Geek Things of 2010

This was possibly one of the best years that I’ve had in a long time. There were geek things abound, in all facets of life: in literature, film, current events, science, music and people. 2010 was a fantastic year for me. In roughly chronological order, here are the notable geek moments of the year:

This year seems to have been the year for newly-published authors. Nora Jemisin exploded out of the gate with her book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the first of a trilogy in an excellently conceived of world, one where gods and humans interact and where there are consequences for those who were chained, and those who held the chains. I was particularly blown away by this book, and look forward to diving into book two: The Broken Kingdoms sometime in 2011.

Canadian Science Fiction author Peter Watts became a bit of a martyr in the eyes of many in the science fictional world when he was thrown into jail for resisting arrest at a border crossing earlier this spring. News of his imprisonment and the details of his predicament spread like wildfire, spurring outrage. Watts has since been convicted and released, and won’t be able to travel into the U.S..

I trooped in February with the 501st in New York City to support a product launch. What a surreal day: who would have thought of the combination of Star Wars, Snoop Dogg and Adidas?

The long-running UK show Dr. Who saw its latest rejuvenation in the form of Matthew Smith this year, along with show runner Steven Moffat, who’s penned some of the best Dr. Who episodes that I’ve seen in the latest run. I only was able to catch a couple of the new episodes, but what I saw, I really liked.

One of the films that was a sure train wreck from the trailers was Clash of the Titans. It’s decent, mindless monster porn with action and special effects, but for a regular movie? It was pretty bad, and the slapped together 3D helped show audiences that it’s a stunt on the part of movie studios to rake in more money per ticket. Where 2009 saw Avatar as the big bright moment for 3D, 2010 saw that it was only good when natively filmed with the extra dimension, rather than slapped on with additional CGI.

Another new author broke into the ranks of the published, author Blake Charlton, with his first novel, Spellwright. While the novel wasn’t perfect, it was enjoyable, and I’ve had the good fortune to talk extensively with him over the course of the year (while he splits writing time with his medical education). This book in particular draws upon Charlton’s own experiences with Dyslexia, which allows the book a unique feel when it comes to the mechanics of world building and magic. Bring on book two, Spellbound, due out this year. !

One of my favorite authors from high school / camp, Karin Lowachee, returned from several years of absence for a new book titled The Gaslight Dogs, one of the better Steampunk books that I’ve read thus far. Set in an unconventional world to the North, Lowachee weaves together some interesting characters and settings in an entertaining novel. I eagerly await the sequels for this planned trilogy.

Earlier this year marked a major uproar when amazon.com attempted to flex its muscles against Macmillan publishers, who had been pushing for higher prices for its new hardcover books. Amazon pulled the books from the publisher, which outraged a lot of people – authors who found that their books weren’t being sold for a couple of days before they were all put back into place.

April 20th saw a massive explosion on the Deep Water Horizon oil rig when a plume of natural gas came up the well that they were drilling. The resulting oil spill lasted for three months and involved a major engineering and environmental effort to cap and contain the oil spill. Undoubtedly, the effects will be seen for years to come in the environmental and economic health of the region. The containment of the well itself is an achievement in and of itself, with an apt description of the process as similar to the Apollo 13 rescue.

Vermont singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell gained quite a lot of attention with her concept album Hadestown, a post-apocalyptic folk opera retelling of the legend of Orpheus. It’s a mouthful, but an extensive cast of notable singers (such as Bon Iver and Ani DeFranco) join her in an impeccable work of music, story and art. This album was absolute perfection.

In July, at the urging of a former college professor, I drove down to ReaderCon, a regional science fiction convention that boasted an impressive list of authors and fans. Unlike most of the conventions that I’ve been to, this was devoted extensively to literature, and while there, I was able to meet a number of authors that I’ve long admired (and learned of there) such as Charles Stross, Allen M. Steele, Elizabeth Hand, Blake Charlton, Paolo Bacigalupi, David Forbes, N.K. Jemisin, and quite a few others. I had an absolute blast this year, and I’m eagerly awaiting the trip next year. Hopefully, I’ll be able to visit some other similar cons this year.

I didn’t catch this until later in the year, but Predators was a film that was released that had been one that I’d wanted to see in theaters. Where the first film was an 80s action film with too much brawn and no brains, this film was a smart, dynamic science fiction thriller, one that vastly improved the franchise. As io9 said, it’s the perfect B movie. I’m inclined to agree.

While it was a sparse year for good genre films, one stood easily out amongst the others: Inception. It was a fantastic balance between action and story, with a thought-provoking storyline that dips its feet into the science fiction pool just as much as needed to push the story forward, exploring the mind and the possibilities of imagination. It’s on my slowly growing list of top science fiction films ever.

1B1T proved that Twitter could be more than mindless, as Wired Magazine ran a poll to see if they could get all of twitter reading the same book. The result? Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, broken down into an easy reading schedule – it made for a great excuse to re-read the book and talk to a number of people on a global scale.

Another new author, Charles Yu impressed me with his short story collection, Third Class Superhero this past spring and doubly so over the summer with his book, How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, a brilliant time travel story that stands out from most books that I read this year. Yu’s book becomes part of the story itself, and can easily be compared to the works of Douglas Adams with its dry humor.

Last year, Paolo Bacigalupi blew me away with his novel The Windup Girl, and this year, his follow-up YA novel Ship Breaker could easily fit into the same post-oil world. Global warming is rampant, people are exploited, and with that in the background, there’s a very basic and interesting story that pulls the reader through. Bacigalupi’s a guy to watch, and this book demonstrated that he’s no one hit wonder.

Apple launched their new device and product category this year, the iPad, and when a really good deal came through earlier this year, I bought one, something that I wasn’t expecting to do. So far, it’s easily the best thing that I’ve bought all year long. It’s an amazingly good computer, and it works very well with what I’ve long used a computer for, while being more convenient than a laptop. It’s a multi-purpose device that I’ve been able to use extensively over the course of the year, for writing, reading, web work, music and games. For my first Apple early adoption, it’s come off far better than my first iPod.

This year’s Hugo Awards presented a rare event: a tie for Best Novel: Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and China Mieville’s The City and The City (more on that in a moment) both received the award in addition to every other award that they scooped up along the way. (Quite a few!). Moon also picked up the movie award.

The animated Star Wars Clone Wars TV show has been popular, but for me, up and down in quality. The opening episode was impressive, but from everything that I’ve seen beyond that, it’s become an exceedingly boring show. When the ads point to the passage of an arms bill in the Republic senate as the exciting bits, you should probably reevaluate. Hopefully, it’ll get a bit better soon.

When it came to television shows that disappoint, LOST came to an end is year with a finale that ended the show, but one that didn’t wow me like it should have. There was too much lost when it came to possibilities, and it felt more like an ending and an epilogue that wasn’t needed.

Masked is a superhero anthology, featuring a number of authors taking on the super powered and the caped. I’ve yet to finish it, and while I’ve been enjoying most of it, there are only so many stories of a Batman clone before I have to question the need for the story to be included.

One of the better anthologies that I read all year, Stories: All New Tales, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio is an impressive book that looks to the idea that stories should be things that demand that you turn the page to find out what happens next. This collection of stories, which boasts an impressive list of contributors, is one that I really enjoyed reading through – there’s a bit of every genre here, from science fiction to fantasy to horror to crime fiction. Worth picking through and reading for all of the excellent stories.

Military science fiction stories are fascinating reads – I’ve read a number of them this year, and by far, the most thought-provoking was Adam Robert’s New Model Army. The premise is one that’s very modern: what happens when the wiki-culture moves into warfare? While I think that a lot of what would have happened in the book would never come to pass, it does have some interesting ideas behind it, and by far, was one of the better books that I read all year.

