, half-hour episodes.
My second favorite anime of the year was Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, which follows Nozaki, a high school boy who is also a mangaka (the artist and writer of a manga) for a girl’s monthly magazine. The whole shtick of this anime hinges on the fact that there’s a lot of humor to be had in the idea of a somewhat emotionless, clueless boy writing romance. The thing I ended up enjoying bout Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun was that this was the kind of anime that could have descended into the land of gender stereotypes, but never did. It’s silly and sweet, but sly, too.
The remaining two, Yowamushi Pedal and Free! are both sports anime in their second seasons this year. Yowamushi Pedal apparently translates as “Weakling Pedal” and is an anime about an anime geek, an otaku, who gets roped into joining the high school bike team. The first season made me cry at points because it’s all about overcoming tremendous odds for your team, your friends. The second season, our main character, Onada has made the team and we’re deep into the big Inter-High race. It’s very feel good in a ‘leave no one behind’ kind of way. Plus, there’s adorable geekines. Free!’s second season, which was subtitled Eternal Summer, is the wrap-up of this highly popular swimming anime. Eternal Summer follows the Iwatobi Swim Club through high school nationals and the struggles of the third years, who have to start making plans for the future in the scary world… outside of high school and the world of tournaments.
Slightly more of my manga had science fictional elements in them. My favorite this year, Gangsta, is science fiction.
For a manga that doesn’t even seem to have a Wikipedia entry (in English) yet, TV Tropes has already skewered Gangsta one within an inch of its life…which, I guess, makes it awkward to say how much I enjoyed this. Gangsta by Kosuke is the story of two “Handymen” (Benriya,) Nic an Worick, who, as such, are hired out as ‘fix it’ gangsters in the science fictional version of the “ubiquitous fantasy land,” a tough-as-nails, down-and-out, urban slum called Ergastuium. The two also have a nebulous relationship with the local police, and seem to work as informants. During an early scene where they meet up with Chad, their police contact, we discover that Nic is more than just the strong, silent type, he’s deaf. He gets by reading lips and has learned (presumably) Japanese Sign Language. He will talk, when pushed to extremes, and the mangaka does a cool thing with the lettering to imply the deaf way of speaking. Nic, we also discover, is a genetically-modified, short-lived human, a race of superhuman slaves called Twilights. They’re required by law to carry ID, so they’re sometimes called “Tags,” because of the military style ‘dog tags.’ They are controlled by their human overlords with a drug called Celebre (that comes in uppers and downers). What can I say? TV Tropes is dead on, but, apparently, these are all my favorite tropes bundled into one big package. I have a weakness for characters who have been created by/used by society and then rejected. Any time there’s an underclass of any kind, you’ll find me there, rooting for them. Similarly, I have a weird thing for both drugs and prostitutes (as characters and world-building themes) that probably stems from my love of the science fiction sub genre, cyberpunk. Maybe it’s another underclass thing, I’m really not sure, but I found lots and lots to love in this manga. I also really liked the stark art of Gangsta. There are times when all we see of a character is their footwear, and yet they’re instantly identifiable.
Kinou Nani Tabeta/What Did You Eat Yesterday?, a weekly by the mangaka that brought us Ooku: Inner Chambers, (a Tiptree Winner) is a curious read. It’s two parts a cooking how-to and one (very tiny part) slice-of-life that follows a vaguely dysfunctional gay couple. I happen to be very fascinated by Japanese cooking, but even I skimmed some of the more lengthy sections of food preparation. There’re currently only two volumes (thirteen chapters) available in English, so the risk of trying this out is minimal. I ended up reading the whole thing. I’m not sure why. The main character, Shiro, is a closeted lawyer and emotionally very distant from his lover, Kenji, a perky hairdresser. We get almost nothing about their relationship–we know who ‘tops’ (though we never see it) and we get a very, rather mundane story of their first meeting, and an almost sad way in which they end up living together (Kinji’s apartment is flooded after a storm; Shiro blurts out that he could stay at his place.) It’s weirdly compelling. It shouldn’t be. But, I ended up really enjoying this story considering how little it’s about.
