In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Review of the Year

 2015 is nearly over, and here's what you've all been waiting for. Yes, it's my now traditional review of the year.

 Trouble is, I haven't watched, read or been involved with as much this year. My life's been so full that there hasn't been time. The largest part of that is that I got married, of course, one wonderful day back in August. But I also changed my job twice, ending up as a shop manager in Yeovil, which meant moving house, and all while my wife was pregnant. She still is, by the way; our daughter is due in February. Guess what the headline will be in next year's review?

 But despite all these terrible hardships, I have managed to sneak off now and then for a bit of enjoyment, so here goes. Spoilers may lie ahead, so watch out.

 Best film is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. I said last year that the first Mockingjay film was the best of the series, though taken from the worst book, and the final movie continued that. It's very cleverly done, keeping true to the novel but changing enough to make things interesting. It also makes it clearer that Coin really was a bad woman, ready to start all the old terrors again - meet the new boss, same as the old boss. A movie well worth seeing.

 I liked The Martian too. It's very hard to write a story in which the main character is alone nearly all the time, because dialogue is so important. Without it you have to be clever, and the writers here pull that off. I know, I'm a sucker for good writing. I can't imagine why.

 Speaking of which, the writers of Doctor Who need to either pull their fingers out or quit. Since Capaldi took over all the wit, all the subtlety has gone out of the show. It's set pieces now, dramatic incidents and gribbly monsters, but little of the sense of fun and character it used to have. No wonder viewing figures are falling.

 In books, I read Iain M Banks' The Player of Games. This is, simply, brilliant. It's set in the far-future Culture, where everyone lives comfortable lives - but not in the Empire of Azad, which is brutally ruled by a power elite chosen on the basis of how successful they are in playing the game of Azad, after which the empire is named. The game is said to be so like life that success in one means sure success in the other. The Culture is trying to build diplomatic bridges to the empire, so it recruits a talented game player named Gurgeh and sends him to Azad to play. As the story develops Gurgeh begins to realise there are larger games being played than the one on the boards. His journey through all this is horrifying as much as anything, but the book is seamless, as close to a perfect piece of SF as I can remember reading.

 I tried to read A Song of Ice and Fire again, too. It's my third effort to get into the books that became Game of Thrones and I can't manage it, I just can't. I know the series is more realistic than most Fantasy, I understand that it deals with moral ambiguity and the role of women in society. But it's just so dull. George R R Martin writes as though his hand is moving through treacle. The TV series might be just as good as I'm told it is - I wouldn't know - but it was taken from bad books. And really, one novel since 2005? I don't know what Martin is playing at. A writer's job is to write. One novel in the last ten years is absurd.

 So, there it is. I can almost hear the shrieks of dismay already. Hopefully 2016 will include more high quality like Banks or Mockingjay, and less dreary sludge like Doctor Who or George R R Martin. And hopefully I'll be able to look away from my daughter for long enough to notice.

 Have a great Christmas, everyone, and in the New Year may the Force be ever in your favour. Or something.