The close of the year on any geek site is a time for reflection on the past, a time for looking ahead to the future, a time for celebrating the accomplishments and mourning the losses of the community, but above all, it is a time to obsessively quantify our passions with Best of the Year lists. Here at Not A Planet Anymore, we’re no exception. While we can’t claim to have read all the new books or seen all of the new movies or watched every new episode of every TV series or played every new game released in 2008, we do claim the right to sing the praises of those new tidbits that we have sampled. Behold the admittedly limited awesomeness of the Not A Planet Anymore Top 5 of 2008:
Top 5 New Books of 2008:
5) The Savage Humanists – edited by Fiona Kellighan
A strong collection of stories using SF as part of biting social commentary. Gregory Frost’s “Madonna of the Maquiladora” was perhaps the most memorable for its brutal look at the means used to keep people down to make them easy to exploit, and how they accept it.
4) Firstborn – by Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter
A worthy end to the “A Time Odyssey” trilogy with room for Baxter to add more if he chooses. Lots of great Clarkeian havoc on a planetary scale offset by personal and team ingenuity that allow humanity to survive. An absorbing, fun read.
3) Valley of Day-Glo – by Nick DiChario
This story of a young man’s strange journey through post-apocalyptic America is riveting if for no other reason than you keep wondering what’s going to happen next. Just when you think DiChario’s telling us humanity is doomed to be obsessed with hoarding and fighting over ultimately useless trinkets, even when the task of survival should bring greater wisdom, his protagonist learns what’s really important and arrives at a measure of inner peace.
2) Tesseracts Twelve – edited by Claude Lalumiere
This anthology of Canadian SF was a lot of fun to read. Overall a very solid line-up, although a few of the stories did take a little long to get going. I think my favourites were the two anchor stories: the first of the collection, Derryl Murphy’s gold rush-neanderthal collision “Ancients of the Earth” and the final tale by David Nickle “Wylde’s Kingdom” where a washed-up reality show adventurer lives amidst the grim reality that there’s a new species on the extinction list.
1) Very Hard Choices – by Spider Robinson
This short but powerful book is memorable for a couple of reasons. First, it’s inhabited by well-rounded characters who stay true to themselves, but who are still capable of change. It also examines the emotional consquences of making very hard choices, and how people deal with them. Robinson has written one of the most deeply unsettling portrayals of what it’s like to die that I’ve ever come across. But amidst the pessimistic backdrop of global threats and the exercise of staggering powers, this is ultimately an optimistic book showing that the connections between human beings are things of the highest and most enduring importance.
The Top 5 TV Shows of 2008:
5) Doctor Who – Series 4
Lots of entertaining episodes this season. Donna Noble has to be one of the most refreshing Companions with her willingness to take the Doctor to task when she thinks he’s wrong without descending (at least not completely and permanently) into the realm of shrewishness. While the finale episodes had some great retro surprises, ultimately the end was a bit weak.
4) Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles
This show has genuinely surprised me in terms of keeping up a consistently interesting plot with well-written characters. The best has been watching Summer Glau’s pretty little cyborg quietly and subtly begin to evolve emotions (at least that’s how it’s looking to me) while having to deal with the complexities of human relationships that she’s not yet equipped for. As I’ve said before though, the show could do with a little less of Sarah looking off into the distance with clouded eyes.
Another surprise – here’s a show that by all rights should have become repetitive and boring but has instead been consistently funny and has developed the plot and characters over time so that it’s a lot more than a catch a gimmicky ghost of the week story. I’m not sure how much influence Kevin Smith has on the show, but certainly is presence is felt, most especially in the form of the sidekick character Sock, who (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again) is more or less the bastard love child of Jay and Silent Bob. I’m looking forward to seeing what this show has in store for us this year.
Season 2 has been great so far (I was howling when Sarah’s father came on the show and they introduced him as “Jack Burton”). My only regret is having missed season 1. I’ll have to pick up the DVD box set.
1) Battlestar Galactica – season 4
Was there ever any doubt that this would be number one? The new BSG is the greatest show currently on TV, and one of the best shows ever. The arrival at a seemingly post-disaster Earth (oh come on, let’s not complain about this being a spoiler! Everyone and their daggit knows by now that they found Earth in the last episode!) was the cap on a powerful half-season. My only complaint is that we’ve had to wait this long to finish it.
The Top 5 New Movies of 2008:
Lots of fun watching this flick. Downey made the perfect Tony Stark, but Pepper Potts had the best line of the whole movie when she was escorting one of Stark’s “guests” out of the house early on. Jeff Bridges should also get credit for playing a believable (up until the mech piloting bit at the end) high-powered corporate boss scheming to take control while keeping a smile on his face.
I’ve always had a weakness for flicks with giant monsters stomping on cities, and Cloverfield, with its Blair Witch camera style, was perfect. What was most impressive was the way the movie was able to create an emotional bond between the audience and the main characters. Part of that, of course, was through the camera/Hud perspective, with the audience being on the ground amidst the chaos with the characters, but part of it was the writing and performances. I don’t associate with New York yuppies in my life, so normally I wouldn’t care one whit for them in a disaster movie, but somehow, once things got rolling in this film, it started to matter more and more to me what happened to these people. That’s great movie-making.
3) Dreams with Sharp Teeth: A Film about Harlan Ellison
It’s a rare thing indeed for me to see a documentary in the cinema (generally, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to catch it later on one of CBC’s documentary shows) but this bio of an SF giant was definitely worth it. I’m not a huge Ellison fan, but I have read his stuff and I like some of it, so there was some interest for me in watching this film. But even for a non-Ellison fan, it’s worth-while to see the humanity underneath his legendary ego, and to hear frank assessments of him from friends who are willing to lay out the bad with the good.
2) The Dark Knight
I just re-watched this last night on DVD, and it’s as startling and intense the second time around (and on a home-sized screen) as the first time in the theatre. Ledger’s performance is frightening and beyond the Joker, the rest of the film is powerful on its own. Nolan could have flinched many times when it came to showing the degree of violence Batman and the citizens of Gotham have to face, but he didn’t, even when it came to the fate of the hero’s love interest. Definitely a must-see.
The story of the little robot that went to the stars to get his girl is ultimately the best of the year in my opinion. The basic storyline itself is funny and well done, but add to that the multitude of references to other SF films (and non-SF stories, like Robinson Crusoe) and the deeper questions the story raises (the environmental issue is obvious and no-where near as interesting as the question of the responsibility of a creator to his creation and how they must redefine their relationship) and you’ve got a very complex mixture that is worthy of rewatching again and again.
So what are your picks for the best of 2008?