Iron Man 2 would have done well to capitalize on the military science fiction stories that the first was known for: a tight, interesting and well conducted special effects spectacular. The trailers looked awesome, but the film just fell flat: it was overblown, nonsensical at times, and not nearly as good as the first one. It did have its good parts, such as Sam Rockwell’s zany character, and some fun action scenes.

Kirby Krackle completely rocked my world this year. Their sound is pretty basic when it comes to the actual music, but they rocked it pretty well. In a world where there a few songs that are so passionate about Green Lantern or zombies, their album E for Everyone really stood out for me, and it’s an awesome bit of music to bounce around to. These guys are the new voice of fandom.

The first big cancellation from SyFy earlier this year was Caprica, which launched with a great cast of characters and a whole lot of potential, this precursor to Battlestar Galactica was a show that really needed to be trimmed down and to find its focus a bit. Numerous storylines, characters and themes all running together worked well, but the writing was on the wall early on: the show could have been just as good or better than BSG, (and was, at points), but its ratings couldn’t sustain it. It’s a real shame: the show could have been better than BSG.

In it’s second season, Stargate Universe continued to impress me, and it’s recent cancellation has me far more upset than the axing of any other television show that I’ve watched (even Firefly, although I saw that post-cancellation). A step up for the franchise as a whole, this season of Universe was brilliant, well acted and had a lot going for it, and I hope that the next ten episodes will see some good closure and storytelling. Still, maybe it’ll be one of those shows that was awesome and never had a chance to get bad, much like Firefly.

One of the absolute best books that I read this year was China Miéville’s The City and The City, which was up for a number of awards this year, including the Hugo. I picked this up after the hype started to go, and it lived up to, and exceeded my expectations by a long margin. Wonderfully plotted in a well thought-out world, Miéville crafts a murder mystery with a fantastic background, and puts to paper one of the best books of the year.

The mathematician who was responsible for some major advances in mathematics and theory died earlier this year, Benoit Mandelbrot. Also the subject of a Jonathan Coulton song: Mandelbrot Set.

Stephen Moffat ruled the Dr. Who universe for a while now, but I liked his take on Sherlock Holmes far more. Set in the modern day, Sherlock is a retelling of the story, with Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. A far better take on the character than Robert Downey Jr.’s in the film adaptation (which was also quite fun), Sherlock was fantastic from start to cliff-hanger. I already can’t wait for Series 2.

In the wake of Sherlock, Martin Freeman was selected to play Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, which is finally moving forward, along with what looks like a great cast. It’s still a shame that Guillermo del Toro isn’t directing though.

Zombies have been all the rage for a while now, and (no pun intended) have been done to death. The Walking Dead falls into a couple of categories with me. The pilot episode was fantastic – one of the better takes on a man waking up to find civilization gone, but it’s a story that really doesn’t add much to the canon, and while it had its interesting points, it’s something that I’m more or less indifferent to. We’ll see how Season 2 goes.

While Zombies have been very popular, 2010 saw a bit of a decline in the hysteria over Vampires, while Steampunk came in as a solid genre. The Steampunk craze has gotten some major attention: Sherlock Holmes took on a couple of Steampunkish elements, while Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) in the show Castle became a convert as publishers such as Pyr and Tor have published a number of books in the genre. It’s something that’s here to stay, that’s for sure.

When it comes to Pyr books, one of their offerings for the year that I read earlier this was Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, which took place in a futuristic India. The Dervish House is his latest book, taking place in a futuristic Turkey. I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m loving its rich attention to culture and interconnected storyline.

Going back to geek music, a friend of mine, John Anealio, turned me towards Marian Call earlier this year at ReaderCon, and when she came through Vermont on her 49 state tour this year (an impressive feat in and of itself), I was able to catch her at Montpelier’s Langdon Street Cafe for a geeky set of music and a couple of quick words with Marian. She’s a lovely singer, one who’s popular for all of the right reasons. Geek music was something that I focused on quite a bit this year, putting together a playlist that’s almost 700 songs long, and while doing so, came across a strange trend with some of the more higher-profile stuff that trends more towards Geek Pop music. Songs like G33ks and G4m3r Girls by Team Unicorn were almost unlistenable earworms, laundry-lists of popular geek things without the real soul of “geek” stuff to begin with. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s more of it as geek stuff gets more and more popular.

Speaking of John Anealio, he’s someone to keep an eye on, and someone that I befriended earlier this year at ReaderCon. John’s an excellent geek musician, with some fantastic songs released earlier this year, such as ‘Stormtrooper for Halloween’ and ‘I Should Be Writing’. Kirby Krackle might speak for fandom, but Anealio speaks for the fans themselves. I can’t wait to see what he comes up next.

Another outfit to keep an eye out for is Symphony of Science, which continued to release a number of tracks of auto tuned scientists (namely Carl Sagan) with a wonderful collection of music that speaks to science and the wonders of the universe.

One of the films that I’m practically drooling over in anticipation for is Battle: Los Angeles, which can best be described as Independence Day meets Black Hawk Down. The early buzz from San Diego Comic Con was good, and the trailer showed that there was going to be some excellent looking action. The film is due out in March of 2011, and I really hope that it’ll live up to my expectations.

While I panned iFringe when it first came out, but I’ve grown to love it and really rued my words: with Stargate Universe off the air, it’s easily the best science fiction show on TV right now, and while its ratings have dropped and it’s been moved to Friday nights, I’m hoping that the show will continue onwards. This season has seen less of the blood and gore, but has an excellent alternate universe storyline that’s heating up. I can’t wait for new episodes starting up later this week!

One of the coolest things to happen in the realm of space exploration happened was the Deep Impact Probe, launched on 2005 to take a look at the 9P/Tempel comet. The probe released an impactor earlier this year and took a number of high resolution pictures as it passed by and analyzed the impact to see what it was made of.

The other top book of the year was easily Joe Hill’s second novel, Horns, mixing popular culture, horror iconology and religious allegory together in a story that absolutely gripped me and blew me away while I was reading it.

It was a sad day in December when Leslie Nielsen passed away. Airplane is one of my favorite comedies, while Forbidden Planet is easily one of my favorite science fiction films. He will certainly be missed. Right on the heels of Nielsen was Irvin Kershner, who directed the greatest of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a shame that his work was never quite matched with the franchise. Ironically, his film was one of 25 preserved by the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.

On December 9th, the private space firm SpaceX made history when it launched it’s Falcon 9 rocket into orbit carrying a dragon capsule. It became the first private firm to orbit the earth and safely return, joining a small number of countries who have accomplished the same thing.

When it comes to dragons, a film released this year that I only just caught was How To Train Your Dragon, a great kids film with a fun story and some good graphics. At the same time, I can also recommend Toy Story 3 for many of the same reasons – excellent storytelling and a positive end for that franchise.

Wikileaks occupied most of the news coverage for the last part of the year as they released thousands of diplomatic cables in addition to their leak of classified military dispatches written over the course of the Iraq / Afghanistan war. The leaks demonstrated the power of the internet: and the necessity to keep secrets a bit more secure. Given the lack of ability of the British government to keep track of their own files, I’m surprised that they haven’t been the target of more leaks.

I first saw the original Tron earlier this year in anticipation for Tron: Legacy, and I came out of the theaters with a film that met my expectations. It was a blockbuster that was fun, but it could have been so much more than it was. With Disney working on sequels and a television series, I’m not sure that the franchise is going anywhere, but box office results have been somewhat lax, given all the advanced hype and marketing for the film.

