2015 felt like a year where not much happened. As I tally up all the culture I consumed and my own little adventures, it looks a bit threadbare. But I think this was mostly due to a fairly productive year on the creative front. I finished a novel and a one-act play, and wrote a whole heap of short stories that I need to go back over and prepare for submission. I have to remind myself the novel alone is a pretty big achievement. So maybe more happened this past year than at first glance. Here is my 2015 in culture though, what I’ve enjoyed or thought interesting.
Mad Max: Fury Road
What a bone-crunching, petroleum fuelled cluster of ultraviolence and adventure this film was! Good to see George Miller back doing something more visceral than dancing penguins.
Probably my favourite new television show of this year. I love the unholy matrimony of superhero context of the Marvel Universe with the dark elegance with which it portrays the reality of abuse and PTSD.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
As suspected, it wasn’t the Second Coming. But it delivered what the people wanted…a palate cleanser that wiped away the acrid taste of the prequels. A little more inventiveness would have been nice, but Abrams is a journeyman directors, sticks close to the shore as per Disney’s request. Rey is a great character, despite elements of her realisation being hampered by Abrams’ patented obscurantism.
The second season built on the first so magnificently. Like Jessica Jones, this show takes the unreality of its context (a cartoon Hollywood where anthropomorphic animals and humans co-exist) and injects such believable psychology, that you can’t help but feel for the eponymous character, even if he is a self-absorbed idiot. Several episodes this season were just brilliant pieces of writing and it’s a shame it probably won’t be celebrated with accolades and awards because it’s a cartoon.
It had its flaws, but this was a nice little film that toyed with AI in a refreshing way, bringing it gender and some wonderful reinterpretation of the femme fatale archetype from film noir. Also, bearded Oscar Isaac is the best Oscar Isaac.
Magic Mike XXL
Fun. Not an amazing film. But pure fun. Also, what I loved about it was it portrayed homosocial relationships between men without the need to head off homosexuality at the pass. There is no homosexual panic. And the women in this sequel are much better realised.
Technically I’m still playing this because there is just so much to do. As always with this series, wonderfully realised world, some good writing. Quests are a little repetitive. I will be returning intermittently in 2016.
Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
The third game in the Witcher series is the best one yet, and probably my favourite game of the year. Unlike many RPGs, every quest is interesting, feels like it matters. That all comes down to good writing, I think. The morality system is really quite something too. One of the things I hate about these sorts of games is that when given a choice in a quest that will influence events or characters later in the story, you can pretty much always work out which choice is the “good” one and which is the “bad” one. Which is to say, the game itself has mechanised conventional morality, rather than a more nuanced cause and effect system. Witcher 3 alleviates this frustration by making most of the choices either “bad” or “worse,” or gives you limited time to make a choice. The repercussions are often not felt until much later. And it never feels like the game is punishing you for your choices. Your choices just have weight.
Cards Against Humanity
While I love this game, I think I played it way too much in 2015. Have a bit of CAH fatigue. However, I don’t think I could ever really tire of “Pac-Man uncontrollably guzzling cum.”
The Godless by Ben Peek
I’ve been reading Ben for quite a long time now. Used to follow and chat to him and a few others back in the Livejournal days. Remember Livejournal?! This is the first book of his Children series and it really is a lovely introduction to a seductive new world. There were once gods, now they’re all dead and dying, and their bits are all over the world, giving people powers. The synopsis doesn’t really do it justice, because I think the book’s strength is its style. I’m normally not a big fan of epic fantasy because the prose can be so turgid, and the worldbuilding is often burdensome. As M John Harrison once said, worldbuilt fantasy is often over-engineered and under-designed. The meticulous construction of the world often crowds out more “literary” qualities. Ben’s a weaver, both with the worldbuilding stuff and with his style. Details of the world are never dumped in our lap (no Martin-esque brocades and feasts), they are threaded through the narrative. Characters are realised through elegantly nested flashbacks. It’s all very tight, personal, but never loses the broader feel of an epic. Quite a piece of work. Buy and read it if you’re into the genre.
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
This was a superb book. Not only is it rich in character and voice, it’s a playful corrective to most alien invasion narratives. The place of alien invasion is always somewhere like Washington or New York. Which, while it make sense in a cultural sense (many of the privileged writers and filmmakers in the West are from the US), from an alien’s point of view, those places would probably be just as arbitrary as any others. So Okorafor’s alien invasion happens in Lagos, Nigeria. And Lagos itself is a character…I know, such a cliche thing to say, but its true. Buy and read!
Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville
Many short narratives and a couple of experimental pieces show Miéville at the height of his powers. I am always so impressed and gobsmacked by this dude every time I read him.
Brian Eno’s discography
Jon Hopkins – Late Night Tales
Mad Max: Fury Road OST
All of these I had on repeat while writing this year. You might think listening to three things constantly would be boring or monotonous, but it was a great little ritual that kept me focused and blocked out the aural distractions the world so often offers.
Finished this play and had a reading towards the end of the year. It went well, I got a good sense of how it moved when spoken. I am going to return to it in the coming weeks to tweak some things and add a new scene. It’s about spirit mediums who love ancient Egypt, class in Australia, rationalism, belief and non-belief, truth and falsehood. It will be produced as a double-bill with another one act play in the first half of 2016. Yay!
Painting with Ichor
I guess you’d call it a science fantasy queer postcolonial dystopian novel about art, beauty, dispossession, narcissism and cultural appropriation. Maybe? First readers have been quite positive, and it’s now with an agent. Rest assured, if it ever sells, you’ll be the first to hear about it right here (and probably everywhere else!) 🙂