Geek Things of 2011

2011 was a busy year for all manner of geek things, from literature to films, to real world events.

A year ago, actor Pete Postlethwaite passed away on January 3rd. He was best known for his roles in Jurassic Park, and more recently, in the film Inception. He was an actor that I noticed when he popped up, and enjoyed his characters. Just the day before, actress Anne Frances died, She had starred in one of my favorite science fiction films, Forbidden Planet. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One, was something I caught in early January, and was utterly blown away. It was easily the first Harry Potter adaptation that nailed the leap between mediums, and I was particularly impressed with the filming. In early January, author Jerry Weist died. He had penned a book that I had kept with me since high school, Bradbury: An Illustrated Life, which I open from time to time to pull in the vivid imagery of Bradbury’s life. The other film that I finally caught in January was The Social Network. It’s not science fictional by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an interesting take on the geeks behind Facebook, and a great story regardless of what you think of the platform. In other January news, the Kepler satellite discovered 1,200 new worlds shortly after it went online, scanning distant stars for variations on their brightness. Over the rest of the year, it’s made some amazing finds. February started off with a down note, as Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series, passed away on the 5th at the age of 72. Jacques was a particularly early influence on me with his series, and I remember talking about them in the 4th grade with a couple of friends. Mossflower is still a favorite, and holds up well. The BBC released their short-lived show Outcasts in February, which I really enjoyed, even if British audiences didn’t: the show did poorly in the ratings, and was soon cancelled. The pilot was particularly beautiful, with some fantastic acting and stories. Unfortunately, like all really good television shows, it ended on a cliff-hanger, and I doubt that we’ll ever see any resolution. Still, it was fun while it lasted. Borders filed for bankruptcy in the middle of February, something that had long been expected. As a former employee of Borders, I was happy to see that the market takes care of poor management and vision, but at the same time, sad to see the #2 bookstore in the nation go down. Also in February, Space X orbited the Earth for the first time, the first private space company to accomplish such a feat. It’s a bit amazing, really, considering how fast the company has come, and for what their entry into space means. They’ll do some pretty impressive things in the rest of the year, and hopefully more of that in 2012. February also marked the time that I began working with Lightspeed Magazine as a slush reader. Christie and John asked me to come on board to help with the demand, and I began reading submissions for the magazine. I was a bit nervous at first, after reading a couple of rather horrendous stories out of the gate, but started getting into it. Over 2011, I read several hundred short stories, and recommended several that were published, which I’m very happy about. One of the books that I picked up for SF Signal was Embedded by Dan Abnett, one of the better military science fiction novels that I’ve read in recent months. I really hope that Abnett will return for new stories in this universe, because there’s a lot of potential for them after the ending of this book. This year marked the year that I got into the TV show Community, hardcore. Their episode Advanced Dungeons and Dragons blew me away, with a funny cast, entertaining story and a Lord of the Rings parody ten years out. Apparently NBC was against the episode, but I have to say, it got me into the show, buying all of the DVD sets out, and subscribing to the new episodes on iTunes. I hope that the show returns soon. One of my most anticipated books of the year, Leviathan Wakes by James A. Corey, was slated to be released in June, but I was able to get my hands on an advance copy in March, which I promptly blew through in a couple of days. The book was excellent, a fun space opera romp in our own solar system. I can’t wait for #2. Superbrothers released their Sword & Sworcery: The Ballad of the Spacebabies towards the end of March, an original fantasy RPG game for the iPad that was innovative, interesting and very fun to play. March brought the first of the year’s anticipated films, Battle: Los Angeles, to theaters. This was a film that was quite a bit of fun to watch: aliens vs. marines during an invasion. It’s not a perfect, thinking-person’s film, but it is one of the better depictions of infantry combat. Plus, great aliens. One of the coolest things that I did this year was find out about a conference hosted by NASA, on the History of Spaceflight, down in Washington DC. I took a couple of days off and flew down, and spent a couple of days in academic bliss, listening to a number of presentations about the history of spaceflight, and meeting some interesting people. On the same trip, I blew through three books, Fuzzy Nation, by John Scalzi, Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh, and Spectyr, by Phillipa Ballentine. Fuzzy Nation was highly entertaining, and I read through it in just a couple of hours on the plane, laughing the whole way. Soft Apocalypse, a whim buy at a train station Barnes and Noble, became my favorite book of the year, and I finished it on the way back home. In early May, I finished a short story, and began submitting it to a bunch of markets. I received by first of several rejections for it on May 18th. It’s a good milestone to have, and it’s currently out at the markets now. Hopefully, someone will pick it up. In late May, I travelled out to Belgium with a group from Norwich University, touring Battle of the Bulge sites. I spent the next six months finishing up and polishing the paper that I produced, and came up with a great history that I’m really happy with, setting the groundwork for another project. Dr. Who returned at the end of May, for a nice run of episodes, and I got back into the flow a bit, which is nice. At some point, I’ll need to marathon the rest of the modern series. While in Belgium, I began to read China Mieville’s new novel, Embassytown. It’s a fascinating read, one that I highly recommend. While it doesn’t top The City and The City, it’s very, very interesting. Also in June, we had a fantastic troop over at the Flying Pig Bookstore, the biggest in Vermont, with a number of troopers from MA coming up. I had thought that the X-Men film franchise had played itself out with the third entry (I haven’t seen the Wolverine films), but Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class was a nice return to the series with some great action and acting throughout. The best film of the summer though, was J.J. Abram’s Super 8. Harkening back to the Steven Spielberg films of the 1970s / 1980s, this film impressed me