There and Back Again – The Hobbit

The Hobbit In the middle of November, I talked about Tolkien’s WWI experiences and their impact into their writing. With the live action adaptation of The Hobbit released into theaters soon, it makes sense to look at how The Hobbit was written in the first place. It’s an interesting story, with a bunch of twists and turns.

Go read  There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale over on Kirkus Reviews.

Here are the sources that I used and would recommend:

The Annotated Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien and Douglas A. Anderson: This edition of The Hobbit has received the annotated treatment. I was a big fan of the Annotated Dracula, and this edition has some good insights into the creation of the book.

The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond: This massive volume was an invaluable resource in determining where Tolkien went during his time in combat. It’s detailed down to the day in most cases, with an overwhelming amount of information.

The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader’s Guide, by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond: This second companion book was also great for background information on Tolkien’s friends and some of his influences.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter: This book was one that I came across years ago, and it still remains one of the definitive biographies of the author, with a comprehensive and readable detailing of his life and works.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, by Tom Shippey: This book provided some good background information on Tolkien and his influences in the War.

J.R.R. Tolkien and the Great War

Sometimes, stories find you when you least expect them. I began this column thinking that I would find Tolkien’s experiences in war as an almost superficial influence on his later stories, only to find the complete opposite. Tolkien went to war and underwent pure horror. He witnessed a terrible war from the front lines, and found most of his friends dead when he left. It’s little wonder that he felt that his creative spirit was dampened by it.

That aside, I found the story of Tolkien and his three close friends to be the most emotional and heartbreaking episode of his life, and I can’t help but wonder how much it will change how I read certain parts of the Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.

Interestingly, this piece comes shortly after Veteran’s Day (Armistice Day elsewhere), commemorating the end of WWI. I hadn’t realized that this piece would come out at the same time.

Read J.R.R. Tolkien and the Great War over on Kirkus Reviews. We’re not done with Tolkien yet, so stay tuned through December!

Here are the sources that I used and would recommend:

The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond: This massive volume was an invaluable resource in determining where Tolkien went during his time in combat. It’s detailed down to the day in most cases, with an overwhelming amount of information.

The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader’s Guide, by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond: This second companion book was also great for background information on Tolkien’s friends and some of his influences.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter: This book was one that I came across years ago, and it still remains one of the definitive biographies of the author, with a comprehensive and readable detailing of his life and works.

Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle Earth, by John Garth: This volume is dense, but an invaluable resource on how World War I impacted Tolkien’s life and later works.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, by Tom Shippey: This book provided some good background information on Tolkien and his influences in the War.

A Game of Thrones & Epic Fantasy

This past weekend while at ReaderCon, I finally completed George R.R. Martin’s first novel in his Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones, something I’ve been trying to do since I first bought the book in 2007. Epic fantasy doesn’t do much for me: I’m annoyed at the sheer complexity of most of the stories, (most of it unnecessarily so) and while that’s put me off from Martin’s books for a long time, I’m coming to understand some key differences between his books and the others that I’ve often read. At the same time, I’ve been following along with the HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones, which helped me visualize which characters were which, along with the various storylines.

To my surprise, I liked A Game of Thrones, quite a bit, and not just because I enjoyed the television series. It was genuinely cool to read, and I can see where a lot of the praise comes from for the novels: the plotting is outstanding, but moreover, it sets itself apart from other epic fantasy by placing the reins in the hands of the characters.

From the onset, it’s clear that there is a heavy push to define the actions of the story within the characters themselves. They drive the actions forward, rather than external factors: magical rings, destinies, prophecies, etc. Author and Times critic Lev Grossman claimed that Martin ‘The American Tolkien’, and I think that’s an accurate description: in this modern day and age, the definitions that help to define the story have changed radically since the end of the 1st and 2nd World Wars, the environment that sparked J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The world isn’t as polarized as it appears to have been back then: there’s no epic war between the good of the Allies and the evil of the Axis powers. We live in a world full of problems that come from every side of the political spectrum, from across the world, and jumping into A Game of Thrones felt like something inspired by the last twenty years of geopolitics.

The reason for the complexity and incredible work on the characters here builds the story and keeps it running. Characters take on their own actions, and in turn, cause further actions. The attempted killing of Bran sparks anger from the Starks, who in turn kidnap Tyrion Lannister, which in turn sparks trouble of its own. The conflicts snowball, all within a greater story of politics and strife over the seven kingdoms.

This is in sharp contrast to other fantasy novels that I’ve read, notably The Lord of the Rings, which took the complete opposite approach: Frodo and Samwise aren’t defining their own lives by taking the ring to Mordor, nor any of the supporting characters who aid them: their journey is defined by a greater need. Rather than their own strength of character defining their quest, the quest defines their strength of character. The books are no worse for wear due to the world view: Tolkien’s own experiences during the 1st World War likely helped to shape is own world. The conflict that swept over Europe was so much larger and almost inconceivable to the person in the trenches: it’s not a style of conflict where anybody would be able to influence the entire operation by themselves: the war defined the soldier’s lives: it brought out the best that they had, and sometimes, asked for more.

The larger issue is one that falls out in A Song of Ice and Fire is the idea that a long lasting winter is coming, which pushes the first book into a bit of both worlds, and I suspect, the series as a whole, putting some constraints on what the characters will be able to do: just as much as we define the world around us, it has elements that are much larger, whether they’re a destiny or simply the force of nature. What seems to set A Game of Thrones apart is that this larger problem is still approached through the actions of the characters: the conflicts of men go on in Westeros, while those manning the wall prepare for the inevitable worse as winter approaches.

There’s other, character-based fantasy epics that come to mind: Harry Potter is a notable example of not only where characters help to define their actions, but actively seeks to contrast the idea that destiny and one’s own choices define the character, especially in the run up to the finale in The Deathly Hallows. Of the two approaches, it’s hard to say which is ‘better’ or even if it’s a measure of quality for any given story. Certainly, it’s worked well for A Game of Thrones.

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 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.