Hitogatana by Onigunsou is a futuristic, science fiction shounen (boy’s) manga. The basic premise is that there are weaponized mechs (originally built for scientific research, but people, being people, started making them wicked and creepy-cool.) Unlike a traditional Pacific Rim kind of mech, these are controlled from a distance by a kenshi, who kind of-sort of hand-wavingly downloads their consciousness into them. For reasons, some of these mechs, called katana, have gone rogue. So there’s a team of ‘good guys’ (the AKCD) who hunt down these bad swords and bring them to justice. Our three main heroes are the members of the AKCD’s 8th Division: a katana/kenshi combo of Tsurumaru/Seri Yachiyo, their ‘swordsmith’ Juuzou Tsukiyama, and, the final member, a mysterious (if very domestic) young man known only as Togusa. Seri is a human who had been ‘bought’ by a specialized weapons-training program as a very young girl. She was raised to to be an “artisan,” a kenshi who can stay inside their katana for far longer periods than your average person. It seems, too, that a large part of their training involved learning to beat the crap out of people. She kind of ‘failed out,’ not because she wasn’t bloodthirsty enough, but because she retained her memories from the past, and thus, it was deemed, broken. However, her being ‘broken’ turned into a plus when the program was shut down. Only Seri and one other were allowed to return to normal society. What I love about this character is that, due to this past, her needs are kind of simple–while being really profound. All she really wants is to live a ‘normal’ life. Only… she really DOESN’T know how to do this, not really, but… close enough is good enough for her. She and Togusa kind of fake being a domestic couple–squabbling over whether or not to put tomatoes in a dish, how much Seri drinks, and all the small little things that make us human. Which is only ironic, since Togusa, really isn’t human at all. We learn fairly early on that Togusa is a human-katana hybrid. His exact origins are still fairly mysterious (something about a soul drug, maybe, I wasn’t clear), but Togusa seems to have been raised much like Seri–to be a living weapon. At one point, when they’ve discovered another like him (who seems to be entirely an automaton), it becomes clear Togusa only recently learned how to smile. I love tragic backstories like these. I also kind of have a soft spot for ‘AI’s who struggle with being human. The art is clean and the action is super-easy to follow. The only problem is it’s not out in English yet, so far as I can tell. I read illegal fan translations.
Deadman Wonderland by Jinsei Kataoka and illustrated by Kazuma Kondou is super-creepy, dark science fiction. The story follows Ganta Igarashi a middle schooler who gets framed for a school massacre he didn’t commit and sent off to a privately owned prison/amusement park. Seriously, that kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Honestly, I normally don’t in for this kind relentlessly grim story, but I found myself reading to see if I could puzzle out some of the background mysteries: who is the Wretched Egg? What are the Branches of Sin? What’s the deal with the shard that got implanted in Jinsei and why has it given him superpowers?
In comic books, this year, I read fairly sparsely, but my favorite by far was Ms. Marvel. The hero of Ms. Marvel is a teenage girl living in New Jersey named Kamala Khan who happens to be Muslim. She is the American-born daughter of a fairly recent Pakastani immigrant family. One day a weird green fog takes over her town and she appears to develop superpowers and the ability to look like Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel. The things I like: this is a comic book about a woman, written by a woman. This is also a comic book about Muslims by someone who has spent some time living in a Muslim country, specifically Egypt. So, while I can’t say whether or not this is a fair portrayal of All the Things, there are some moments that give me hope that this is an honest try… There is a wonderful scene, specifically, where Kamala is sent to talk to her mosques’ main mullah/priest. She’s fairly convinced he’s going to be very strict and not understand and basically tell her “stay away from boys and Satan.” He surprises her (and possibly the reader) by giving good advice. He says if he hasn’t taught her to stay away from boys and Satan he pretty much sucks in his job anyway and telling her again isn’t going to do the trick. Then he says if you’re going to do a thing, do it with integrity, do the best you can. In a manga, he would be saying ‘gambatte”: do your best! Because he means it the same way, try hard, but also have honor. He then goes on to say, if you won’t let me be your teacher in this, you need to find one. And literally Wolverine falls out of the sky to be that guy. The other fun thing about this character is that she’s a real teenager, living TODAY. She writes Avengers fan fic. Yes, things are that self-referrential now. Look, I’ve been telling you, when Marvel decided to place their heroes in real neighborhoods in the Real World, they mean it. That means, if it makes sense for a teenager to have seen the Marvel Movies (or, as it happens, live in the world they occupy) then it means they’d do the things people really do, like write fan fic. This, however, is why I love Marvel. This is especially awesome when there’s an honest-to-canon scene in which Wolverine is confronted by the fact that the fic she wrote starring him came in second to one featuring Scott Summers/Cyclops and Emma Frost/White Witch (a crack ship if ever there was one)… I would have to agree with a lot of the hype about Ms. Marvel, and I hoping the title continues a long time.
As for Guardians of the Galaxy: what can I say that other people probably haven’t said better? This was a movie full of so much space operatic fun and a giant gooey (and very shounen in its message of friendship as the key to power) Marvel heart at the center. I laughed. I cried. As Stan Lee himself might say, “’Nuff said.”
My favorite book of 2014 was Emily St. John Mandel’s utterly gorgeous STATION ELEVEN. It’s beautiful, elegiac, with a traveling Shakespeare troupe, some very important comic books, and something that looks like the end of the world, but is maybe a new beginning. This book was remarkable.
I also loved Nick Harkaway’s TIGERMAN, even though it broke my heart. Like STATION ELEVEN, it perhaps has more genre sensibilities than it is strictly a genre book, but it’s so smart, and full of great characters with deep, complicated relationships, and there’s an enormous beating heart at its center.
