With the new year upon us, it’s time to look back at 2017, a year that was frequently strange and only occasionally epic. (I feel like every year in America is like this nowadays, but that’s a topic for another post.)
Below is a list of my favorite stuff from the past year, organized in various categories.
Note: this list doesn’t exclusively feature things released in 2017, like many lists. Most of it’s a hodgepodge of stuff I watched/read/experienced for the first time and loved. There are also some fun categories that…well, that’d be telling. Read on!
Favorite Book, Traditionally Published: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
This is the third book from Sides I’ve read (the others being Blood and Thunder and Hellhound on his Trail), and while the others were good-to-great, In the Kingdom of Ice is head and shoulders above them.
The Jeannette was tasked with sailing to the North Pole, an impossible feat, as the crew eventually learned. Along the way they become locked in the ice, and finally lose the ship – and a seemingly endless trek across desolation begins. Things don’t get any easier when they finally return to the mainland: their next ordeal is trying to survive in the unforgiving barrenness of Siberia.
The subtitle of this nonfiction work is perfect: the Jeannette‘s incredible journey featured heroism, superhuman endurance, astonishing ingenuity, and stirring loyalty. It also had unspeakable suffering and tear-inducing deaths. Whether you think the Jeannette‘s voyage was folly or not, it’s difficult to deny the power of Sides’s narrative. It’s both authoritative and fast-paced, a balance all nonfiction should strive for.
Favorite Book, Self-Published/Indie Published: Bud by the Grace of God by S.E. Sasaki
You can read my full review here.
Capsule review: As I noted in my Goodreads review, “this is a lightning-quick sci-fi buffet of sleek coolness.” Sci-fi readers will find plenty of their beloved tropes here, but everything still seems fresh and exciting.
Absent from the novel is any sort of pretentiousness, either in the writing or the use of sci-fi themes and terminology. Sasaki clearly wanted to create an enjoyable experience for the reader, not show off her supreme wordsmithing and vast knowledge.
This novel isn’t pioneering, and the plot is predictable – and it doesn’t matter. It’s a fun, quick read that still sticks with you long after you’ve finished. As I summed up my full review: “It has plenty of heart, fascinating ideas, and wonderful characters. Keep an eye on S.E. Sasaki!”
Favorite Comic/Graphic Novel: JLA: World War III
The nostalgia factor gave this one a 1000% boost.
The backstory: I had one issue of this storyline in my comic book collection, and only one. For years, perhaps decades, I never knew what happened beyond that first issue. Sure, I could’ve bought the collection, but I’m a cheap bastard. Sure, I could’ve read a summary online, but what fun is that? A three-paragraph summary doesn’t do a comic book arc justice. I’ve also got like 300+ comics in the ol’ comic book collection, and if I tried to track down all those “lost storylines,” I’d never get anything else done.
But then I noticed the collected edition of this saga in my library system’s online catalog. Fate, it was. A hold was placed. A book was sent to my local branch. A book was read. All was revealed. Happiness was felt.
This was the end of Grant Morrison’s run on JLA, and it’s the typical widescreen, all-killer-no-filler style. The JLA is facing about a million threats at once, and all hope seems lost. Of course, it isn’t, because they’re the freakin’ JLA, and they have Batman. (Batman fanboys rejoice.) Numerous epic gambits are used, the most awesome one being conferring superpowers to everyone on planet Earth so they can aid in the battle.
In the end, Batman gives Superman a talking-to, and Superman snaps out of his bad guy-induced sorrow and defeats the mega-threat known as Mageddon.
I dislike much of Morrison’s work. Too convoluted, too metaphysical, too pompous. But on the parts of JLA I’ve read, he was phenomenal.
Favorite Babe: Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy
Definitely not your traditional babe, but that dangerous edge of hers is sexy as hell. It probably isn’t a good idea to pursue a violent cyborg with severe psychological issues, but who knows? Maybe I could calm her inner beast. Or, failing that, I’d have a brief fling and then hightail it to another galaxy, hoping she doesn’t chase after me with planet-devouring scorn.
Karen Gillan and the makeup artists did a fantastic job creating this hot-yet-psychotic character. I hope she gets plenty of screentime in future movies.
Favorite Series: Ash vs. Evil Dead
I’d never watched any of the Evil Dead movies in their entirety, and I’d never worshiped at the altar of Bruce Campbell. It all seemed like cult classic delusional nonsense.
Things changed, however, when I watched Ash vs. Evil Dead.
The damn thing snuck up on me. Here I was, innocently browsing Netflix, when I saw this series. I’d never heard of it, although I was vaguely familiar with groovy Bruce and the Evil Dead stuff. I figured I’d check it out. BLAM-O! The thing hit me like a boomstick blast to the face.