That ends out the year. It’s been an impressive one, and one that marked a couple of milestones for me: I’ve written, talked to, read and watched so much in the speculative fiction genre, and I’m loving the immersion. There’s a long list of people to thank for it: Annalee Newitz, Charlie Jane Anders, John DeNardo, John Anelio, Patrick Hester, Aiden Moher, Blake Charlton, Charles Yu, Paolo Bacigalupi, David Forbes, Jim Ehrman, N.K. Jemisin, John Scalzi, David J. Williams, Christie Yant, John Joseph Adams, Karin Lowachee, Megan Messinger, Bridget McGovern, Brit Mandelo, Scott Eldeman, Blastr, everybody at io9, SF Signal and Tor.com, people who commented and e-mailed me because of what I wrote and everyone who encouraged my writing and reasoning over the year. Most of all, Megan, for everything. It’s been the best year for me to date, and I’m looking forward to an even better 2011.

Top Geek Things of 2009

Now that it’s close to the end of the year, it’s time to look back, like everyone else and their mother on the internet, on the past year. 2009 has been a fantastic one for all things geek. There have been a number of fantastic movies, books, television shows and so forth, as well as a bunch of things that really didn’t come off as well. Here’s what I’ve been geeking out (or complaining about) this year:

The Best:

Moon
Moon is easily one of the best Science Fiction films that I’ve ever seen. Ever. It’s been added to a very small list of films (The Fountain, Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth, etc) of exceptionally conceptualized, produced and thoughtful SF/F films out there. Moon is one of two really good films this year that I really enjoyed and for a number of reasons. The story is fantastic, playing off of common themes with new eyes, it’s visually stunning and it’s a largely original story, one that’s not based directly off of prior works. And, it has a fantastic soundtrack by Clint Mansell.

Star Trek
This appears three times on this list, because I’m still largely split over how I feel about it. The best parts of this is that it’s a fantastic, visually stunning film, and really does what Enterprise and Nemesis failed to do: reboot the franchise in grand style, with over the top action, adventure, everything that really comes to mind when you think Big Budget Space Movie. The cast, pacing and visuals made this one of the most successful films of the year, and the best of the big budget films that came out this year.

District 9
When it comes to fantastic Science Fiction films, Moon and Star Trek didn’t have a monopoly on this at all – District 9, coming out of San Diego Comic Con with an incredible amount of buzz and a good viral marketing campaign showed that there was still a place for an innovative filmmaker armed with a good story. The end result is a compelling take on first contact. Instead of an us against them, or invaders from outer space flick, we see refugees from outer space, with an acute political message that makes this movie even more interesting.

The Curious Tale of Benjamin Button
This was an interesting film, one that got a bit of press, but wasn’t a blockbuster by any means. The story of a man who ages backwards from birth, one that proved to be a powerful and somewhat heartbreaking love story leaves much room for discussion, but at points, was slow and ponderous. Brad Pitt did a fantastic job, as did the special effects artists who provided the CGI throughout.

The Magicians, Lev Grossman
The Magicians was a book that came out of nowhere for me, until a Borders email let me know about it. Picking it up, with few expectations, I was enthralled with Lev Grossman‘s take on the fantasy world. Drawing much from C.S. Lewis‘s Chronicles of Narnia and elements of Harry Potter, this book looks at a boy in a magical academy in a far more realistic sense, injecting a good dose of post-college reality into a field that is often ripe with monsters and epic quests. A quest of sorts is in here, but the buildup is fantastic.

Wired For War, P.W. Singer
Wired For War is a book from earlier this year that looked at the developments of robotics in warfare. P.W. Singer takes a long and comprehensive look at not only the state of robots and their use in combat operations, but also looks to how the use of robotics is integrated into wartime planning, and how this impacts command and control structures already in place. From this point, he looks to the future of warfare, where robotics will go through the next decades and what the face of futuristic warfare might look like. It’s also peppered with numerous Science Fiction references. I had a chance to speak with and interview Mr. Singer, who was extremely pleasant and eager to talk about his book, and write up several major articles for io9, which was a thrill as always.

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
Recently selected as one of Time Magazine’s top books of the year, Paolo Bacigalupi‘s first novel, The Windup Girl is a stunning one. Taking place in the near future, in a world without oil, alternative energy has become paramount, while agricultural firms have put profit before common sense and as a result, plagues ravage the world, except for Thailand, whose isolationist policies hold back the outside world and its problems. The book covers a lot of ground, from governmental policy to corporate greed to bioethics, with a wide range of characters who all fall within a gray area. This book is fantastic, and if it doesn’t win a Hugo, there’s seriously something wrong with the world.

The Moon Reigns Supreme – 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 & Water on the Moon
This year marked 40 years since 1969, when man first landed on the moon with Apollo 11, and with a successful follow-up mission with Apollo 12. Easily one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments and it has been followed up with a number of projects. NASA found and restored footage of the landing and EVA activities, cleaning it up a little. NASA also took pictures from orbit of the Apollo landing sites, down to footprint trails with some stunning work from LCROSS.
In addition to NASA’s efforts to celebrate the anniversary, there were a number of other things out there. The Kennedy Library launched the website ‘We Chose the Moon‘, which documented, in real time, the Apollo 11 mission. I listened at the edge of my seat, following along with the mission transcript and listened as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the lunar surface. Finally, Craig T. Nelson‘s book, Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men On The Moon, was released earlier this year to also commemorate the mission, which proved to be a detailed and fantastic read, one that helped to influence my thinking on the lunar mission.
The Lunar landing wasn’t the only press that the moon got this year – the LCROSS mission launched a component that slammed into the surface and let up a plume of debris – analysis revealed that there is water on the moon – a lot of it. And for all of those people who complained about this, keep in mind the number of craters that are already there.

Last servicing mission to Hubble.
NASA wasn’t just in the news for Apollo 11; this year marked the last servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in orbit since 1990. Despite its troubled history, the satellite has returned some of the most fantastic, beautiful and stunning images of the universe around us, and will continue to do so for a couple more years. Space Shuttle mission STS-125 was launched in May, where a new camera was placed onboard and several other minor repairs. The satellite is slated to continue operation through 2014, so don’t fret yet.

James May’s Toy Stories
James May, one of the three presenters on Top Gear, has been doing a limited TV show on classic toys, including Mecano, Plasticine, and eventually, Lego, looking a little at their history and then building something supersized out of them. It’s quite a treat to watch.

Fringe
I called Fringe one of the worst things last year, but it’s turned around for me. Picking up the boxed set, I was hooked. It’s a bit cheesy, gory, but a whole lot of fun. Walter, weird science, teleportation and alternate universes make this show a huge joy to watch. Season 2 is proving to be just as good, now that they’ve locked down a story, and I’m eager to see where it goes.

Dollhouse
Dollhouse debuted earlier this year with a short, 13 episode season that started off slowly, but picked up an incredible amount of steam. While it’s more uneven than Joss Whedon‘s earlier show, Firefly, Dollhouse‘s better episodes help make up for the slack by introducing some of the most challenging moments in Science Fiction, and deal with issues such as the soul, personality and consent, while also offering cautionary tales on the uses of technology. Unfortunately, with the show’s cancellation right as it gets good, there’s a limit to what can be told, but with plenty of time for this show to wrap up all the remaining storylines, I think that this will become a cult classic.

