Best of 2002
As promised, my personal best-of-the-year wrap-up, for those that are inclined to care about such things.
I didn’t read nearly as much this year as I wanted to–chalk it up to starting the new job in April, moving into the new place in August, and the associated fun that comes along with such things. That said, two books stood out in my mind this year–
The Scar, by China Mieville –not surprising, I know. I know China, having corresponded with him for the better part of 3 years now, and the reading tour for this book finally led to our first physical meeting. So, I suppose that I could be biased. Still, this book is incredible. Set in the same world as his brilliantly wierd Perdido Street Station, but not in the same city–Here, he sends his readers on an exploration of the rest of the world of Bas-lag, aboard a floating pirate city comprised of vessels lashed together over hundreds of years.
From a Buick 8, by Stephen King This one did come as a surprise to me, because I picked it up as a lark–a brief nostalgia for the days when I devoured new King novels as fast as he could release them. The subject, a sinister automobile, may seem familiar at first glance, but don’t be fooled. This novel tells the story of a close-knit group of Pennsylvania State Troopers, and the secret they share: the Thing that they keep in the old garage that looks like an old Buick 8….but isn’t. The thing that I absolutely LOVE about this novel is that King provides no answers. Too many horror writers (and readers) have forgotten that the key to horror is the unknown.
The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition) I know, FotR came out in 2001. This version, which I consider to be a superior film, was released this year, however, and the knowledge that an extended version of The Two Towers will follow in 2003 is what kept me from listing that film in its place. FotR is a great movie…we all know this by now. The Extended Version is even better. I haven’t felt this way about movies since I was 8-14, during the releases of the Star Wars trilogy. Back then, I had to wait 3 years between films, and they (and the internal mythology that I and almost every other child of the time created around them) defined my childhood. Now, the faster pace of our lives is reflected in the fact that we only wait a year between Lord of the Rings releases…but I still get the butterfly-flutter of anticipation in my stomach all the same. These films gave that physical memory of my childhood back to me, a feeling that the new Star Wars films singularly failed to do. Thank you, Peter Jackson & co.
Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des Loups) and Vidocq introduced me to the fact that sometimes kick-ass, big-budget, wierd genre films get made outside of the US, and we often don’t hear about them. BotW was actually released in France in 2001, but thankfully made it to the US this year, riding the post-Crouching-Tiger wave of art-house kung-fu. Vidocq, however, has not been released, even on video (the link is to the English-subtitled version on Amazon’s Canadian site), which is a damn shame.
Given my compositional leanings (check the link to my @nubis tracks on the sidebar), it’s no surprise that my three top CDs for 2002 are in the still-casting-about-for-a-good-descriptor “electronic”/”dance” genre.
Timo Maas: Loud is the best of the three, in my opinion–the first “artist album” (rather than DJ sets or remixes) by German DJ Timo Maas. The first track, “Help Me”, features dark vocals by alterno-RnB diva Kelis over a track built from synth, Theremin, and samples from the soundtrack to the late 50s sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still. The rest of the album alternates between inventive synth-and-sample instrumental compositions, and guest appearances by various vocalists. Great stuff.
DJ Shadow: Private Press also was a stand-out this year. I am a huge fan of Shadow’s debut album, Entroducing, and this is even better. It’s not as dark as his debut, but is still a brilliant example of the state-of-the-art in turntablism. Every track on this CD was created by sampling bits of old vinyl recordings, cutting and scratching and mixing into a new whole. Shadow focuses on the 40s and 50s phenomenon of the private press (hence the title), where people would cut records in commercial booths or in their own homes (such as the audio letter that forms the first track on the CD). Given such an eclectic and unique source of found sounds, in the hands of such a talented turntablist, it’s little wonder that the album is brilliant.
Moby: 18 is an interesting conundrum. It’s as good if not better in places than the above-listed albums…but because this is Moby, I was expecting more. Critics have called this CD “Play 2”, which is fairly accurate. If you liked Play, you’ll like this…it’s more of the same, and just as great. I was hoping for more innovation from the little bald vegan, but barring that, I’ll settle for good music, which 18 delivers.
By the time 2002 rolled around, my comics purchasing had dropped off to nil. I still ventured into the stores from time to time (especially the wonderland that is Jim Hanley’s Universe in NYC) and picked up my new love, the trade paperback–which allows me to read comics in entire story-blocks, without the storage or anal-collectability-fixation. Good TPBs I purchased this year included:
Ruse v. 1: Enter the Detective: My first attempt at a CrossGen title, and I like it. Sort of Sherlock Holmes through a steampunk lens. My positive experience led me to actually pick up non-trade-paperbacks from CrossGen (The Way of the Rat, a great wuxia comic that I immediately stopped purchasing in anticipation of its TPB release later this year).
Hellboy: Conqueror Worm: I’m a Hellboy nut. The movie is in the works, and if you haven’t read the comic, do so immediately. This is the latest collection, which I had been waiting for ever since T.S. Luikart introduced me to Hellboy in 2000. Hellboy is the quintessence of modern pulp–globe-trotting occult investigation, super-science, Nazis and gorillas. What more do you want?
This last category is kinda bittersweet for me, given my gradual withdrawal from the industry over the course of 2002, and the decline of the industry in general. Still, there were some great games released:
Nobilis is not techically a “new game”– the Pharos Press version (which I own) came out a couple of years ago. But the second edition stands as a new high-mark in game design and production. The link is to Hogshead’s info site, which indicates the game is out of stock, and Hogshead itself has now wrapped up it’s business and left for greener shores. Guardians of Order is supposed to be taking over production, though, so this game will not be stopped. I honestly cannot think of a more beautiful and thought-provoking game, ever. Seriously.
octaNe, by Jared Sorensen is a balls-to-the-wall rollercoaster of a game, which mixes genres like a cyborg monkey bartender mixes drinks, and manages to be a nice little exercise in narrative game design as well. It’s available as a pdf download from Jared’s site…although I personally hope that he releases a physical book version, if only for the wider audience it’ll get (and which it deserves).
Mutants & Masterminds, from Green Ronin came out in the waning days of 2002, and blew me away. Using the Open Gaming License (D&D’s “D20” system, without saying so), M&M introduces some innovations to the system which actually make it SUPERIOR to the original D20 rules. Given the fact that the majority of the rulebook has been identified as Open Content (meaning that others may use it in their own products), I hope to see it generate a flood of products based upon IT, rather than based on upon the original source.
So, there ya have it. Enjoy.
In actual 2003 content, I have a couple of interesting links to share:
Courtesy of Neil Gaiman’s journal (link at the sidebar), there’s this article from the New Scientist, about how data can be stored within bacteria. I once had a dream where a first contact message from an alien intelligence was found encoded within the molecules of the building materials of a town that appeared spontaneously in the middle of the Utah desert, and this story ties into that nicely. I’ve got to write this down.
…and, in what is possibly the coolest sci-fi movie news in years, the restored version of Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS is to be released on DVD in February. The most complete version seen since the premiere in 1927, digitally restored. The only thing that would make this even cooler (in my opinion) would be if it also contained the entirety of the 1980s Giorgio Moroder version (with music by Queen, Billy Squier, etc.) as a seperate track. Alas, this is not to be. Still, cool as hell. It will be mine.
Yeesh. Marathon post. More later this weekend, including an update on Apollyon Noir. See ya then.