Though I’ve been poking in and out of some books lately, I only managed to actually finish reading one in. But it was a book I really, really loved: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s just such a beautifully told story.
A lot of the issues I had with 2014 haven’t exactly gone away. I’m still feeling more than a little rudderless, looking for direction (or at least an apartment I can actually afford). I was in a minor car accident in February. And, of course, we took a big hit this year when Tucker, our family’s dog, passed away at the start of May.
But, despite all of that, and maybe even somewhat to my surprise, overall I feel like 2015 was a good year.
Considering that it’s been about five years since I really actively worked on my writing, to the point where I was sending stuff out, I think that’s pretty good. I just need to bring more focus to it in 2016.
Meanwhile, I read a lot of short stories in 2015, at least one almost every day, for a total of 440. I already listed my favorites, with links when available, here.
At the same time, I only read 21 books.
True, that included one short story collection, and a novel I actually started sometime in early December of 2014. And I listened to Amy Poehler’s memoir on audio book. But still, it doesn’t include Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic, which I re-read earlier in the year.
When Pratchett sadly died in March, I decided I should finally tackle his Discworld series. I’d only ever read the first book, and here now was the opportunity to read them all. There are lots of different suggested reading orders, but I decided to go with publication date. I haven’t exactly made good on my plan to read them all this year — that last I finished was Sourcery, the fifth of forty-one books — but that’s what new years are for, right?
I don’t think there were any books I read that I didn’t like, though Andy Weir’s The Martianprobably came closest. (It’s fun for what it is, which is largely almost immediately forgettable.)
M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, James S.A. Corey’s Nemesis Games, and Poehler’s aforementioned Yes Please were probably my favorite longer reads in 2015.
I’m looking forward to reading more books in 2016, not least of all those 36 other Discworld novels.
I saw just under 100 movies in 2015, although only ten of those were actually in theaters.
I guess if I had to put together a top ten, in no particular order they would be:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Mad Max: Fury Road
Big Hero 6
Not Anywhere as Good as I’d Been Led to Believe: Whiplash. It’s an intense but unpleasant movie, in service of compelling (but bullshit) ideology. (Runners-up: Silver Streak, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and The Sunshine Boys, though I’d willing to chalk that up to their all now being rather dated. I was amused by how much George Burns reminded me of my grandfather, though.)
Not Anywhere as Bad as I’d Been Led to Believe: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. It really suffered in comparison to the (admittedly much better) latest Mission Impossible movie. And it has basically no reason to exist. But it’s actually a lot of fun, with good performances and some very good action set-pieces. (Runners-up: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which wasn’t exactly good but was genuinely entertaining at 99 cents, and Terminator Genisys, which is a confused mess but a lot of fun and well-acted.)
Exactly as Bad as I’d Been Led to Believe: Fantastic Four. The movie is many things, but fantastic is not ever one of them. So disappointing. Sometimes, when everybody says a movie is terrible, they’re right. (Runners-up: Next, which is just painfully dumb, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which looks great but has no story to tell.)
Biggest Disappointment: Hands down, Spectre. I’d loved Skyfall when I saw it in theaters, and I had high hopes, but this follow-up was mostly just tedious. (Runner-up: Interstellar. Soooo long. It’s a very well made, sometimes well acted, bad movie.)
Biggest Surprise: Barbarella. I had no expectations going into it, expecting a ridiculously dated sci-fi mess. And the movie is that, but it’s also rather delightful, good silly fun. (Runner-up: Maybe Crimson Peak, only because I didn’t expect to enjoy it quite so much.)
Movie I Feel Like I’m Still Watching: Zardoz. Seriously, this is such a deeply, fundamentally weird movie that will fuck with your head. Though one good thing: after seeing it, I feel like no other bad movies can hurt me.
In 2015, I started more actively going to readings, and some local meetups, though I still only do those irregularly and should probably do so more in 2016. I also attended my first two conventions — Readercon in July and World Fantasy in November. I enjoyed both, not least of all because it gave me the opportunity to meet some people I knew mostly from their writing and Twitter, but also just for the experience of attending a con. It’s an experience I was rather surprised to discover I quite enjoy.
I’ll be attending Readercon again this year, though I don’t know about anything else. World Fantasy is in Ohio this year, while the other contender, Worldcon, is in Missouri, and both of those are two far to drive. I figure, if I’m going to spend up to a thousand bucks (airfare, hotel, registration, etc.), maybe I should wait and go all-out next year, when Worldcon is in Finland. I’m still deciding, and I’m not un-tempted by Kansas City. (I watched last year’s Hugo Awards huddled under a blanket on the couch and running a fever, so this would be a step up.)