Battlestar Galactica
Where to begin with Battlestar Galactica? It’s been a rush over the past six or so years, with a miniseries and four seasons of television and two movies, and like all good things, it had to end sometime. Fortunately, it ended when it was good, and while the finale garnered quite a lot of talk and dismay from some people (io9 listed it as one of the bigger disappointments), I think that it was carried off well, with a rich blend of religious allegory, action and a satisfying ending that few science fiction shows seem to get.

Kings
Sadly, Kings was another short lived show that was cancelled before its time. Taking the story of David and Goliath from the Bible and updating it in a modern, alternate world with inter-kingdom politics, faith and destiny. The stories were superb, well told, with a fantastic cast. This is precisely the type of show that should have been on SyFy, especially with their upcoming show Caprica.

Stargate: Universe
SyFy’s latest show from the Stargate Franchise, Stargate: Universe is possibly the most interesting and compelling installment in the series. Taking the very basics of Stargate SG-1/Stargate Atlantis, this show takes more cues from Battlestar Galactica than it does Stargate. The result is a far more realistic show, with more personal stories and situations that are much darker, and more grown up from the first show.

Landing At Point Rain
The Clone Wars thunders on, with mixed results, but easily the best episode that’s aired thus far is Landing At Point Rain. Taking influences from Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan and other war movies, the show finally lives up to its title: The Clone Wars. There’s plenty of action, less of the stupid lines and fantastic animation that really made this episode one of the most exciting moments in the entire franchise.

The Hazards of Love, by the Decemberists
The Decemberists have long dabbled in interesting and wordy music, as well as fantasy, with their last album, The Crane Wife, and The Tain, but The Hazards of Love is their most ambitious attempt at a concept album to date, one with an overarching story of Margaret and William, a town girl and a cursed man, their love for one another and the Forest Queen who conspires to keep them apart. The album is filled with supernatural elements, and seems to draw from Lord of the Rings and traditional mythic stories to put together one of their best works to date. The band in concert was also a treat to see.

Do You Want To Date My Avatar?
I’m not all that familiar with The Guild, but Felica Day‘s clever music video is hands down fantastic.

Dr. Horrible Wins an Emmy
Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog was one of the coolest things to come out last year, and this year, it received an Emmy, which helps to solidify the web as a growing platform for serious and professionally produced entertainment. Hopefully, its success will mean that we’ll see smaller, independent productions going online and succeeding.

Symphony of Science
Symphony of Science is a project that puts noted scientists (notably Carl Sagan) to music by using an auto tuner. The result is a series of music videos and songs that help to convey some of the beauty and wonder of physics though some fairly clever songs. I’ve been listening to them constantly, and as a sort of electronica style music, they’re quite fun, and very geeky to listen to. Best of all, there is plans to make further songs.

Star Wars In Concert
One of the most iconic elements of Star Wars isn’t just the action and epic story; it’s the music that it’s set to. For much of this fall, a travelling show, entitled Star Wars In Concert has been travelling around the nation. Unfortunately, it’s winding down, but it will likely continue into next year. The 501st was called out at most of the events, and through that, I was able to watch the show. Combining a live orchestra, clips from the movies and narration from Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), the entire evening was a fantastic experience that gave me chills throughout.

Tauntaun Sleeping Bag
The Tauntaun Sleeping bag started out as an April Fool’s Joke, but the demand and interest was so prevalent that ThinkGeek actually went out and made it. What a fantastic idea – I kind of want one.

Slingers
The final thing on this list is Slingers, a short conceptual teaser for a show that’s heading towards production. The 3 minute teaser is easily one of the best moments in SF that I’ve seen in a while and I’ve been bouncing around, positively giddy at the prospect that this might be made. It’s got humor, some interesting characters and a very cool look to the future. Plus, it’s a space show, and there aren’t many of those around now. It left me seeing more, and I’m sure that we’ll see more in the next year or so.

Meh:

Fanboys
For all the hype, Fanboys was a bit of a letdown. The cancer story was kept in, but so were some of the immature and cheap laughs that brought the entire film down. It’s good for a laugh, and there’s a lot that went right with it, but still, I was left wishing that there was more to it, without the frat boy humor in it.

Watchmen
Don’t get me wrong, Watchmen was stunning. It looked, felt and acted like the comic book that it was inspired by, and the transition to the screen worked fairly well. At the same time, for all the hype that there was here, I’m not that enthused to see it more than once or twice. It’s still on my to get list, but it’s not necessarily a priority. I think my biggest issue with this is that it’s too much like the comic book, and that the drive to make everything exact harmed the overall production. It’s less of a movie than it is an homage from the director. Sin City was the perfect comic book movie, this wasn’t, and it really should have been. Still, it’s worth watching.

Star Trek
Star Trek, one of the best, one of the eh, moments of the year. It looks and feels spectacular, but when you get down to it, there’s the shoddy science, and an incredibly weak story that pulls the movie along. The story’s really not what the film was about, this was a character start for more Star Trek, but for me, story is central to Science Fiction, and this just didn’t have it.

9
The trailers for 9 looked great, and there was quite a bit of interest in this. I went into the theater with high expectations, and those were largely met – the film looked spectacular, and it was a fun ride, but the story and characters were pretty lacking. It needed quite a bit of story and character development that was needed, and that harmed the film. Plus, it didn’t seem to know if it was a kid’s movie or one for an older audience. This is probably something to rent, not to buy.

V
The new V should have been great – the cast, producers and network put together a good premise, but with the first couple of episodes sped through just about everything that made the show interesting. The themes of first contact, of a ship arriving over earth with a message for peace contain so much when it comes to religion, science and society, all rich territory that could be exploited, but instead, it’s gone past too quickly, with crappy teenage romance storylines. I’ll probably not pick up watching again, but I’ll see what’s going on in the show, in case, by some miracle, it’s picked up for a second season.

The Prisoner
AMC’s The Prisoner was another show that should have been great. The trailers presented a fantastic looking story of psychological stress with a weird desert backdrop, but honestly? I can’t tell you what it was about. It was convoluted, unconnected and dull, and while it looked very pretty, and had some decent episodes, it was a pretty big letdown.

Spirit gets stuck in the mud
The Spirit Rover on Mars got mired down in a patch of sand earlier this year. Put into operation in 2004, and only intended for a 90 day mission, the rover was still going strong until it got stuck. Hopefully, the boffins over at the JPL will be able to get it out and about once again, although if I remember correctly, the last thing that they were intending to try was to back it out the way it came in. I would have thought that would have been the first thing to have tried.

Google Wave – lights are on, but there’s nobody there.
Late this year, Google Wave got turned on, and like any major Google product with exclusive access, it was, well, popular. But nobody really seems to know what it’s for, and unlike Gmail, which could be used as an e-mail client from day one, its limited access restricts a lot of what you can do with this. People aren’t using it like e-mail if it was designed today; it’s essentially a glorified Gmail chat window, or a really good business collaborative tool. Still, it’s pretty nifty, and I really hope that they can integrate it into Gmail someday.

Worst:

G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Transformers, Terminator & Big Budget Crap
I know I’ve singled out Star Trek a couple times here, but more than ever, especially with far superior, low budget films competing with them this year, we see once again that tons of special effects doesn’t necessarily equate to a good film. G.I. Joe landed with horrendous reviews, Star Trek had a smaller plot than a television episode and Terminator: Salvation was a huge disappointment, critically. (I thought it was decent, but nowhere near as good as the trailers led me to believe). My biggest gripe is extravagant use of CGI and an over-reliance on special effects for a dumbed down audience. Among other things, Moon and District 9 demonstrated that a good looking, intelligent film could be done for a fairly low cost, and I know that I’ll be going back to those far more than the others. Still, big budget summer movies aren’t going anywhere – a lot of these films made quite a bit, and the jury is still out on Avatar, which drops in a couple weeks.

