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Best of 2012 – Jonathan L Howard

Now, see, it’s Christmas Eve and no doubt you need something to read to tide you over while you wait for Christmas to arrive and Santa to bring your presents *winks* So we’d like to introduce Jonathan L Howard, bringing you his best of 2012!

I’ve been asked for a “Best of 2012” list, but as I am wilfully abstruse, I have decided to interpret this as “Memorable Stuff of 2012,” good and bad. I’m such a rebel.

Strange Chemistry: Yes, yes, I know, what a suck-up. The truth is, Katya’s World was a difficult sell. It wasn’t urban fantasy, it wasn’t high fantasy, it wasn’t a retold fairytale, it wasn’t brimful of romance. Other publishers had noted the lack of these elements that were currently hot, and were accordingly cold about the book. It was Strange Chemistry with an avowed interest in publishing some SF as well as fantasy that said, “Hell, yes.”

Thomas Dunne Books: Yes, yes, I know, more sucking up, but Johannes Cabal had been in publishing Limbo (surprisingly similar to the real Limbo, right down to the forms) in the US for a couple of years. I was (and still am) getting several inquiries a week from readers in the US and Canada asking why Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute is so difficult to find. Now, thanks to Thomas Dunne signing me, I can tell them that not only is that book coming, but the long-awaited – including by me – fourth Johannes Cabal novel is contracted for, too.

Dredd: The cinema’s so expensive these days that I very rarely see a film twice there. This year I did it twice. The first time was for The Avengers (Assemble, if you must), which I enjoyed when I saw it by myself. Then my daughter wanted to see it, so I had no qualms about going to see it again. The second case, however, I saw it by myself twice purely for my own gratification because it is so bloody good. And, incidentally, one of only two films I’ve ever seen where I thought the 3D worked well, the other being Hugo. Dredd gets pretty much everything right, and that it flopped is infuriating beyond belief, while lame, cookie-cutter films left it in the dust. People – presumably people who have no idea of how film production works – have called Dredd a knock-off of The Raid. Nonsense. The Raid came out first, but it was, I believe, the second into production. Also, The Raid, while a good, noteworthy film, falls down in several respects both technical and in narrative. Dredd has one plot flaw that irked me, and another lesser one that made me curl my lip (if you’re interested, I’ll include the things that bothered me in a spoiler bit at the bottom), but otherwise I thought it was excellent. That there will almost certainly be no sequel pains me.

Great writers, gone, but their work remains: Just to remind you, this list is memorable things about the year for me, and that’s not just the good stuff. Two writers whose work meant a lot to me died in 2012 – Ray Bradbury and Harry Harrison. I’ve written elsewhere of what a huge influence Bradbury was on me, so I shan’t repeat that here. It would be remiss not to extend the same courtesy to the memory of Harrison, a mad and energetic imagination with a wonderful sense of the absurd. I first encountered his works with, unsurprisingly, The Stainless Steel Rat, books that excited me for the coherent vision of an incoherent future, full of factions, splinters, and technology that was for the most part believable. As a boy, the gauss weapons and mini-grenades fascinated me almost as much as the use to which Slippery Jim put them to. Some of my favourite work of his, though, was squarely pointed at younger readers – the Man from… spoof novellas. I read and reread The Men from P.I.G and R.O.B.O.T. so many times, the cover fell off.

BristolCon: This one I’ll be brief about. Suffice to say, this is a brilliant one day SFF con, incredibly friendly, and a lot of fun. If you can go, go.

Sandman Slim: I’m currently embarked upon the fourth of Richard Kadrey’s “Sandman Slim” novels Devil Said Bang and enjoying it just as much as I did its predecessors, which is to say, lots. Other writers have touched upon grimy folk dealing with the supernatural, but nobody does it as well as Kadrey, and that’s because the books are so damn clever. It’s relatively straightforward to make a hash of occult conspiracies and throw it at your protagonist, but doing it convincingly is another matter. Kadrey’s prose is brilliant; hard-bitten and streetwise but never sinking into parody and also managing to be laugh-out-loud when the occasion demands, which is no mean trick considering the world Slim inhabits. I should point out that Kadrey and I have a bit of a mutual-appreciation society going on, as he also likes Cabal, but I didn’t know that when I read and loved Sandman Slim. Just read them. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have good time. And speaking of getting on well with writers…

The fellowship of writers: I’ve been published since 2009, but 2012 was really the first year I’ve met a lot of fellow writers. And, you know what? They’re pretty cool. This is significant for me because I think it led to a visceral appreciation that I am, actually, an author. That sense of “Yes, I write books and they get published, but I’m not really an author” is finally in abeyance. It’s a relief if only from the point of view that, when people say, “So, you’re an author?” I no longer look behind me to see who they’re talking to.