I don’t like gory movies, but the gore in Ash vs. Evil Dead is so over-the-top that it ceases to be realistic gore, and turns into something zany and cartoonish and insane.
I don’t like scary movies, where there’s something about to jump out at the hapless characters and you’re on the edge of your seat, but something jumps out at the characters in this series every damn scene. Midway through the first season, I was acclimated to it.
Normal likes and dislikes don’t apply here. The show is big, brazen, dumb, and blisteringly fast-paced. It pulls you along whether you like it or not.
The series is reasonably well-casted, but Bruce Campbell, of course, is the Man. I now see why he’s cherished. The aging Ash Williams is still raunchy and doltish, and still somehow an undead killing machine. Ash’s feats are preposterous, but we don’t care because so much awesomeness is being thrown at us.
I think season two is superior to season one; the asylum episodes are fantastic, and the final confrontation at the cabin – complete with a fetid-breast-milk-spewing deadite grandma demon thing – is a satisfying end. Both seasons deserve your eyeballs, though. Forget your normal preferences and go for it.
Favorite Movie: Nightcrawler
This movie sums up the American zeitgeist. A desperate, alienated man trying to get by; an even more desperate man falling prey to the aforementioned desperate man; callous media figures; a callous public; and darkness all around, both literal and metaphorical.
Jake Gyllenhaal is phenomenal as the sociopathic Louis Bloom. Louis’s savagery, especially towards Nina (played by Rene Russo) is morally repugnant – but acted so well that you can’t look away.
This is not a nice movie. It doesn’t have likable characters. It doesn’t have a happy ending. People who like cozy stuff will want to skip this one. For those who don’t mind a glimpse into the abyss, this is a can’t-miss.
Favorite Object: My iHome Mouse
I’ve had this thing for like ten years and it’s still going strong, despite being grungy and losing some of its paint. It’s just some cheap Made in China mouse from Wal-Mart, so it’s unclear where its astounding durability comes from.
I’m convinced it’s immortal.
I was going to post a photo of it, but it’s just too grungy. I don’t want to embarrass myself further.
Here’s a meme instead.
Favorite Video Game: Torchlight II
Torchlight II is an action RPG (ARPG) done right. I’ve always leaned towards the casual side of gaming, and this is the perfect grindfest for the casual player. The sense of power and achievement is well calibrated for my sensibilities. On the lowest difficulty setting, it doesn’t require much effort to turn your character into a nigh-unstoppable demi-god.
The graphics are wonderful – clean and engaging, if a bit cartoonish. There’s a lot of stuff to see and do, but the game doesn’t feel stupidly enormous and complicated. The abilities are all over the place, but then I’ve only played one character class, the Berzerker; other classes may be more tightly designed.
I’m still nowhere close to beating the game, but this is one title I’m going to stick with and finish with multiple characters.
It’s dated, so you can get it cheap, especially if you snag it during a Steam sale. It also doesn’t have onerous system requirements; if my dilapidated laptop can run it, odds are anything can run it.
Favorite Podcast: The Self-Publishing Podcast
I don’t watch as many podcasts as I should; one thing I hope to rectify in 2018, as there’s a lot of good information out there.
When I do watch a podcast, it’s often the Self-Publishing Podcast, starring the infamous trio of Johnny, Sean, and Dave. While their show is sometimes just an extended advertisement for all the stuff they’re doing, it’s still worth listening to for entertainment value alone.
When they do have guests on, expect a true overload of high-quality info – plus the entertainment, of course.
Favorite Blogger: David Gaughran
I don’t know if it’s accurate to call Gaughran a true blogger. He doesn’t blog daily, or even weekly. But when he does write something over at Let’s Get Digital, it’s required reading for self-published authors.
Unlike a lot of relentlessly positive self-publishing personalities, Gaughran has no problem calling out Amazon. His most recent post, New Year, Old Problem: Innocent Author Rank-Stripped For Third Time is a good example. When Amazon (or anyone) screws around with authors, Gaughran is there to advocate for us. He’s knowledgeable and authoritative, and doesn’t churn out watered-down content hoping to make a quick buck.
Favorite Twitter Account: Darius Brasher (@DariusBrasher)
This guy’s tweets always show up in my feed. Is he doing some social media marketing mumbo jumbo? Dunno, because I don’t understand the inner workings of Twitter.
Whatever he does or doesn’t do, his tweets are usually well-crafted witticisms – like tweets are supposed to be. So kudos to you, Mr. Brasher, and keep it up.
Favorite Facebook Person/Account: none
I spend almost no time on Zuckerberg’s stupid creation. Sorry, Facebook lovers – it just ain’t for me.
Then again, I did say that about Twitter….
That’s it. Feel free to comment on my list, or share your own below – and here’s to a productive and stellar 2018!