Karen Traviss Quits Star Wars – Twice
Karen Traviss was really a shining star within the Star Wars Universe. Her first entry, Republic Commando : Hard Contact, was followed up by several very good novels, with some different and intelligent views on the Clone Wars. Then, there was a bit of a row over Mandalorians, causing her books to come into conflict with the Clone Wars TV series. Since then, there’s been a bit of a row about this, and Traviss has left the universe for others, such as Gears of War and Halo, and hopefully, her other works. Karen explains everything here, and makes some good points. She will be missed, however.

Black Matrix Publishing Row
With harder times coming around, some publishers found a new revenue stream: aspiring writers who have little common sense. One notable SF ones was Black Matrix Publishing, called out by author John Scalzi recently on his blog, Whatever. While Scalzi had quite a lot of very good advice in his usual up front fashion, there were a number of people who went on the offensive and critizised him as an elitist writer, issuing some of the most ridiculous arguments for why Black Matrix had been wronged. I’m not necessarily involved in either side, but Scalzi presented a reasonable argument. Why is that so hard?

The ending to Life On Mars
I really got into Life on Mars. It wasn’t as good as the UK version, but it was unique, interesting and divergent from it. While the show basically adapted the original show to a large extent at first, they had an interesting pace and storyline starting up, and far better than the first pilot that was shot, which was just terrible. The creators had a delicate balancing act to follow, and did a very good job with giving their characters their own personalities and stories that diverged from the UK version. Then, the show was cancelled and they ended it, and the last ten minutes of the show just dropped like a rock. Clunky, very, very poor production values that made me wonder if this was all slapped together at the last minute, and quite honestly, it dimmed the entire series for me, especially compared to the brilliance of the UK version. I’ll watch the show again, but I’ll be doing my best to forget about the conclusion.

SciFi becomes SyFy, nobody cares
One of the biggest furies of the year was when SciFi became SyFy, and the internet erupted into such indignation that I thought the world was going to end. Quite simply, the channel changed names to create a stronger brand, not change content, and so far, they seem to be doing pretty well, with Warehouse 13, Stargate Universe, Alice and presumably, Caprica doing really well in the ratings. All of which is good, for the network to expand further and really show that geek is really in right now. While the name looks silly, it’s really a superficial change. Now, if they would just get rid of wrestling. Or pick up Slingers for five seasons.

Orbiting Carbon Observatory crashes – Mission Failure
This was a satellite that I tracked earlier this year while really watching the space stuff. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory was an expensive one, designed to monitor global carbon levels to get a better idea just how climate change is progressing and providing us with a very good look at just how the environment is changing around us. Ultimately though, part of the nose failed to separate from the capsule, and with the extra weight, the rocket crashed into the south Atlantic.

Heroes continues. Meh.
I’ve given up on Heroes, after the dismal decline in quality, storytelling and characters. They should have stuck with the original plan, and killed off the first season’s cast when they had the chance, instead of bringing people back time and time again. The fact that ratings are declining is just stunning to me, especially now that the show is into it’s fourth season, and I have doubts that it will return. Hopefully not.

FlashForward
Look, if I want to watch LOST, I’ll watch LOST. I’m not going to watch a show that’s a poor copy of it.

Deaths:
Every year, there are a number of deaths in the geek genre/fan community. A couple notable ones were Ricardo Montalbán, who played Kahn in Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn, Michael Jackson, who’s song Thriller places him on the Geek spotlight, Kim Manners (X-Files/Supernatural Producer), Philip José Farmer, author of Riverworld and numerous other SF books, Dave Arneson, one of the D&D co-founders, and Norman Borlaug, who saved the world through science. There are others I’m sure, but it’s still hard to see people in the genre leave us forever.

Unknowns

A couple of unknowns for me include The Lovely Bones, Sherlock Holmes, Avatar and Zombieland, which I haven’t seen, Deathtroopers, which I haven’t read, and Halo ODST, which I haven’t played. (Okay, haven’t played much. I’ve liked what I’ve played. And the soundtrack. And the fact that the entire Firefly cast is somewhere in there)

What’s coming up for next year? The new Tron movie is coming out, which I’m horribly excited for, especially after watching the trailer and then the old movie. Slingers is likely going to get some more buzz. Iron Man 2 will be big, as well as Clash of the Titans, Inception (Really want to see that one), Chronicles of Narnia 3, The Book of Eli, and Toy Story 3. Hopefully, Scott Lynch will have his third book out, and Caprica will be beginning (High hopes for that one), as well as the second half  and second Season of Stargate: Universe. Who knows what else?

Best Television of 2008

My top TV episodes of 2008:

10 – Fringe: Pilot / Leverage: The Nigerian Job

This was a bit of a tie, because both these shows aren’t all that great, but they are fun to watch. Fringe was one that I was really looking forwards to, and I’ve been somewhat disappointed by how it’s been handled over the season that I’ve watched thus far. Hopefully I’ll get to marathon the entire thing at some point. That being said, the pilot for the show was very fun to watch – it was interesting, had a fun concept and was so over the top that it’s laughable, but again, fun.
Leverage is a show that I’ve started watching because I like Heist shows, and this one is certainly one of the better ones that I’ve seen, ever since the show Smith a couple years ago. There’s a fun cast dynamic and some good hooks in this episode for future episodes.

9 – Big Bang Theory: The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis
I’ve been wary of this show until this season, and now, I’ve really gotten into it for some reason. The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis really takes the show away from some of the easy jabs at the characters and makes some room for some real character development at the end. Plus, the following quote from Leonard is just plain gold:

Do you know what this means? If I can get a healthy ovum, I can grow my own Leonard Nimoy!

8 – Barack Obama 30 Minute TV Spot
No matter what side of the aisle you support, this TV spot was a brilliant move on the part of the Obama administration. It consumed a news cycle of talk show, talking heads and really outlined the priorities of the incoming administration and helped put Pres/Elect Obama into the lead, furthering his momentum. I personally was a supported of the Democratic Ticket, and while this TV spot showed us nothing terribly new to supporters, and essentially reiterated his position, it was a good introduction to people who still weren’t sure who to support.

7 – John Adams: Join or Die
The John Adams miniseries was a very well done series based off of the book by David McCullough by the same title. This pilot episode demonstrated fantastic production values and is an outstanding adaptation of history, from the characters and casting to the look and feel of the sets. These first episodes showed the American War for Independence, a crucial time in our history, in a way that has largely been glossed over in a few short lessons in school.

6 – Lost: The Constant
This was possibly one of my favorite episodes of the entire series, where Desmond begins his own time jumps back and forth through. While Lost has overdone the lifes of some of the other characters like Jack and Kate, this episode really got into Desmond’s head and proved that the writers could still write compelling and interesting characters, while advancing the story forward while doing so, rather than just exploition on why the characters are the way they are.

5 - Battlestar Galactica: Revelations
Episode 410 of Battlestar Galactica brings the show to a point that we’ve been looking for for the past four years on the show : Earth. Four of the last unknown Cylons come forward to their friends, and Kara finally leads the fleet to the people, only to find a devastated landscape. There was a lot of emotion and storylines caught up here. Characters were not what their friends thought they were, and the episode represents a culmination of a number of storylines, and ends on a killer cliffhanger.

4 – Pushing Daisies: Comfort Food
I’m very sad to see this show go – it’s one of my absolute favorites. Comfort Food follows Ned and Olive during a cooking contest, while Chuck has brought her father back to life, at the cost of Dwight Dixon. This was the end/middle of a mini-arc, and it really does a fantastic job with both Ned and Chuck – Chuck with seeing her father return, and Ned for having his trust betrayed. And there’s a Colonel who’s been deep fried.