Lauren Beukes’ BROKEN MONSTERS was brilliantly done horror, the kind that stands your hair on end because it seems so possible. Rich characters, including one of my favorite mother and daughter pairings, and a book that feels like it is deeply engaged with the realities of the world – social media and decaying cities.
Genevieve Valentine’s THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB is one of my favorite things – an intelligently retold fairy tale – but also completely stands alone as a story, full of terrific relationships between the sisters, and a setting so fully realized my feet ached from dancing.
Monica Byrne’s brilliant debut novel, THE GIRL IN THE ROAD was a fierce and gorgeous read, one that reminded me that there are many stories, and many futures waiting to be told. Lev Grossman did his Magicians trilogy proud with its elegant ending, THE MAGICIAN’S LAND. Sarah McCarry’s DIRTY WINGS is a haunting reimagining of mythology, and she is writing some of the most gorgeous prose around.
- Lily Allen – “Sheesus”
- Iggy Azalea – “The New Classic”
- Jessie J. – particularly “BANG BANG”
- Pitbull featguring Kesha – “Timber” (despite the video clip)
- One Republic – “Counting Stars”
- Daft Punk – “Get Lucky”
- Taylor Swift – “Shake it Off”
- Eminem – “The Monster” (might have been 2013?)
My reading has been really erratic this year – all over the shop. Here’s a taste…
- Patricia Briggs – Frost Burned
- Michael Connelly – The Burning Room, The Gods of Guilt
- Tana French – The Secret Place
- Anne Bishop – Murder of Crows
- Paula Weston – Shimmer
- Tara Moss – The Fictional Woman
- Ian MacDonald – Dervish House (not new)
SO. MUCH. GOOD STUFF.
- Orphan Black – OMG!
- The Bridge (Danish version)
- Justified – latest season
- Line of Duty – both seasons
- Braquo – latest season
- Silk – latest season
- Veronica Mars – the movie
- Person of Interest – latest season
- Longmire – latest season
- House of Cards – latest season
Not really enamoured with studio films at the moment, but there were a few I quite enjoyed:
- Edge of Tomorrow
- Captain America: Winter Soldier
- Dracula Untold
- Guardians of the Galaxy
Perennial fave: Galactic Suburbia
I am terribly behind on 2014 films and TV due to small children and deadlines, but I did manage to read several 2014 books that I really enjoyed!
As it happens, my favorite 2014 books were all ones that I was asked to blurb. They are:
Beth Cato, The Clockwork Dagger. What I said: “Airships, assassins, pulp writers, and an independent, appealing heroine: THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER is an exciting debut full of mysterious magic, forbidden romance, and adventure at 5,000 feet.” What I couldn’t fit into the blurb: I particularly loved the sidekick character of Mrs. Stout, the above-mentioned pulp writer. She was quirky and very fun as a career woman with plenty of opinions and plans.
A. M. Dellamonica, Child of a Hidden Sea. What I said: “A delightful portal fantasy that feels completely fresh. I loved watching the heroine geek out over shells and sea-life to try to solve the puzzle of Stormwrack’s history. CANNOT WAIT for the sequel.” What I couldn’t fit into the blurb: This felt like it was written just for me. I loved the way Dellamonica never entirely explained Stormwrack’s history, but that there were clues that could be interpreted multiple ways. I also really liked the sister-brother relationship, which felt fresh and believable. And I’m always a fan of stories where science and fantasy bump up against each other.
Shannon Page and Jay Lake, Our Lady of the Islands. What I said: “A gorgeous tale of courage and friendship, with appealing characters and an epic sweep.” What I couldn’t fit into the blurb: I LOVED that this story centered on the friendship of two women (two older women at that!) Sian Katte is a awesomely capable businesswoman and grandmother, who suddenly finds herself the beneficiary of a thoroughly unwanted power. In trying to use that power for good, she ends up alongside Arian des Chances, the wife of the current ruler, whose son is quite ill. I loved watching their relationship slowly grow as they tried to maneuver the complicated intrigue and politics of the country, all while trying to save Arian’s son. Just a really lovely read.
Book-wise, Brendan Connell’s The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black is at the top of my list. Truly excellent, and a beautiful object, as well. A lot of people will have missed this, so please do yourself a favour and check it out. After that, the other books I totally recommend are Rjurik Davidson’s fantasy revolution Unwrapped Sky and Rosaleen Love’s slim, but beautiful collection Secret Lives of Books.