The Olympics: I never thought I’d rate the Olympics as something I looked back on fondly. I, and I know I wasn’t alone, was convinced it would be an unmitigated disaster. There had already been so many spectacular mistakes in the run-up, that when that opening ceremony started, I was in full-on cynic mode. And… the damn thing was good. It was really good. And then it was followed by a fortnight of terrific sport, and I say that as somebody who hates sport. But this was mesmeric. Then a good closing ceremony, and then an awesome Paralympics. How did this happen? The British just take it for read that we’re rubbish at this kind of thing. The Millennium Dome showed how we can botch projects up beautifully. But the Olympics… gosh.

Science: I’m writing SF here, and you think something like the probable discovery of the Higgs boson isn’t going to excite me? And the “Curiosity” landing on Mars? If you don’t think that was a major engineering feat, you should look at how the rover was set down. I was delighted although astounded when it actually worked; it was just so Heath Robinson. Oh, and a breakthrough that made me nod appreciatively was that, if you’ve read Katya’s World, you know the standard sidearm is the maser. In real world terms, a maser is an unlikely weapon because it takes a lot of equipment to generate a maser beam, far too much to make it practical as a weapon. This year, however, a way of creating vastly smaller maser emitters was developed. Between getting closer to the metal in physics, robotic space exploration, and breakthroughs in maser technology, it’s been an oddly Russalka sort of year.

Arkham City: It was released in 2011, but I only got to play it this year. Still an over-dependence on SNES style boss fights for my taste, inherited from Arkham Asylum, but amazingly good fun for all that. The closest you’re going to get to being Batman without necessarily being a monomaniacal billionaire.

City of Heroes: More super heroes, but a down beat this time. My whole family has been playing CoH since 2006. A terrific MMO, not without its flaws, but the plus points vastly outnumbered them. We’ve played a lot of MMOs down the years, but City of Heroes was always the one we came back to. Part of its attraction was that it had such a terrific community, and that people were there to have fun. There seemed very little of the trolling and munchkinism of many other games. Then, in August, the publisher announced that were closing the servers as of the 30th of November. Just like that. No negotiations, no wind downs, and – astoundingly for a such a long-lived game – no final event. I mean, Hell’s teeth, even Tabula Rasa was given the dignity of a final event. But no, after seven years, they simply pulled the plug. Not cool, NCSoft. Not cool.

M.R. James: Yes, so we’re talking about a chap who wrote a handful of (the best) ghost stories (ever), and who has been dead a very long time. Ah, but… I reread the M.R. James ghost stories every year. About ten years ago, the wonderful Ash Tree Press published a collection called A Pleasing Terror that also contained his unfinished stories and a pile of other bits and pieces that were nigh on impossible to find elsewhere. It was a limited edition and I could never afford a copy. Last year, however, they announced their intention to publish a new edition, with a bit of extra material that had been overlooked for the first. I pre-ordered a copy. Subsequently, they got in touch to say that putting it together was taking longer than anticipated and, as a stopgap, would I like the text of the first edition as an ebook. Yes, please. And it was this edition that I read for my annual reread this year. It’s a depressing thing that MJR wrote relatively few ghost stories, but the bliss of working through the usual list and then… there’s new stuff (or, at least, new to me) was wonderful. Yes, it’s unfinished pieces, frequently ending in mid-sentence, but it’s James, and you find yourself wondering where he intended to go with the stories. Ghost stories and Christmas – a very pleasing terror indeed.

*SPOILERS* The two things that bothered me were, one, why didn’t Dredd take the opportunity to replenish his ammunition from Chan? He has time, after all, and it would only have taken seconds. Even if he felt he didn’t have those few seconds, he makes no effort to rearm himself with a weapon from a dead perp. Whyever not? And secondly, the rigorous training that Judges undergo will make corruption rare, if not unknown. How, then, did so many corrupt judges manage to meet up and work together from the same section house? It just seems incredibly unlikely.


Carl V.

What a great overview of the year. I especially enjoy the fact that it is a look back at what impacted you during the year overall, not just limited to books, films, etc.

I too mourn the passing of both authors. Although I remember reading Something Wicked This Way Comes when I was a kid, Bradbury was an author I really clicked with for the first time a few years back when I read Dandelion Wine. What an amazing book. Spoke to me as if it had been written about my own childhood. Harry Harrison was a big loss. I grew up reading the Stainless Steel Rat books and am still wickedly fond of them today. His books were one of the single greatest influences in me developing a passion for science fiction at an early age. They will both be missed and yet I am thankful that there are several books by each author that I have yet to read.

I’m with you on the Olympics too. I generally watch but didn’t expect to get so swept up in it. Olympic viewing dominated our home those few weeks and none of the cynical words being written or spoken about it or legitimate complaints about how and when things were aired did anything to dampen my enjoyment of the spectacle of sport, and as much as I was cheering for the U.S. in many events I was also cheering for various individuals from other countries whose stories touched me emotionally.

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