3 – When We Left Earth: Landing the Eagle / The Explorers
This year was the 50th Anniversary of NASA, and to celebrate, Discovery released a documentary on NASA’s human exploration of the solar system. This episode, Landing the Eagle, details the Apollo program through to Apollo 11, while The Explorers follows the remaining five moon landings. The footage here is absolutely stunning, and even includes interviews with Neil Armstrong. I get chills watching the landing.

2 – Life on Mars: Out Here in the Fields
I was very skeptical about the remake, and the first pilot didn’t leave me with any confidence here at all. But Out Here in the Fields, the second pilot to the UK remake, helped to allay my fears that this would be a poorly done show and showed not only could this re-make be a good one, but one that would stand on its own, with its own qualities. I can’t wait for its return later on.

1 – House, MD : Wilson’s Heart
Season 4 of House was pretty lackluster. The change up with new staff only marginally worked, and while we saw some new characters, they’re not quite to the point of Chase, Cameron and Foreman. The newcomers are interesting, but too similar, except for the fanatic character Amber, whom I can’t stand. This episode made me entirely rethink her character, but also saw an incredible amount into the characters of House and Wilson. These episodes of House are the best ones, when we see real development, and it’s happening fewer and further between episodes now. The last ten or so minutes of this episode are possibly the best minutes of the show that I’ve seen yet.

Top Geek Things of 2008

It’s coming up to the end of the year, and looking back, 2008 has been a very fun year for geeks everywhere – in books, television programs and films, among other things. Over the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking back over the year to see what was the best and worst of 2008.

The Best:

Starbuck returned from the Grave; The Fleet reaches Earth. (Battlestar Galactica Season 4)

The third season of Battlestar Galactica was a little rocky in the middle, but the last episodes set up a real bang. Starbuck was presumably killed, only to turn up during a major confrontation of the Human and Cylon fleets. Season 4 opens even bigger, with one of the best space battles that I’ve ever seen. Our four new cylons are freaking out, Starbuck’s back and everything culminates in the discovery of Earth in episode 10.Galactica has long been one of my favorite shows, and with a certain end point in mind, Season four was where Galactica got somewhat back onto the tracks, with a fairly tight story arc, only to get to another long wait for the final ten episodes. It’s been well worth it though.

Pushing Daisies… back from the Grave, and back to it

After a long hiatus due to the writer’s strike (more about that in a bit) my favorite show of 2007-2008 came back with a new set of episodes. There are not enough good things that I can say about this show. We left off last year with Chuck learning that it was Ned that killed her father, only to end up at the end of this season with him being awoken. It was another season of fantastic storytelling, character development and extremely fantastic dialog. Unfortunately, the show has been axed due to low ratings. Fortunately, Bryan Fuller will be going to Heroes for the latter half of Season 3.

Lost Gets Better – Again.

Here’s the situation. LOST season 1 blew everyone away. Season 2 drove them away. Season 3 brought some people back, and Season 4, everything got interesting again. This season was the best since Season 1, in my opinion. We had several new characters (my favorite was Daniel Faraday, the physicist), and a couple people killed off. We started seeing flash-forwards, where Jack has a beard and addicted to pain pills, Hurley’s in a mental institution and Sayid is channeling Abram’s Alias. Oh, and they get off the island. Then the island vanishes.

I have Leonard Nemoy’s DNA? (The Big Bang Theory)

This show started in 2007, where I was annoyed by its laugh track and annoying characters. But this year, I started watching it and enjoying it. While it’s certainly a very stereotypical portrayal of nerds and geeks, it’s fun, because the creators have put in place a series of fun characters, and the writers make some jokes that are actually funny. This week’s episode was absolutely priceless, when Sheldon gets a napkin signed by Leonard Nimoy. Now, if they’ll just ditch the laugh track. This show’s likely to be around for a while longer – it’s been getting better and better ratings as the year goes on.

Back in a Nick of Time (Life on Mars)

One of my absolute favorite shows of all time was Life on Mars. Up until this year, it was only a BBC drama, until ABC picked it up and made a pilot. That pilot sucked, horribly, so the cast was ditched, except for Jason O’Mara, and the show was redone, set in New York City, given a good cast and started up. The result? A solid TV series that’s mirrored the original (but it’s starting to diverge a bit now), a wonderful soundtrack of classic rock and a story that’s actually interesting. I can’t wait for its return in 2009.

The Joker raises worldwide GDP. (The Dark Knight)

First, there was excitement when it was announced that the Joker was going to be the villain. Then Heath Ledger signed up for the role. Then he died earlier this year after filming was completed, leaving some people to wonder if the film would be released on schedule. Then Warner Brothers covered every surface they could find with Dark Knight ads. When the film was released, it went on to gross $996,680,514 in theaters. The film was a huge success, and a fantastic film at that. It was a comic book movie with true darkness, some real symbolism and good storytelling throughout. It’s a pity that we won’t see Heath Ledger reprise his role of The Joker, because he’s done the best portrayal of a villain in recent film memory.

I am Iron Man (Iron Man)

Before The Dark Knight blew the doors off the box office, there was Iron Man. Iron Man has long been a favorite marvel superhero of mine, and everything fell into place for this film. Good story, well directed, fantastic casting (Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was brilliant) and of course, the Mark II set of armor. Marvel proved that they could make a good superhero movie, one that was relevant and not stuck in the low-humor that characterized other comic book adaptations. Already, I can’t wait for Iron Man 2. And Iron Man 3. And The Avengers.

Eeeeevvvvvaaaaaa (Wall-E)

Pixar has released what is possibly their best film to date. (Except maybe Toy Story and The Incredibles). Following a robot far from home, Andrew Stanton has presented a film with a cute, romantic science fiction story with some social commentary (said to be unintentional) woven into the CGI. Wall-E is easily the most appealing robot since R2-D2 hit the big screen in 1977, and his antics as he’s pulled along for the ride (literally) are cute, heartbreaking and funny.And with very little real dialog.

Roar. Crunch. Repeat. (Cloverfield)

Monster movies meets social networking video and America gets its own monster. This film was brilliantly shot with an extremely fun concept. A monster comes and plays t-ball with the statue of liberty, and it’s caught on camera by a bunch of twenty-somethings as they escape. The project was conceived of by LOST creator J.J. Abrams, and his fingerprints are all over it. From the lack of explanation of everything to the weird stuff, this is a very fun film to watch. Rumors are that there’s a Cloverfield 2 being talked about.

With My Freeze Ray I Will Stop… The World (Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog)

This project was a huge success for Joss Whedon & Co. Conceived of during the Writer’s strike, Whedon presents an aspiring supervillian, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), his buddies and his quest to finish his freeze ray, avoid Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) and win over Penny (Felicia Day). We’re treated to musical numbers, crazy plots and a fantastic venture to prove that the internet is a viable place to release content.Take a look here.

Up, up and away! (When We Left Earth/NASA)

This year was NASA’s 50th year in operation, and the Discovery channel released a fantastic documentary entitled When We Left Earth that touted its major achievements and failures throughout the years, bringing viewers some of the most incredible footage of space that I’ve ever seen, and telling a fantastic story of how NASA has come to be, with interviews with astronauts and support personnel. I get chills when I watch it, and wonder when we’ll return to the moon and beyond.

