So, it's that time of year when I look back on the last 12 months and share my opinions on everything from films to books. Some get a thumbs-up, others... don't. I'll start with films, and a bit of Sci-Fi.
Ender's Game was a big disappointment. I love the novel, and the first sequel too, but the film managed to cover all the key events but somehow lose the soul of the story. I'm not honestly sure why. I've heard the project spent a lot of time in production hell, so maybe there were too many rewrites, too many fingers in the pie. But another day it was raining, my fiancee and I couldn't do what we'd planned, so we went to the cinema and ended up watching any old junk to pass the time. That junk was Guardians of the Galaxy, and it turned out to be the best superhero/ comic book movie I've ever seen. Everything was spot-on, from the action scenes to the comedy. The whole theatre was laughing one moment and engrossed the next. Fabulous film, if you haven't seen it you should, even if it isn't your usual thing.
Another excellent movie was Hunger Games: Mockingjay. The book was the weakest of the trilogy I thought, but the film is the best of them all. Very well done, and it's unlucky not to be #1 for the year. But do not, and I mean NOT, watch Transformers 4. It's the highest grossing film of the year apparently, $1.1 billion, but it's a turkey. Worse by far than the 2nd Hobbit film, which was my least favourite last year. It's just a rerun of previous Transformers films, this time with Dino-bots at the end (which makes it different, apparently). Avoid at all costs.
I don't watch much TV, but I do like Doctor Who because it's usually so well written. This season fell short though, partly because Peter Capaldi makes such a surly Doctor, and partly because the writers don't seem sure how to best use that. Normally there are one or two episodes which stand out, but not this year. It wasn't a disaster, but a schoolteacher might write "Must do better" on the report card.
And so to books...
I finally got round this year to reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. It's creative and imaginative, but for me it just didn't have the X factor of Harry Potter, or the Hunger Games. I think it just lacked depth of detail. The wizarding world especially is brilliantly realised by J K Rowling, brought to life with all its little quirks, and Panem feels real too. Pullman's alternate worlds didn't, not to the same extent. It's still a decent series but to my mind is left behind a little by other recent works of fantasy for younger readers.
One very good book I've read this year is Rebecca Alexander's The Secrets of Life and Death. It's a Fantasy set partly in our world and partly in the past, and the two stories alternate chapter by chapter until both reach a crisis at the same time, and everything is explained. It's desperately tricky to do, and the author pulls it off very well indeed. Also I read Ruso and the River of Darkness by R S Downie, which uses an even more fiendishly difficult trick - a detective, Ruso, in Britain during the Roman period. He has no forensics, no fingerprints or blood sampling, nothing to link a person to a crime. Ruso has to work only by asking questions and working things out, and to do so he - and so also the author - needs a tremendous knowledge of the details of Roman life. Ms Downie manages that and still keeps the story interesting, so kudos to her for it.
Beyond these I've read a lot of factual books, often for research reasons. Babylon by Paul Kriwaczek, Freedom Next Time by John Pilger, and The Forgotten Arts by John Seymour are just three of those. The last of them is very useful; it details things like how to make charcoal and horseshoes, and tells how to take ash and fat and turn it into soap. A very helpful book for getting details of ancient cultures right.
Of course, the best thing of all this year is my engagement to Caz, who by this time in 2015 will be my wife. Sort of makes all the other things feel unimportant, really. She encourages me to write, rather than taking time away from it, so at the end of next year I'll probably be doing another of these "best and worst" blogs ("yay!", I hear you cry). Meantime, enjoy New Year, and have a great 2015. I hope it's good to you all.