As we gallop uncontrollably into and around the holiday season, this seems a good time to talk about the stories I have consumed this year, stories that filled me with a warm and lasting satisfaction. These cross the many narrative thresholds — books, TV, games, music — so, a little something for everyone. Except that guy over there in the corner who really seems to like rubbing himself down with spray cheese. I do not, to his great regret, have any recommendations for spray cheese here on this list.
As they say, you can’t please everyone.
I’m probably missing a bunch of cool things on this list because I have a mouse-chewed brain.
As a sidenote, in the comments feel free to talk about the stories that you dug deeply this year.
Or, if you’re a creator who wants to promote his or her work, you are free to do so in this separate post right here. (But please, not in this post. Thanks!)
Let us begin.
White Horse, by Alex Adams
Back in July, I spoke to Alex here at terribleminds and as a result ended up with a copy of her novel, White Horse, an apocalyptic quest novel that is written with such elegance and with such twisted metaphor — oh, and such great, grave horror — that it may be my favorite read this whole year. Plus, I consider it a kind of weird “sister novel” to Blackbirds.
Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed
Before I read this book I wrote a post about how fantasy was too traditional and too medieval and, in that vein, all too familiar. Then this book comes along to smack me in the chops and how me how it’s done. Shapeshifters and ghul hunters! Magic potions and various flavors of ghul! Evil khalifs and sort-of-maybe-noble thief-princes! And an old, cantankerous protagonist with an old, cantankerous love story. Loved it. Want more.
Leviathan Wakes / Caliban’s War, by James S.A. Corey
You put science-fiction in my hand and I’ll probably give you a cocked eyebrow. Sci-fi ain’t really my thing. Wish it were, but usually, I’m just too stupid and impatient for science fiction. I bought Leviathan Wakes because I’d heard good things and because, frankly, it was a cheap Kindle buy that month. I was traveling at the time and here’s how I usually try out a book — I read the first page and figure out if I want to read to the second. This is, I understand, how all people read, but I do this in a very conscious way. When I started Leviathan Wakes, any hope of it being conscious fell through the floor because before I knew it I’d read several dozen pages of this so-called “space opera” (which is also a little bit of hard sci-fi mixed with horror, actually). I quickly gulped down the book and bought the second. Sidenote: James SA Corey is not one person but two: Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. And maybe a third or fourth person in there we don’t know about, I dunno. But it’s a successful team-up.
The Rook, by Daniel O’ Malley
British spy agency urban fantasy. MI6 meets Monster Squad. Not much to say here except it’s very fun, very exciting, quite tense, and surprisingly funny. (And has a few things in common with Leviathan Wakes, actually.) What else is there? Go read it. I’ll wait here.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
On the one hand, I expected more from this book — it was widely-praised and I assumed it would be more, well, literary than it was. I’m glad it wasn’t, actually. This is a rollicking fun AAA video game and blockbuster movie packed into a novel that also manages to be a cultural artifact of my youth in the 80s and 90s and be a glimpse forward toward the technological future. It’s not particularly deep, but dammit, it works.
“Paper Menagerie,” by Ken Liu
One of the most affecting short stories I’ve read. Just go read it.
Little Blue Truck, by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry
I read a lot to the Tiny Human Known As B-Dub, and to be honest, most toddler-age books are pretty crappy. But, the kid loves trucks. Is obsessed with trucks, actually. So, I saw this board book on sale at B&N and I was like, “Fuck it, it has a truck, it’s a win.” Thing is, it’s also a really great story with a really strong rhythm to it — it’s about helping others and making friends and, at its core, not being a dick. Plus, the art features little animal buttholes. Seriously, they took time to illustrate the buttholes of animals standing backwards. Do with that as you will.
Saga, Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Saga is a comic book that somehow perfectly marries the space opera of Star Wars with the sheer profanity and fuck-youness of Preacher. Or maybe it’s like what would happen if Joss Whedon and Grant Morrison had some kind of story-baby? I dunno. It’s a weird fucking book, but damnit if it doesn’t completely work. Find it. Shove it in your mind-hole.
Locke & Key, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke & Key isn’t new, but it’s new to me (and continued its story in 2012): I nabbed the whole lot in one fell swoop and it’s a jaw-dropper. Grim, twisted, fantastical, funny — it’s a wildly-inventive gut-kick of a story that calls to mind shades of Lovecraft and The Dark Tower. Only a really powerful writer could pair a sense of whimsy and fantasy with this level of splatterpunky horror-flavored goodness and pull it off like it feels effortless. But it does, and it is, and you want it.
This post is already getting longer than I figured, so let’s just sum up what I liked this year: Sherlock (S1, S2), Community, Breaking Bad, Justified, Pocoyo. Let me add that Justified is a show that has become truly excellent out of its modestly okay first season.
I suck at watching movies these days — having a toddler makes it hard, and for me, a lot of the visual storytelling I want comes from television these days. Let’s just say I hit all the big obvious releases — Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall — and liked them all quite a lot, though none of them were particularly powerful in terms of narrative. They were “very good,” and “a lot of fun,” and that’s fine by me.
I hate winter, but I adore Skyrim.
Oh, and Mass Effect 3, except, y’know, the blarghy end.
That’s pretty much all you need to know, I guess.
Three albums you want: Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel (which has a full name that is, I believe, 4000 words long), which is easily her most raw, potent, and haunting release yet. Metric’s Synthetica — Metric has for me been a band I’ve stayed with since the beginning but I thought the first album was generally better than all those that came after it until this one, which has stayed with me and has also become the soundtrack to many unwritten books and movies in my head. Finally, Amanda Palmer’s Theatre Is Evil, which is worth noting in part for its smashing Kickstarter success but mostly for the fact it’s a kick-ass bonafide rock album that feels like it’s inhabited with the spirit of David Bowie (who is not dead but who I believe can cast his spirit out into the world at will like some kind of Martian warlock).