For films, my favourite was Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. In general, I thought film was pretty wasteful this year, with an endless parade of bad on release. Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past was my runner up for films I enjoyed, but it’s a pretty big step down from Jarmusch’s film, which was an excellent return to form. In comics, I thought that James Roberts and Alex Milne’s Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye continued to be excellent science fiction comic with giant robots as its cast. The inclusion of Megatron into the main cast allowed for the first time for that character to have some real and interesting characterisation. Likewise, B.R.P.D. continued its steady and sure hand under Mike Mignola and John Arcudi, with the alternating art of James Harren and Lawrence Campbell doing an excellent job (Harren is, for me, the first artist to equal Guy Davis’ visuals on the title). For a comic book about the end of the world in a Lovecraftian way without the racism, B.R.P.D. is your one stop shop. And lastly, Matt Kindt’s secret spy, secret organisation with powers, Mind MGMT continues as a rare and excellent title, quietly challenging the ways in which a comic is written.
For all kinds of reasons, I run about a year (and sometimes more) behind when it comes to pop culture—so picking out things that came out this year that I loved was surprisingly difficult! Here’s a few of the awesome things from this year that I actually did get around to:
Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn
This sequel to 2011’s After the Golden Age, which I also absolutely loved, is an incredibly satisfying, moving, and action-packed superhero story. It follows the daughter of the main character of the previous book as she figures out her developing powers and unravels a plot against her city. In a lot of ways I thought it was better than the first book—the ending is much more solid, for example, and the characters feel sharper. I really hope there’s more coming in this series.
Wickedly Dangerous by Deborah Blake
My wife and I happened to be in the bookstore and saw this in the romance section. This book, however, reads a lot more like an urban fantasy with romance elements to me. That isn’t all that surprising, as the boundaries between urban fantasy and romance often blur—to happy effect. This is the story of one of the Baba Yagas (yes, plural) of North America and the supernatural mystery of missing children in a small Texas town. Really worth picking up if you like modern stories based on folklore.
Doctor Who: “Listen”/”Flatline”
Overall, I thought the new series of Doctor Who was uneven, to say the least. The two-part finale fell flat for me, as did a few of the other episodes, mostly notably “Kill the Moon” and “Into the Dalek.” But two episodes this season grabbed me and wouldn’t let go: “Listen,” which is a story about monsters that hide under the bed, and “Flatline,” about an invasion of two-dimensional creatures. Both episodes are full of heart and fantastic character moments, but unlike a lot of recent Doctor Who, those moments actually add up to something quite profound each time. These were my favorite episodes of Doctor Who since the end of David Tennant’s run, and that’s high praise, indeed.
Okay, this show is only a couple of episodes old, but already I’m absolutely loving it. It’s a direct sequel of sorts to the trilogy of Librarian movies Noah Wyle starred in, which at their best were a hilarious send-up of Indiana Jones and other of that genre of adventure flick. The show, with a fantastic ensemble cast, sharp writing, and a cool concept, is even better than the movies so far. Noah Wyle reprises his role as librarian Flynn Carson, and Rebecca Romijn does a great job as his guardian. This show reminds me of the late, much lamented The Middleman, and I’m hoping for great things.
Okay, I’m a DC Comics girl. Always have been. I haven’t read any Marvel comics, and I’ve never bought one. But the buzz about the upcoming Captain Marvel movie starring the Carol Danvers version of the character piqued my interest, and I picked up Captain Marvel: Higher, Faster, Further, More at the bookstore. It’s a compilation of some of the recent issues of the latest run of the comic book, and I just devoured it. The story was fun, the artwork is amazing, and Captain Marvel herself is just… cool. I’m hooked. I’m going to pick up more issues of this title, and maybe even explore some of the rest of the Marvel universe.
Now, if I can only manage to see Guardians of the Galaxy before the year ends!
I think 2014 will be the Year of Marvel for me. Right from the start, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. came out swinging. The beginning of the show last fall left a lot of people wondering, “when will this show get GOOD?” Well, as soon as Coulson’s team returned from the midwinter hiatus, they answered that question. Tension ramped up from the beginning, and the story lines presented were deep and twisty. And in April, the show dovetailed perfectly with the release of Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Holy wow, was that an amazing media blitz! “Hail Hydra” memes were everywhere, including in the opening for The Colbert Report. Hell, I walked up to my husband and whispered sweetly in his ear, “Hail Hydra” many times this spring.
Then there was Cap 2. I was very excited to see what they would do with the sequel, bringing Steve Rogers fully into the 21st century and exploring how he’s dealing with that in a post-Avengers world. The revelations were stunning, the character depth and relationship between Natasha and Steve… And Bucky. (Feels!) ALL of it was awesome.
Guardians of the Galaxy solidified Marvel’s omnipresence for me. They were able to take a little-known property with characters that many people didn’t have built-in attachments to and spin a glorious, successful, FUN film. Seriously, Guardians was the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in a long time. Another thing that made Guardians so special was that it was something we could share with our daughter. While my kiddo digs on the Avengers, sometimes the heavy plots of Iron Man 3 or Cap 2 are a little too much. Tony and Cap dealing with PTSD? Yeah, that’s kinda rough for a kid–hell, it’s rough for adults! But Guardians was light–though gratuitously violent at times–and hilarious.