And finally, as is my wont, I put together a year-end musical playlist, which is basically just me narrowing down the month-by-month playlists of new (and new-to-me) songs I like to make and occasionally foist on people. Here’s 2015’s best-of:
Overall, I do think it was a halfway decent year. Not my best, but by no estimation my worst. I’m hopeful for 2016, and I hope you are too!
So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with. That;s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what. Now try How and Why. – Margaret Atwood, “Happy Endings”
October was a relatively quiet month. I spent a lot of it watching episodes of Person of Interest.
I did manage to see sixteen movies:
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
The Final Girls
Tremors 5: Bloodlines
The Trip to Italy
No Way Out
The Day the Earth Stood Still
A Bridge too Far
Ju-On: The Grudge
I think Crimson Peak was easily my favorite of them — almost not at all the horror movie its advertising seems to suggest, but a remarkably well crafted gothic romance. How well it adheres to the accepted “rules” of that genre, I couldn’t necessarily say, but it was a ridiculously beautiful (and sometimes beautifully ridiculous) movie, and it’s definitely, as the lead character says at the top, not a ghost story but a story with a ghost in it.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is such a strange movie. There are some stunningly beautiful shots, a great performance by Rinko Kikuchi, but it’s so desperately, weirdly sad.
The Martian is a very entertaining movie of no real depth or consequence. It might therefore be the most faithful book adaptation of all time. The movie drops some of the book’s engineering procedures and mishaps in favor of making the characters seem more like real humans. But most of the heavy lifting is done by casting good actors and hoping the problem-plot will move fast enough you can ignore that the characters themselves are remarkably underwritten. (When I read the book in September I was hesitant to even call anyone in the book a character, they’re so thinly sketched.) Like the book, it’s unremarkable but enjoyably successful for what it is.
The Final Girls looked a lot more fun in its trailer, a silly meta-commentary on ’70s and ’80s slasher movies. And it is that…to a point, with some amusing moments and occasional cleverness, and the cast is really good. Heaven knows the movie wears its heart on its sleeve. But ultimately it was just disappointing.
But then, so too were some of the actual horror movies I watched this month — particularly Saw and Ju-On: The Grudge. I think I understand what it is about Saw that spawned so many sequels, and even when he’s making terrible movies I think James Wan is a talented director. But hoo boy, Saw really is a bad movie. It’s one of those things you maybe have to watch if you’re going to stay culturally aware, if you’re going to talk knowledgeably about the horror genre. And it’s legitimately tense. But it’s also ridiculous, a whole lot less clever than it thinks, and ending on what’s both an incredible twist and just plain dumb. The idea of watching six more of them makes me want to saw my own leg off.
Ju-On was a lot better, but also a whole lot less scary than I was expecting. I don’t know if it’s the practical nature of the effects — ghosts played by actors in white makeup — or that I’ve seen these j-horror tropes repeated so often elsewhere, but for me the movie failed on its most fundamental level: it didn’t scare me. It’s interesting beyond that — if only to glimpse a more suburban Japan — but not hugely compelling.
In fact, despite Halloween, and despite having watched a fair number of horror movies this month, the scariest was probably 1944’s The Uninvited. And, good as that is, it’s also not especially frightening.
As for Tremors 5…well, if you absolutely loved all the other movies in the franchise…this might still be a Graboid too far, but it’s not without its entertainment value, thanks mostly to Michael Gross, who’s basically the only thing still tying this to the original film. I’m not exactly a Tremors completist — I saw most but not all of the prequel movie and didn’t see the TV series at all — but that’s basically who this was made for.
Lots of older movies in the list. Like Casino Royale and Barbarella, which are both ridiculous, but only one of which wears that well. (Hint: it’s the movie with the weightlessly floating naked Jane Fonda in it.) Roger Ebert pretty accurately summed up Casino Royale — not the Daniel Craig version — as “…a definitive example of what can happen when everybody working on a film goes simultaneously berserk.” It has a sort of shiny incoherence to it, a totally terrible movie, but one worth watching strictly because of that terribleness. I finished watching it and my only thought was, “What even was that movie?”
Barbarella, on the other hand, I found delightful. I don’t want to suggest it’s a good movie, since it is deeply weirdly and nonsensical. But…well, you have to understand, I’ve seen Zardoz, so my tolerance for weird and nonsensical might be a little inflated.