Hobbit’s Labyrinth (The Hobbit)

After long rumors, production problems and drama with Peter Jackson (who directed Lord of the Rings), Guillermo del Toro signed on to direct the upcoming Hobbit film and prequel. (Or two Hobbit films?) This is extremely good news, because the people who can adequately fill Jackson’s shoes after LOTR are few and far between. del Toro is the perfect director for this project, and has already proven that he can do fantasy brilliantly, with his masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. Plus, he can play in other people’s universes, as per his work with the Hellboy films. (Which weren’t as good, but fun)

Watchman Trailer (Watchman)

What’s called the greatest graphic novel ever is coming to the big screen, much to the annoyance of its creator, and to FOX, apparently. A trailer for Watchman aired with The Dark Knight, and it made fanboys everywhere sit up and take notice. There’s still complaints about how it’s unfilmable and that it’ll be too short or too long, but from my eyes? This looks like it’ll be THE comic book film to see next year. It looks like it captured the feel of the comic book pretty well, and it’s embellished a bit to look badass. Plus, Rorschach looks dead on. Just like I thought he’d be like.

Large Hadron Collider (Science)

The Large Hadron Collider was turned on on September 10th, to many worries about the world ending. Contrary to popular opinion, the earth didn’t vanish in a tiny black hole. It was set to uncover the mysteries of the universe, but then it broke down again nine days later and won’t be up online until 2009. But, it’s still cool!

Geeks in Politics (Obama [spiderman, conan, superman] Patrick Leahy [Batman Cameo])

There’s been a lot of geekiness in politics this year. No lightsaber waving from McCain this time around, but President Elect Obama has claimed to be a big Spiderman and Conan fan, and did a superman pose in Metropolis, IL. In addition to him, VT senator Patrick Leahy, a huge batman fan, had a cameo in The Dark Knight. He’s also the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ironic.

Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (Costumes)

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted an exhibit earlier this year (it’s since closed) called Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy. It featured a number of costumes from a number of classic films, such as the original Superman and Wonder Woman films, but also things as recently released as The Dark Knight and Iron Man. The fashion section was a bit of a miss for me, but the exhibit as a whole was just outstanding. Plus, they had several original copies of Superman and Batman, Spiderman and Iron Man on display. Covered in a plastic shield of course…

Star Wars Encyclopedia (Star Wars)

Del Rey released a new and expanded Star Wars Encyclopedia this year, one that is not only complete, but still remarkably up to date. That’s not likely to last as long, given how fast LFL churns out canon material, but it’s a beautiful repository of information in the universe. I can spend hours just paging through reading things.

Anathem” By Neal Stephenson

I actually have yet to read this book, but it’s caught my eye, and it’s made a splash when it comes to the sci-fi literary world. All I really know about it is that it takes place on an earth-like world, and doubles as a philosophical text for knowledge and religion. I’ll have to pick it up, and only expand my to-read list further.

A Game of Thrones picked up by HBO (Song of Fire & Ice)

Another book that I have yet to read, but I actually own this one. HBO has picked up the book for a series. If there’s one thing that HBO does well, it’s TV shows, because they can pour money into them and get a good result. And, they have a good track record with adaptations, with things such as Band of Brothers and John Adams. I’ll watch this when it’s released.

We’ss Har Wars End (Karen Traviss)

Several years in the making, Karen Traviss has finally finished her Wess’Har Wars series with book 6, Judge. Starting back in 2003, she introduced readers to a fantastic story of first contacts filled with alien races, political commentary and expert storytelling. Judge didn’t deliver quite as well as I’d have liked (It certainly wasn’t the strongest of the series), it carried the momentum well, and proved to be a good read, one that finished up one of my favorite series satisfactorily. Hopefully, Karen will be back to writing hard scifi again, because she’s incredible at it.

Trooping (501st)

This year I got back into trooping with the 501st Legion. All in all, I did a total of 30 or so events, ranging from small affairs here in VT to much larger ones. The most memorable ones were the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Burlington Kid’s Day, the Weird Al ConcertSt-Jean-sur-Richelieu Balloon Festival, Walk for Autisms, and the 2008 Woburn Halloween Parade. All my events are listed here.

With all the good things that have happened this year, there’s the other side of the coin, and some letdowns, disappointments and pure flops.

Worst:

Writer’s Strike

Okay, this started in 2007, but it messed up television for the foreseeable future, by ending some shows and putting others on a long hiatus that has really hurt ratings. Pushing Daisies was one casualty, Terminator was almost one, LOST was put off for a year, as was 24, and already, we’re on the eve of another major strike over pretty much the same issues – internet distribution. Hopefully, some lessons will be learned.

Surviving a Nuclear Detonation (Indiana Jones)

Indiana Jones came back, and he came back bland. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was an impossible undertaking to fill the hopes of fans for the past twenty years. While it’s not a horrible film, it’s nowhere near as high quality as Raiders or Crusade (although I did like it better than Doom). There was no passion, a crazy storyline and some annoying characters. It does have its moments, but they are few and far between.

Skyguy/Snips/Roger Roger (The Clone Wars)

Star Wars was another big LFL franchise that came back this year, and while The Clone Wars certainly had its moments, even high points, this film just extends the image of money grubbing that LFL is involved with, which is a shame. There’s too much bad dialog, characters and situations to make this a good part of the Star Wars universe, but the TV show has been making some improvements. The animation is stunningly good, some of the stories are actually good, but every time the battle droids start talking, I want to throw something at my TV.

Michael Crichton Eaten by Cyborg T-Rex and Flesh eating Space Bacteria from the Past.

While my interest in Michael Crichton has waned over the years as he began to write crappy books (Such as Prey and State of Fear), there’s no doubt that he’s shaped my reading. I’m still a huge fan of Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man and a number of his older novels. He’s one of the most popular scifi authors (although he’s resisted the genre title) out there with his works, most of which were made into films. It’s a shame that he’s passed – I was always hoping for another good story from him.

Gary Gygax failed his saving throw

Geek-God Gary Gygax likewise passed away this year, leaving behind a legacy that has shaped nerd-culture in the US forever. His creation, Dungeons and Dragons, along with co-creator Dave Arneson, was one of the defining features of geeks everywhere, something that I got into back in 2001. Along with giving geeks something to do in groups, it helped define a generation’s activities, reading materials and conceptions of fantasy through to this day.

Arthur C Clarke becomes the Space Child

Arguably one of the greatest science fiction authors ever, Clarke’s death hit the world hard. He helped to define the literary genre, and the actual science behind it, and was responsible for such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rama, Childhood’s End, and numerous others, as well as the telecommunications satellite. He will be sorely missed, and is one of the last of the golden age of science fiction to be with us.(Today would have been his 91st birthday)

CNN Hologram technology

On election nigh, CNN touted their new thing in news casting, a hologram of Will.I.Am. Looked cool, and it looked like a hologram, but it was nothing more than a lot of cameras and empty space plus some CGI. Blah. Let’s see some real technology in action please.

Close the Iris! (Stargate Atlantis)

I was a huge fan of Stargate SG-1, and same with Atlantis for the first couple of seasons. This season has just plain sucked. It’s a shame, because there’s a good concept there, amidst the horrible characters, stories and situations. Not long now, because Atlantis has been canceled, and will be replaced with Stargate Universe next year.

Even more Confusing and Confounding! (Heroes Season 3)

Heroes Season 1 was brilliant. It introduced a new spin on superheroes, only to fall to its own success and have a fairly slow and boring second season. (To be sure, the writer’s strike had something to do with it, because it got better). Season 3 was promised to be bigger and better. And it was certainly bigger, with heroes coming back from the grave, more time travel and action, but none of it really made the same impression that season 1 did. I’m still behind episodes, but apparently it’s been getting better. Now that Bryan Fuller’s returning to the show, can we PLEASE start off really good and get better? Please?