Even more family fun came with Disney/Marvel’s Big Hero Six. This comes in second in my movies of 2014, only to Guardians. Again, the family-friendly nature of this one made it that much more enjoyable for my whole clan. The writing was well done, it punched me right in the feelings and my daughter is obsessed with Baymax. Stan Lee’s cameo in this film may be the best yet.
Something I loved about all of these things? Diversity. Cap’s team included a man of color and a strong woman (who gets one of the best parting shot lines in a film). There are people of color and strong women in each of these properties. I love that kids can look on the big screen and find themselves portrayed there in heroes, not just villains or sidekicks.
With Agent Carter coming next month and Marvel’s ambitious cinematic plans for the future, I’m excited that there will be many more amazing stories coming out of this universe.
2014 was a pretty great year for me and genre consuming! I rarely feel like I get even one great SFF movie a year, and this year the greedy gods of Hollywood gave me two: Tumblr’s favorite murder hobo The Winter Soldier (what’s not to love there?), and my surprise favorite movie of the year, Edge of Tomorrow. Though I usually listen to my mom’s advice (“never go to a Tom Cruise movie on opening weekend!”) we ended up with a chance to see this well written, well acted, surprisingly-well-imagined alien-invasion-groundhog-day movie and didn’t regret it.
As for TV, I’m gonna give the prize to the CW this year: their combination of tight plotting and soap opera relationship wackiness can be magnificently entertaining, never more so than in The 100, a sci fi drama about a group of teens sent home to post-nuclear-war Earth to see if they can survive the radiation. Fast action, intense situations, and great character interactions make up for the occasionally uneven everything else.
About 96% of the books I read are SFF, and this year my favorites were: Prince of Shadows, a sharp, passionate retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” from a dangerous Benvolio’s POV by Rachel Caine, and the intricate, amazing political novel The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.”
To be honest, I didn’t do nearly as much reading in 2014 as I have in past years–but what I did read was generally quite good.
The first book that made a real impression on me this year was Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor. It’s about Maia, who is the youngest son of an absolute ruler and how he is thrust into a leadership position he neither wants nor is prepared for. His entry into this world is also the reader’s, and as Maia learns about how his government and world works, so do we. It’s an examination of tradition, power, and privilege and how those things, in some circumstances, can also be constraints on action. It’s a fascinating book and Maia is a wonderful point of view character and I really can’t recommend this book enough.
The other book that made a huge impression on me was Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword. I read a review copy of this shortly after Ancillary Justice won the Hugo and as the protests in Ferguson were starting to heat up. Knowing that Leckie is from St. Louis and reading this particular book while Ferguson was happening was surreal. Breq remains an amazing character and this is a more intimate story than the first book–we learn more about Breq and about the Raadch, but more importantly for me, there’s more about how the ancillary system works. I felt like the body horror was ramped up significantly in this book as compared to the first–mainly because of what is done to Tisarwat. This book deals with power differentials and how people will use even the smallest power imbalance to take advantage of others. This is a powerful story and a worthy successor to Ancillary Justice.
And finally, the other books I’ve been reading this year are C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner books. I just finished Betrayer, which is the third volume of the fourth narrative arc. These books have, very quickly, become a comfort to me. They’re complicated and I don’t always understand what’s happening and have to reread sections, but I’m okay with that. I really like the characters and at this point in the series, I’m reading for Bren and Cajeiri and Ilisidi and Jago.
Looking at these three groups of books I’ve read, I notice a theme–they’re all books which involve people having lots of meetings, drinking a lot of tea, and then stuff blowing up at the end. This is apparently a thing I like about books. I’m not sure what that says about me.
As for other media? Television-wise, I watch a lot of crime procedurals, but nothing really sticks out for me as noteworthy and Sleepy Hollow seems to have gone off the rails which makes me sad. I just discovered The Librarians which is a lot of fun and which has Christian Kane basically reprising his role from Leverage which I am totally not going to complain about because hi, please be smart and punch things. More television like this, please.
I don’t think I set foot in a movie theatre all year and I just got around to watching Guardians of the Galaxy which I was surprisingly meh about considering the reaction of many of my friends to it (practically the first thing out of my mouth in the first half hour was: “There’s no way those headphones still work after 26 years.”).
I have been gaming a bit more than I have in the past few years–gaming is a thing I come and go from–and I’ve been playing Diablo III, the latest World of Warcraft expansion, and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.