There’s not a lot to say about the other movies. Focus was better than I’d been led to believe, but I’d been led to believe it was pretty dire, so… The Trip to Italy isn’t much different than the original The Trip, although this one maybe belongs more to Rob Brydon than Steve Coogan. No Way Out is very much a late-’80s political thriller, just like The Day the Earth Stood Still is very much early-’50s message SF, both effective for what they are. Dracula has Lugosi’s performance — and such a legacy you almost have to watch it — in what’s a very condensed version of the book, closer, apparently, to the stage play, which I’ve never seen. And A Bridge Too Far does a good job of recreating an unsuccessful war operation, and an even better job of creating an unsuccessful movie. I spent a lot of time talking about it on Twitter, but I think that’s only because the movie itself is several months long.
I read two very good books in October: Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown and M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts.
I knew Cho’s work mostly from a story I published earlier this year in Kaleidotrope, while Carey’s work I knew exclusively from comics, like his long run on DC’s Lucifer. Both books were great, very different from each other, but highly recommended.
I read thirty-six short stories in October. My favorites among them:
“Solder and Seam” by Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed)
“The Lonesome Place” by August Derleth (American Supernatural Tales)
And my own story from Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #61, “When Jane Was Nine,” finally became available in electronic format. Just five bucks — and that might be in Australian dollars — you can read my robot shark meets girl detective story, plus lots of other great work!
And finally, in October, I listened to some music. If you wanted, you could listen to it too:
September. September. What the heck did I do in September?
Well, I went to Washington, DC, for work for a few days. Unfortunately, my visit coincided with the Pope’s, which kept a lot of the faculty members I had planned to meet with on campus away. I didn’t have any problem at Georgetown, the Tuesday the Pontiff was still in transit, but Wednesday at GWU in Foggy Bottom was pretty quiet. I met with only one professor all day, which is an all-time low. I had plenty of cancellations the next day at American University, too, but there I easily met with three times as many people.
I’ve spent a lot of this past week making phone calls with instructors to reschedule our chats. It’s now finally done, for better or worse, and I have notes from about seventeen instructors I’ll likely spend most of this coming Monday typing up.
Beyond that, I’m hard-pressed to think what I actually did with the month.
I watched five movies:
The Rules of the Game
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
I think Byzantium was the best of them, and Next easily the worst. The former’s a genuinely interesting and unique take on the vampire myth, with really great performances by Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton, while the latter’s a painfully dumb Nicolas Cage movie. (And to think, it’s the movie I decided on after I quit watching Crank midway though because I thought it was unenjoyable and stupid.)
Kwaidan is gorgeous, if very slow, but at least it does something with its beautiful visuals. Walter Mitty, on the other hand, looks great, but in the service of such an uninteresting story.
I liked The Rules of the Game a lot, but I don’t have a whole lot to say about it, I guess.
In September, I managed to read three books, which is at least one better than what I’ve been averaging each month this year. (Seriously, as of today, I’ve only read sixteen books since January. It’s a little sad.) This month, I was helped by my long drive to and from DC, listening to Amy Poehler read from her memoir Yes Please along the way. (It’s really great.) I also read A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, which is kind of deliriously beautiful, and The Martian, which is…well, it’s enjoyable for what it is.
I finally caught up with Andy Weir’s book in anticipation of the movie, opening this weekend I think, and I’m a little surprised it became such a sensation. Mark Watney, Weir’s stranded astronaut, can be entertaining, but I hesitate to call him, much less anyone else in the book, a character. There’s nothing elegant to Weir’s prose, nor any real depth to the people he’s writing about. I didn’t dislike the book, and heaven knows it reads quickly and does exactly what it says on the tin, but at times I felt like I was trapped inside a math problem.
I feel like Weir would write a really interesting intro science textbook, but I’m not losing sleep waiting on his next novel.
I read fifty-two stories in September. (I may have been helped considerably by the purchase of this flash fiction collection. The stories are very short.) Favorites, listed in the order I read them, include:
“Nothing Is Pixels Here” by K.M. Szpara (Lightspeed)
I do note most of those Flash Fiction International stories, much as I may like them in the moment — and as much as they may help me make my story-a-day quota — don’t really stick with me, nor make the favorites list. Oh well.
I don’t include any of my own stories, of course — though I do have one in Mythic Delirium that just went live — or the stories I bought and edited for Kaleidotrope — whose newest issue also just went live, by the way. Let’s take it as read that I love all of those and you will too.
Finally, in September, I listed to some music. If you’re so inclined, you could listen to it too: