My Favorite Stories Of 2012

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.

Television

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, JustifiedPocoyo. Let me add that Justified is a show that has become truly excellent out of its modestly okay first season.

Films

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.

Games

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.

Music

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).

16 comments

  • I’m glad to hear that Justified got better. I approached that pilot with so much goodwill and felt so completely let down that I haven’t gone back. I’m not sure whether I ever will, but your word is one in the pro column.

  • Thanks for the book recommendations. I’ve been reading a Hell-ton of fodder lately without my interest being well-held (and who doesn’t like well-held….never mind) but some of those books sound right up my alley. Once again, the Wendigo to the rescue.

  • Thank you for the recommendations.

    I’ve just finished the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews and throughly enjoyed them, sort of a post apocalyptic magicky type thing. Very good stories and I’m sad that I finished the final published novel today because now I have to WAIT.

    Robin Hobb’s latest release. Actually anything Robin Hobb, over and over again.

    I really enjoyed Bait Dog, which you can feel all proud of, except now I know way too much about dog fighting. I had a dog stolen for the fights when I was a kid. He was such a good dog too. I like Atlanta a lot though.

    I read a lot this year and it was lovely.

  • I read the entire Newsflesh Trilogy this year (funny, as it was an election year) and I’m kind of glad I waited until all three books were out before digging in. I can’t imagine having to wait a year between each book. I really wouldn’t be able to survive. Seanan McGuire (as Mira Grant in this case) is the new architect of all my nightmares and political paranoia. And, honestly, it’s the best zombie narrative period since World War Z. Perhaps even better.

    I couldn’t let you off without some YA, right? I’m still absolutely positively in love with Cinder by Marissa Meyer. I takes YA’s wonderful ability to shatter genre conventions and turns it to 11. I mean, who wouldn’t love a cyberpunk fairytale meets bits of Sailor Moon? Still my favorite YA read of the year.

    Skyrim continues to rule my television. Dawnguard and Dragonborn were great, not so much narratively, but in their use of setting. How often do you get a game where you have to stop and just look around for fifteen minutes because it’s so damn beautiful?

    Dishonored was also good. A little short, and little wonky on the controls, but slick and smooth as butter. Arkane and Bethesda need to continue to work together because the level of polish that game had was astounding.

    And as much as I have a love-hate relationship with Bioware, I did love 90% of Mass Effect 3. The writers need to relearn how to write endings (I also played Jade Empire for the first time this year – they need to get that team back) but I still enjoyed myself immensely. That’s probably due to how attach I’ve grown to most of the characters over the first two games. Still, Dr. Conrad Verner … yeah, that’s a winner.

    I’m going to stop there. I’ve consumed so much narrative this year it isn’t funny. :-p I’m like Galactus, but for story.

  • You left out Game of Thrones on HBO, no Prometheus and no Walking Dead. Of course, with all that you read and write, how could you review everything. Not a fan of the latest Dark Knight (it gets worse the farther I am removed). I was a fan of Ready Player One. Life Of Pi is tops on my list

    • I love Game of Thrones, actually.

      Oh, and a good YA: SANCTUM, by Sarah Fine. Deals with suicide in a very interesting, very fucked-up way.

      Prometheus isn’t a best of the year by a long shot. I enjoyed its moxie, but not the result of said moxie.

      Walking Dead deserves a high-five, true that.

      — c.

  • Some of this year’s highlights for me:

    The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (graphic novel) is like what happens when scooby do, sherlock holmes, and indiana jones have a word baby. Great story, gorgeous artwork, and a fucking pterodactyl! http://www.amazon.com/Extraordinary-Adventures-Ad%C3%A8le-Blanc-Sec-Pterror/dp/1606993828

    Books: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jim Butcher’s newest Dresden novel, Cold Days. MUCH better than Ghost Story; on level with earlier stories and included some of my favorite um…creatures? Creations?

    Movies: I may be one of the only people who really didn’t find Avengers all that spectacular. I mean, it was ok. Good, even. But I think the first Iron Man was even better. That said, Joss Whedon didn’t disappoint me, as his Cabin in the Woods was likely the best movie I saw this year, and I’m not a horror movie fan typically. It kept its sense of humor through the whole thing, and had some surprises I truly appreciated.

    Music: I discovered so many amazing musicians this year. Among them, Delta Rae, Curtis Eller, and Martha Redbone (whose album sets William Blake poems to the sounds of Appalachia)

  • Aligning with you on Ready Player One (there is a Spotify playlist from the author worth checking out), Fiona Apple (‘Jonathan’ is a beautiful mess), Amanda Palmer (check out her Tiny Desk Concert performance – ukulele magnificence) and Skyrim (gloriously enjoyable until my console’s RROD halted my progress toward unfathomable magical powers).

  • For comics that I think more people should be reading, this year I discovered Punk Rock Jesus. It’s basically “Hey, let’s clone Jesus and raise him on television AND we’ll hire a former IRA heavy to be his bodyguard.” Damn good stuff, the final issue comes out in January and I can’t wait.

    I also fell in love with Alpha Girl, where the zombpocalypse was brought about by a cosmetics company.

    As for books, you got a nod from me (along with many many others) today in my fourth post on what I thought was best and worst this year.

  • There’s something in my eye. I think it’s a…

    …Oh wait. It’s coffee. Don’t ask how it got there. Just don’t (mostly because I have no idea.)

    Seriously though, thanks for saying such nice things about my book. And YAY for including some of MY favorite books of the year. I push The Rook at everyone. And Ready Player One was more fun than should be legal, really. Damien Grintalis’s Ink just climbed into my “favorites” pile, too.

    Movies…We’re kind of in the same position as you; our little one means movies are TV-only, for the foreseeable future. The Cabin in the Woods ended up in a place that surprised me, which doesn’t happen often (well played, Joss Whedon. Well played.) And I enjoyed John Carter more than reviewers told me I would. It just wasn’t an OMG-Best-Movie-EV-ER kind of year for me, but then they can’t all be.

    On the WTF side: Prometheus. So much ambition, so much fail. Battleship. Why, Gods, WHY? Wrath of the Titans. I was the only wrathful one. I’m still so disgusted in that movie that my brain quit on me and now sitting here trying to figure out if “wrathful” is a real word. Spell-check says Yes.

  • This is that final push I needed to buy White Horse. I saw it in a book store here in Iceland and remembered seeing it somewhere but couldn’t place it.

    Anyway… to the top of the list it goes!

  • First off, everything of yours that I’ve read so far makes my list. Bait Dog is my favorite so far.

    I also really enjoyed White Horse, which I read at your suggestion.

    I guess I haven’t really read very many memorable things this year… It was more of a ‘well, that’s been sitting on my shelf too long so I’ll read it and then give it away’ kind of year for me.

    For movies, I really enjoyed Looper and Wreck it Ralph.

    Tv… I’m liking Parenthood and Scandal.

    • Here’s the thing about JUSTIFIED — first season (or at least, half of it) is “case of the week” stuff. Like early X-Files (“monster of the week”), it’s mostly kind of spinning tires (exception to this is the first episode, which remains one of the most cracking TV pilots I’ve ever seen).

      It isn’t until end of S1 and then… well, every season after that it really gives it gas and kicks ass.

      — c.

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