Yes, I know. KK:H is actually a really polished and often very funny game. It is, at its heart, a resource management game. The main reasons people make fun of it is because it’s about celebrity and is coded female–so maybe we should think about that before we make fun of something? It’s not like there aren’t eleventy-billion faux-medieval fantasy resource management games out there or anything, right? The gameplay is solid, the graphics are interesting, your in-game avatar gets to wear completely awesome outfits, there are lots of content updates and did I mention it’s funny? I really don’t ask for too much more than that out of a game that I can play when I have 10 or 15 minutes to kill. Also the main villain is irredeemably awful and it’s just fun to hate her.
The Skiffy & Fanty Show covered Science Fiction around the world this year, and all their WorldSF interview episodes made fascinating listening, including panel episodes covering individual countries, guest interviews and film reviews. The guests have been many and varied, and Skiffy & Fanty interviews are always much more of a discussion than your standard bullet-point questions. For an introduction to the SF/F scene parts of the world other than US/UK and which authors to look out for, the panels provided an excellent jumping off point. There is a handy, updated master post of all 2014 episodes here. (I do like a podcast that makes it easy to find episodes again). One of my favourites was the review discussion of Peter Jackson’s 1994 film Heavenly Creatures (14th Feb, Shoot the WISB #14) .
My favourite book of the year wasn’t strictly genre. However, what finally persuaded me to read it was a discussion with its author on The Coode Street Podcast. Hild, by Nicola Griffith (I’m British. It’s a 2014 book here!), is still very much in conversation with the genre and is obviously written with genre techniques in mind, and it is also beautiful. For fans of world-building, and history, and powerful female characters it is engrossing. Furthermore, I can recommend listening to the audio-book while walking the North Yorkshire coast to Whitby. And I can recommend the episode of Coode Street with Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge (Episode 180, 3rd March). I also found Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon through Coode Street (Episode 184, 6th April). It’s an alien invasion story focused on Lagos and again I chose and enjoyed the audiobook. Narrative and voice are particularly important in this book. It’s fun and fast-moving, with some unique point-of-view characters and the interview with Okorafor on Coode Street also makes for very interesting listening. Like Skiffy & Fanty, these interviews are very discussion orientated and wide-ranging. Similarly, the new Tor.com podcast, Rocket Talk, had a great first year. There were some excellent and thought-provoking discussions, and a good gender balance of guests, alongside fiction and single author interviews. Tea & Jeopardy also continued to be excellent fun with cake and a butler.
Keeping up with the Writer & Critic podcast has become much easier this year – they’ve gone bimonthly! This book discussion podcast (beware spoilers!), usually focuses on two picks each episode, chosen well in advance for those reading along. I particularly enjoyed their latest episode (17th Dec, Ep 41), partly because they discussed Hild, but also because the episodes are always more fun when they disagree. The episode covering Gone Girl and A Tale for the Time Being (11th Feb, Ep 34) had lots of good critical discussion, and arguing.
For more general non-book specific genre discussion, I enjoyed the SF Signal podcasts where author panels discussed sub-genres, particularly The Military SF Panels (17th & 31st March, Eps 236 & 238), which challenged my own avoidance of the sub-genre. Turns out I do read it sometimes. I just pretend I don’t.
The Galactic Suburbia podcast continues to make me buy books but this year they also introduced me to new TV. Their spoilerific episodes are among some of the best they put out and this year covered Orphan Black (4th May, Ep 99), Veronica Mars (2nd April, Ep 97) and Fringe (13th Oct). Thanks to GS, I am also now catching up on Haven and without the podcast, I probably wouldn’t have read Kaleidoscope, an anthology of diverse YA co-edited by one of the Galactic Suburbia hosts. It is my favourite anthology of the year. I wish it had existed fifteen years ago but am happy it exists now.
Along with Orphan Black and Haven, my other favourite genre TV show this year is Continuum (I blame that on a WorldCon panel rather than a podcast). They all have good solid individual episodes with an intriguing over-arching series theme and strong characters. For similar reasons, Doctor Who returned to being entertaining this year, with a new doctor, and for good breakdowns of every episode of the new series, there was the Verity! Podcast (series 8 round-up: 19th Nov, Ep 61). Their episodes covering Big Finish (23rd July) and how they personally would take over the world (25th June) also made for fun listening. I continued to listen to Toby Hadoke’s Who’s Round as he interviewed both notable and obscure Doctor Who folks in a 50th anniversary quest. Often, the less well-known are the best and even with the more well-known, he finds something new to ask.
Finally, not directly connected to this year’s podcast listening, but Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories went all Ocean’s Eleven in Valour & Vanity. I read it in a day and I loved it.
What brings me to SFF is that I’m fascinated by the science of outer space and the possibilities of re-examining the past, both of which SFF is especially well-placed to do. Many of my favourite media of 2014 reflect this. In The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu), the titular problem presents a fantastic set-up for a solar system and the origin of alien life. A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar, meanwhile, looks at an alternate history of the 1930s/1940s through the lens of real history, allowing both narratives to comment on one other and raise questions about the construction of history and story. The rise of Mosley’s nationalists in the alternate Britain is a particularly unpleasant read in 2014. The third novel I enjoyed and thought about the most is The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt, a contemporary story about art, construction and perception. I found it frustrating at times, but always thought-provoking.