Weird Science (Fringe)

I was really excited for Fringe, the latest show by JJ Abrams. It was a fun concept, and had a good couple episodes at first, but just became so dull that I stopped following it. I might pick it up again at some point, but only when I can marathon the entire thing at once.

Forrest J. Ackerman Dies

Forrest J. Ackerman, one of the first science fiction fans out there recently passed away. He was a key element of the spread of science fiction fandom, and he helped to found the LA Science Fantasy Society, among other numerous achivements, as well as influencing numerous authors over his long life.

Borders Downsizes SciFi Sections

I ranted about this earlier, as did a number of authors. Borders has been downsizing their sci-fi sections. While it’s understandable that they have to sell items, and that they can’t put everything on the shelf, you can’t predict what the next big hit will be, and you can’t know that until you actually start selling things.

That’s it for this year. Next year, there’s already quite a bit coming up. Should be a fun year.

Fringe: Where Science Meets JJ Abrams

Fox’s much-hyped show Fringe hit the airwaves last night, a multi-million dollar pilot episode that combines some of the more interesting elements of CSI, Alias and the X-Files. The show is to be about an FBI team (and consultants) who investigate odd happenings around the world, fringe science.

The pilot is certainly one to catch attention – on a flight to Logan International, a man is panicky, injects himself with something and within moments, the passengers have been killed, their connective tissue and muscles turning to gel and oozing off, leaving skin and skeletons. Thus, the some of the key characters are brought in to investigate – Agent Olivia Dunham, who tracks down a warehouse with her partner and lover, John Scott. They come across the man responsible, but Scott is infected in the process. Dunham pulls in Peter Bishop to get his father, Walter Bishop, to help, as he seems to have been an expert in the field of fringe science. There’s some shooting, some weird techno babble talk and a car chase later, and we find the truth – someone is a double agent, and that there are things in this world that you’re better off not knowing, but while the band’s together, we might as well investigate.

This was a good pilot – not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but interesting, intriguing, entertaining and fun. I’m a bit of a JJ Abrams fanboy with his work in the creation of Alias, Lost, Cloverfield and even Mission Impossible III. As a creator, he has a knack for putting things together from really well known elements. Alias is a spy show, Mission Impossible is more spies in an established franchise, Cloverfield is a fantastic take on the Godzilla/monster-trashes-city genre and LOSTLOST is a bad example there, but you know what I mean. One of the things that I like about Abrams is the way that his shows and films are quirky, with odd dialogue, characters that are somewhat offbeat. In LOST, one of my favorite moments is right in the beginning, when we first see Jack – he’s a man in a suit in the middle of a jungle. It has a certain offbeat flavor that is very appealing. Fringe does this pretty well – throughout the pilot, we are teased with little elements and mentions of things that are sure to really make up much of the mythology later on. There’s conspiracy theories, especially around a major corporation, the improbably named Massive Dynamics, which shares connections to the elder Bishop, one of the guys behind the attack on the airplane, and some of the main characters. Scott turns out to have been threatening the terrorist already, and seems to have been in league with the company, if the order to question him five hours after his death turns out to mean anything.

Fringe science fits perfectly with this type of show, and has been touched upon a little in various other Abrams shows – Alias had its share of paranormal elements with Rambaldi and random doomsday scientists trying to do something. LOST is all crazy science stuff at most points, Cloverfield has its monster, and MI3 has the Rabbit’s Foot, an unknown pathogen or something. With things like mind-control, sheep circles, earthquakes, people waking up from a coma and writing nothing but numbers and children vanishing then reappearing later on, un-aged, fit right in with Abrams and his style, and the way that the pilot works, and presumably, the rest of the show, it should be a fascinating and interesting ride.

Most of all, I’m interested to see what will happen with Massive Dynamics – one of their employees is a cyborg (robotic arm), and they seem to have a lot of knowledge of the Fringe science area, as questioning someone who has been dead for 5 hours seems to be a pretty easy thing to do. The name drop of the Pattern is very typical of Abrams, and I suspect that they’ll have something to do with it.

There are some flaws here. A couple of the characters are pretty flat, most notably Peter Bishop, who has ‘daddy problems’ and is a little too typical of some of the aforementioned projects. He’s brilliant, attractive and annoying, but comes around in the end and agrees to help Agent Dunham. Dunham herself is almost a background character, but far from a bad one – she’s just overshadowed by some of the others in the show. Duhnam’s boss, Phillip Broyles comes on very strong and flat, but evens out a little towards the end. The best character is easily Walter Bishop, the mad scientist, with a bunch of fun quotes and a crazy drive.

One of my main complaints with the show is that some of this stuff isn’t new or breaking the mold with the other shows. Alias and LOST both have characters that are similar with ones here in this show. They’re brilliant, attractive, have problems with their parents, etc. A little variation here would be nice, and I’ll be annoyed if we’re back to square one with Walter and his son every episode. Similarly, the show begins with problems on an airplane. Where have we seen that before?

This show isn’t any of the other ones already mentioned – there’s certainly enough between them that they aren’t copies, and although there are influences, Fringe stands well on its own two feet with the setup of this pilot. We have the beginnings of a large, overarching mythology that involves weird things and corporations, and a set of characters that shows some real promise. This also isn’t X-Files, despite the numerous comparisons, and I think that a huge amount of credit goes to the writers for making this show its own thing, not an X-Files copy.

All in all, it’s a solid start to what is one of the more promising shows of this season. I can’t wait to see the next episode. One word of warning, – don’t eat before watching. Next week’s episode is apparently about a woman who gets pregnant and gives birth in a matter of hours, and the child ages very quickly – 80 years in minutes. Sounds very, very interesting. If anything, it looks like it’s going to be far better than CBS’s own Science show, the Eleventh Hour, based off of a UK drama by the same name.

Fringe

Has anyone been checking out the previews or buzz for the upcoming television show Fringe? It’s a new FOX show, produced and created by J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who also worked on a couple of other projects, such as Alias.

The idea behind the show is nothing terribly new – a couple of governmental agents who investigate ‘fringe science’. Judging from some of the pictures that I’ve seen on the internet and the promotional materials, there are things such as 6 fingered men, Fibonacci sequences and I’m guessing, more things along those lines. It sounds somewhat like the X-Files, but with Abrams at the helm, who also did Alias, LOST and produced Cloverfield, I’m guessing that this is going to be a lot different and very, very interesting.

The pilot, from all accounts, runs something like two hours, and begins with an airplane full of passengers dying from something, bringing the main characters together. Hm, that sounds like LOST. No matter. I’m a big fan of LOST, and Alias, for that matter, and I’m interested to see what Abrams brings to the screen next. How ironic if Fringe and LOST go up against one another.

One big draw for me is the confirmation that there will be an overarching storyline, as is typical of most of Abram’s productions. I’m slowly going through the X-Files, but I’m not enjoying it as much as I thought that I would, given that each episode that I’ve seen thus far is largely standalone.

Something interesting about this – Abrams demanded longer episode times, and as a result, got 50 minute episodes – almost 5 to 10 minutes longer than most TV, which should be intesting, and it means that there’ll be fewer commercials. Apparently, Dollhouse is running with the same thing, as part of a new thing that FOX is doing. Given how easy it is to skip commercials now, I wonder how it will play out with consumers.

Hopefully, they’ll be putting this show online, as most TV Networks are doing now, because I really want to see this, and I’m planning on ditching cable.