I didn’t read as many new books in 2019 as I did in 2018 (caught up on some older stuff, mostly), but I did like these:
Clines never really aspires to much more than delivering some fun page-turnery stories, but that’s fine: he does it well. “Zombies...on the moon!” is a great tagline for a book. Clines’ writing is usually pretty easy-going and fun; if you haven’t checked out his other stuff, I also like The Fold and 14.
I have a soft spot for any sci-fi book that deals with translating languages between alien species, and Children of Ruin manages to one-up even Tchaikovsky’s own Children of Time in that regard. There’s no shortage of grand ideas in SF these days, but space jellyfish that command planet-sized ships while dealing with mind-controlling brain parasites...it’s a heady mix! Definitely start with the first book in the series before you pick this up, though.
Outside of Daniel Abraham’s The Black Sun’s Daughter series (which I highly recommend like pretty much everything else he’s written), I haven’t really connected with any of the “wizards in a modern-day urban environment” book series that I’ve come across lately, including the Dresden Files books. I really dug Trail of Lightning for its focus on Native American legends, though, rather than the same-old-same-old mythological/folklore references that a lot of these books go for.
Anyone who says they have a decent grasp on quantum mechanics (or quantum anything, really) is a charlatan and a huckster who is trying to sound smarter than they actually are, but Derek Künsken’s novel makes me think that that dude kind of knows what he’s talking about. It’s been a while since I’ve read a good heist novel (complete with all the “YOU SON OF A BITCH, I’M IN” team-building that you might expect), but this was super well-written and fun all the way through.
And it’s got the quantums in it. Everyone’s talking about the quantums.
“Elegiac” is the only word I can really come up with to describe this fine little piece of HBO cinema. (Enjoy it; it’s definitely not the kind of stuff they’re going to make while AT&T primes the pump for Westworld spinoff series.) I suppose it’s not THAT rare these days to have big casts of shows reunite a decade past their series cancellations to get back together, but this felt like a much tighter, more emotionally resonant summation of a series than a lot of other stuff that’s come out recently (El Camino, etc.). Its great and I love it, and it’s probably a shame that it’ll be David Milch’s last piece of work. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s directly before starting on this movie, which makes the slow decline of Al Swearengen all that much more moving when you’re watching.
I am not a podcast person. I listen to music on my commute, since I spend most of that time reading, and if I’m working or doing anything else I usually prefer silence to listening to people talk. That said, the Penpals podcast has been a fantastic thing to flip on when I’m driving with my fiancee; the two hosts have a great repartee and are very, very funny. It’s not that different than any other podcast or column that relies on reader letters to generate content, but Rory and Daniel are sharp enough to riff on pretty much any situation that arises and generate some good-ass laughs and sometimes that what I need when I’m in the car with my fiancee. They seem a little more adrift on the heavier/more serious subject matter, so I usually skip that stuff! YMMV!
Alright, screw you if you’re rolling your eyes at this being on this list. Incendies and I Am Love are still my movies of the decade so it’s not like I’m someone who’s sending death threats to Martin Scorsese over his opinions about comic book films, but this was about the best sendoff to Marvel’s first phase of their cinematic whatever that anyone could possibly imagine. I don’t know how the Russo brothers got from doing Community paintball episodes to THAT MOMENT with Captain America and Thanos, but I laughed and cried at all the right times and this was the best pop culture moment that I’ve had in a long time. Just a joyous moment in a theater. The action direction had some amazing amounts of imagination behind it, especially with all the Stormbreaker/Mjolnir interactions in the fight with Thanos. I don’t know if any of the second-wave cast members have as much charisma as Evans/Downey/Johansson, etc., but hey, I hope they try.
I’ll never begrudge punk bands for having rough early recordings; god knows I’ve listened to Rainer Maria and Sleater-Kinney’s juvenalia enough to know that sometimes emotion can outweigh professionalism when it comes time to put down some tracks. But at this stage in my life I’m appreciative of the leap that comes when a band gets hooked up with a professional-ass producer and decides to make an album that you can actually listen to over and over rather than just scream along to. Screaming Females did it with Ugly and Mannequin Pussy definitely did it with Patience, which, despite having a much higher recording quality than their earlier stuff, still has some of the rawest fucking jams on any album I listened to this year. Their concert was one of the highlights of my music-going of last year and this album is super, super good. It’s angry as shit but ends on one of the sweeter notes in a punk album I can remember recently - just like Ugly.
I originally just fell in love with Doctor Whomst, which is far and away my favorite song of last year, but this whole album is pretty amazing: energetically played, cleverly-written, and just sincere as all hell, like the best emo is. I got a lot of echoes of Braid from this album, and, like Patience, it’s much more well-recorded than the earlier stuff Origami Angel has put out.
You know what the worst thing that’s happened to anyone in 2020 is? Origami Angel was playing in Berkeley on a Sunday...and I found out on the Monday after. This is by far the worst thing that has happened to anyone, anywhere in 2020. If they never come back to town I will be so, so sad.