History is looked at squarely and wincingly, in all its pain, in one of my favourite stories of 2014: “The Devil in America” by Kai Ashante Wilson in Tor.com. I still remember it after almost a year has passed. I am a sucker for beautiful language put to effect, so I also loved “Headache” by Julio Cortázar (translated by Michael Cisco) in Tor.com: a strange sensory experience. “More Embers than Feathers Filled the Firmament” by Penny Stirling in Lackington’s, a bird war told in consonance-rich prose, was wonderful. A longer story, Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a beautiful reflection on anxiety, self-assurance and love – lesbian and familial – with lots of legendary fun.
Most of my TV in 2014 has been panel shows and documentaries. I particularly enjoyed Space, Time and Videotape on BBC Four, which put Professor Brian Cox, Professor Alice Roberts and Brian Blessed in conversation about space science. Woolly Mammoth: The Autopsy on Channel 4 was an incredible insight into the scientific possibilities of a well-preserved mammoth (if not quite my best choice of TV to watch while eating). I have to admit that my answer to “If we can clone mammoths, should we?” is MAMMOTHS, GUYS. I did watch one new fictional TV show in 2014: Legend of Korra Books 3 and 4, which was an excellent surprise after my disappointment at Book 1. Korra grew as a character, as did her allies, while the show managed to set up interesting villains and not entirely fail to figure out what to do with them, with stunning visuals along the way. Then two seasons of flirting and fluster ended with Korra and Asami as girlfriends. Screams of joy do not suffice.
While I’m full of enthusiasm, how about Pokémon Alpha Sapphire / Omega Ruby! I never played the original games, so this remake was entirely new to me and full of the same wonder as 2013’s Pokémon X/Y. They missed a trick by not including the character customisation of X/Y, but I did get to dress up my Pikachu as a Professor and briefly go into space.
As the year winds to its end, I’ve been enjoying Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time by Michael Benson. It collects maps and artwork of space from throughout human history up to the present day. Its only fault is that I think it’s far more Euro-centric than it needs to be. The historical awe of space it captures reminds me of my favourite piece of nonfiction I’ve read this year: “The Final Frontier: The Beautiful Fatalism of Near Space” by Genevieve Valentine in Strange Horizons, which caught – for me – the joy and hope and fear and frustration and longing I feel when I think about the recent history of space science, from this year’s Philae lander on comet 67P (I’m not sure what media I enjoyed more: the Philae twitter feed or xkcd’s live comic – it’s always good to know that the whales are calm!) and the arrival of the Mars Orbiter Mission at its destination, to future plans for manned missions to Mars. I look forward to the continuing conversation between science and fiction, between past and future.
My favorite movie of 2014 is a no-brainer (and one I expect to see often in this Mind Meld!): Guardians of the Galaxy. I confess to not being familiar with the characters coming into it, but like many, once I saw the early trailers, I got excited. Was it a perfect movie? No. But it was exceedingly fun, and lived up to the promises of the early trailers. I rarely see movies in the theaters in the theaters the last few years, but I saw this one twice. Runner Up: The Lego Movie.
Favorite books is harder to narrow down. I had a good reading year. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison was one of my favorites. This book hit a lot of my sweet spots and features a genuinely likeable protagonist doing his best. It’s an optimistic book, and a standalone novel (though I for one would love more of the continuing adventures of Maia.) Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie, was among my most anticipated sequels, and it didn’t disappoint. The scope was smaller than in Ancillary Justice, and it was a delight to watch Breq negotiate human interaction. Shadow Unit, the best TV show that never was, featuring a number of writers, and spearheaded by Emma Bull, came to an end this year. (How could I be both gutted and optimistic at the end of it? Please let there be a reunion show!) I’m leaving so much out, and that’s not even counting books that came out in previous years that I only got around to this year! Runners Up: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire
My favorite comic books of 2014 (most of which were ongoing before this year) were Saga, the webcomics Unsounded by Ashley Cope and Nimona by Noelle Stephenson. I’m also enjoying Genevieve Valentine’s run on Catwoman.
I’ve been an abstainer from video games for several years, solely because I’ve experienced what a glorious time suck they can be, but we got a Playstation for Christmas, so I suspect I’ll have more of an opinion on this next year. The eight-year-old reports that Skylanders Trap Team is A++, but I personally have high hopes for Dragon Age: Inquisition.
I hope everyone reading had as good a year of media consumption; may your narrowing-down be as difficult in 2015.
Not necessarily “The best,” and not necessarily things that would make my Hugo or Nebula ballot, but a look at some of the books, movies, etc. that I enjoyed over the past year.