quite a bit. It had a good story, effects, but was also a nice homage to a great time in films. ReaderCon in July was a great break in the middle of the summer. I got to sit in on some great panels this year, and to meet some interesting people, as well as some familiar faces. The high points were meeting author Ken Liu, editors Scott Edelman, John Joseph Adams, and being in the same room as Neil Gaiman. NASA launched its last space shuttle flight with the STS-135 mission. The mission brought up supplies to the International Space Station, a quiet end for the program. It brought with it a number of reminiscences of the program, and quite a bit of talking in the media about the value of spaceflight. Marvel came back with another film in the run-up to The Avengers, Captain America. Of the rest of the prequels, this was one of the better ones, although it doesn’t come close to the first Iron Man film. Still, good adaptation. The Harry Potter franchise came to an end with The Deathly Hallows Part 2. The first part was the best of the series, and the second was almost as good, following the second half of the last book closely, although it took a bit more in the way of liberties, and it generally went to special effects over story for a bang. Cowboys and Aliens was one of the films that flopped this year, at the box office and from the critical response, but I thought it was quite a bit of fun. Entertaining above all else, with a decent story and effects. Harrison Ford did a fantastic job. Blake Charlton returned this year with his second novel, Spellbound, which continued his trilogy that he had started with Spellwright a couple of years ago. This book was a fun one, expanding on his fantastic world. As much as I like Blake’s book, though, Lev Grossman’s The Magician King came to me as the best fantasy novel of the year. I didn’t think that it was possible to improve on the first book, The Magicians, but somehow, he did it, and his sequel blew me away, completely. Right around the same time this fall as Grossman’s book, Borders closed down for good. The stores sold off their merchandise and closed their doors. Some, I was happy to see, were bought by Books A Million, but not everywhere. Limitless was a Bradley Cooper film that had gotten a little attention in 2011, and while I missed it in theaters, I was really impressed with it when I rented it. Smart, excellently filmed and with a very cool story, it’s one of the better science fiction films of the year. In September, I got into Halo hardcore, picking up Halo: Reach after a particularly trying day. I’ve long been a Halo fan, and I think this is one of the better games out there in the franchise. (No Flood). The mechanics work well, and it’s a neat addition to the story. Hopefully, we’ll see more one-offs like this. September 11th marked a very geektastic night, with a concert with Jonathan Coulton and They Might Be Giants over in Norwich, Vermont. They had a great set of music, and was generally well worth the drive out. I’ve long been a fan of Steven Soderbergh’s works, particularly Traffic (and the related film Syriana). His latest film, Contagion takes the same style of storytelling, and looks at world health and pandemics. It’s scary, but fantastic. One of the notable novels that I read this fall was Max Barry’s Machine Man. I read Jennifer Government when it first came out, back when I was in high school, and was happy to see that Barry still has the dark, sarcastic humor that he used to. One of the lower-profile shows that came out this year was Person of Interest. I only caught the pilot, but I really liked what it’s got: the mix between Minority Report and Brave New World. However, the TV show that I was really looking forward to was Fringe, which returned for Season 4 this year. I’m thrilled to see a science fiction show continue forward against all odds, and this season has been particularly good over the first half of the season. I can’t wait for it to return. This year also marks the first time that I was professionally published, with an article in Armchair General titled Changing the Skies. I did a little dance when I saw my name on the cover. My wife, Megan, really got into Terra Nova when it was released, watching it on Hulu while waiting for me to get out of work. (We work in the same place, but she gets out an hour or two before I do.) The pilot was pretty good, and I’ll likely catch up on the rest of it when it hits DVD. This year, the books that stood out for me were the ones that I didn’t know about earlier. This is so for T.C. McCarty’s Germline, which portrayed military journalist on the front lines. The biggest tech story of the year was that Steve Jobs died shortly after stepping aside from his roles at Apple. To be honest, I’m not sure what to think: he was a brilliant innovator, and clearly recognized the potential for not only how something would be used, but how it would change things. And, he was really abrasive, apparently. Something that was really quite a bit of fun earlier this year was getting to go up on stage with Weird Al Yankovich for 2 concerts in October. He regularly partners with local 501st groups to help with their stage show. I did it once back in 2008, and was thrilled to do it again this time around. Remember how I said I got into a real Halo fix earlier this year? Halo: Glasslands by Karen Traviss helped. She’s an excellent author, particularly when it comes to military fiction, and her take on the Halo universe is simply fantastic, with an awesome book under her belt that really redefines the universe a bit and sets up for the next trilogy of games. It wasn’t the best book of the year, but Ready Player One by Ernie Cline was a helluva lot of fun to read. Predictable, with a lot of references for everything, it’s what I would describe as the definitive geek primer. In December, I was promoted at Lightspeed Magazine to an Editorial Assistant. Most of my duties are about the same as being a slush reader, but I’ve been tasked with a bit more writing, and I’ve taken control of the site’s social media systems. In the middle of December, Joe Simone, who created Captain America, died. I’ve been an off-and-on fan of the comics, and the movie was fun, but he created an enduring character that is still going strong. I received a copy of Charles Stross’s latest book, Rule 34, which I’d been eagerly anticipating. One of the best books of the year, it gives a lot of food for thought. The Adventures of Tintin finally hit the silver screen, bringing one of my favorite childhood icons to motion. I really enjoyed the film: it captured the look and feel of the books nicely, and adapted three particularly difficult stories nicely. Finally, the week before Christmas was the perfect one for movie trailers. Three of the biggest films of next year were given a tease: The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, and Prometheus. Of the three, I’m looking forward to Prometheus the most, but all of them look to be excellent.

So, it’s been an interesting year, and I’m eagerly anticipating what’s to come in 2012.