This year is a golden time for comic adaptations on television. Not only can one watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Arrow, but several new shows have also begun airing, such as Gotham, Constantine, and The Flash. With more promised in the future, it looks like superhero shows will be to the 2010s what Westerns were in the 1960s and cop shows were in the 1970s. While I enjoy Gotham and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., both of those, and Arrow, are a little dark for my taste. The optimism of The Flash tends to speak to me more and I enjoy the interactions between the characters. I’ll admit to thinking that star Grant Gustin doesn’t quite seem like Barry Allen to me, but supporting cast members Jesse L. Martin, and Carlos Valdes always hit their marks and Danielle Penabaker and Tom Cavanagh handle their roles quite well. The fact that the producers have called back to the 1990s The Flash by casting former Barry Allen John Wesley Shipp as the new Barry Allen’s father and Amanda Pays as Tina McGee, the same character she played in the 1990s, is a wonderful Easter Egg for those who enjoyed the earlier series.
While there is little that was released in 2014 that could compare to the big space opera fun of Guardians of the Galaxy or the pure hard science fiction thrill of Interstellar (although throughout it, I found myself seeing the direct “homages” to 2001 and 2010), one of the most intriguing science fiction films of 2014 was small independent movie with a cast of (essentially) three people. The One I Love starred Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss with a short appearance by Ted Danson. It tells the story of a couple sent on a retreat to fix their relationship in a very Twilight Zone situation. While not a perfect film (it would have been better if Moss’s character had been the focal rather than Duplass), it raises many questions for the audience to consider long after the conclusion of the film.
Any year that includes new Firefly related materials is a good year, and 2014 was a banner year for Browncoats. Not only did the Whedon empire release the six issue comic miniseries Leaves on the Wind, but the boardgame Firefly: The Game was released (along with two expansions). Once you figured out the game mechanics and could play the game in less than four hours, it is a lot of fun. The card game Firefly: Out of the Black was also released (with two expansions), having a much shorter play time. Finally, Firefly: The Role Playing Game was released, adding the characters and situations from the television show which were missing from the earlier (and now out of print) Serenity: The Role Playing Game. For those who played the earlier version of the game, Margaret Weis Games released bridging materials for the two sets of rules.
Another fun comic miniseries was Mark Evanier’s take on Rocky and Bullwinkle, which manages to capture the humor and look of the original television series, including the meta-humorous touches. Sure, the best way to introduce someone to Rocky and Bullwinkle are the old cartoons, but the Evanier’s comic is a nice extension.
It has been most of a decade since Katherine Kurtz published the second volume of her Childe Morgan trilogy in the on-going Deryni series, and while the third volume The King’s Deryni is to a large extent a book with the primary purpose of getting the characters from the end of Childe Morgan to the places they need to be for the start of the original Deryni trilogy, it is a reminder of what Kurtz has done so well over the entire series, building and chronicling a realistic medieval culture augmented with magic and complex relationships. Not a great place to start reading the series, but a wonderful book for those who have already discovered Kurtz.
For science fiction novels, Jack McDevitt’s Coming Home explores and expands the history of his Priscilla Hutchins series with a visit to Earth and the recovery of long lost characters, although unlike the Kurtz novel, McDevitt’s book stands well on his own and does provide a good introduction to the character and the universe, as well as McDevitt’s strengths as an author.
While the second volume of William H. Patterson’s Robert Heinlein biography was published this year (unfortunately, posthumously), another book, also the second volume of a biography, was also published to less fanfare, notably Jonathan R. Eller’s Ray Bradbury Unbound, which looks at Bradbury’s life from his work on the screen play for Moby Dick through the 1960s, when he was coming to terms with a changing place for himself in the world of literature.
And a humorous novel that I’d like to mention is Christopher Moore’s The Serpent of Venice, a mashup of Shakespeare’s Othello and The Merchant of Venice as well as a sequel to Moore’s own Fool. The mixture of the two plays works quite well and includes Moore’s laugh-out-loud humor. And I should probably note that I’m chairing Windycon 42 in 2015 and I’ve invited Moore to be one of my guests of honor, not least because of the type of writing in this novel and his earlier books.
There were a lot of good anthologies, both original and reprint, but perhaps the most essential for any collection is the massive retrospective edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, The Time Traveler’s Almanac, which runs nearly 1,000 pages and includes all of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine as well as seminal works by Gibson, Turtledove, and Willis as well as lesser known, but no less enjoyable, stories by Rosaleen Love, Dean Francis Alfar, and John Chu.
Ken Liu is an author to be aware of, and his story “What I Assume You Shall Assume” from the John Joseph Adams edited anthology Dead Man’s Hand is well worth tracking down, as is Catherynne Valente’s story “The Quidnunx” from Harvest Season, a collection of stories by the authors of SF Squeecast.