2016…what a year it was. It is widely considered the year that killed off so many talented people; Alan Rickman, Prince, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Anton Yelchin, Mohammed Ali, and many, many more. So maybe the most apt way to start this post is with a tribute to all those we have lost. Their talent was without equal, their impact without measure. In a world where fame is given to even the least talented of people, these were celebrities in the truest form who taught us all that talent really draws inspiration in a way that time will never diminish. This world is now without some of these exceptional people, which means that it is a world that is now worse off, of that there is no doubt. Considering the sheer expanse of time, I can only be grateful that I lived in the same generation as these greats.
As with any year, 2016 had its ups and its downs and in this post I will share with you, in my opinion, what I found those to be. This will mainly cover my utmost hobbies of, books, movies and TV, while also with a brief look at gaming. Books being at the very pinnacle of my interest, that is where I will start.
I have to be honest, I have never attributed as much of my time to modern fantasy as I should, and it was only in late 2016 that I decided it was time that I should finally change this. The likes of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series (which I have currently just started), Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire, Joe Abercrombie’s First Law, The Gentlemen Bastard Sequence, and the many others loitering around the unread section of my Kindle, have so far slipped under my radar. I have always been in to the deep, well established worlds of the older fantasy series that graced the literary scene over a decade ago. The Wheel of Time replaced my idyllic world of normality with a vast world of magic, intrigue and treachery, with a cast of characters that will leave you agog. His Dark Materials was something of a surprise, dragging me in with its childish perspective (I mean that literally as the main characters are children and not in regards to the tone of the book) and its very adult ideas on religion. Then there was the complex military fantasy of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, with undertones of subtle grimdark and characters with far reaching agendas that got me completely enamoured in Steven Erickson’s unbelievably vast world and ideas. This is but a few of the slightly older series that dragged me in.
So I decided to try something newer. The names of Abercrombie, Sanderson, Lawrence are already riding high in the echelons of popular culture. It would have been easy – and probably sensible – to start with these authors. They are established and well known for a reason, and that is because they are widely considered to be of a very high quality. Instead, though, I decided to go for the works of newer authors who, like me, are trying to get their names out there with their first efforts, albeit having considerably more success at the moment. And my opinions….well it’s a mixed bag. There were some excellent books, some average books, and some that could be considered nothing better than terrible. I can’t wholly condemn my experiences yet, if only for the opportunity it gave me to read the exceptional The Vagrant (more on that below). But it has tainted my view on the direction that fantasy has taken. Gone are the complex worlds and intricate characters of the series that I am used to reading. In their place are stories with mildly interesting, if somewhat subdued, ideas and characters that are just not fleshed out or made in any way relatable. It seems that some authors are afraid to put themselves out there, to give us something new and exciting and instead they fall back too easily on the regular fantasy tropes without even adding an interesting twist to them. The greatest culprit of this was Luke Scull’s Grim Company series, which crammed in so many stilted ideas for apparently no reason other than to include as many proven clichés as he could in the hope that it would drag his ailing series out of obscurity.
But, as I said, 2016 was only the start of this journey. With the Mistborn series thoroughly on my radar for the start of 2017, I aim to work my way through the more renowned novels of recent years and find a more positive trend in the direction and ideas of fantasy. Where 2016 didn’t get me off to the best start, I am confident that the more I traverse this diverse world, the more I will see to look forward to for the future. Maybe some grimdark with a less adolescent excitement to its content, or magic with a thoroughly established base, or villains who seek more than just a one-dimensional desire to rule over all for no reason other than power. Here’s hoping, and I will be sure to keep you all updated on my journey.
2016 is also the year that decimated the expectations of so many film fans, especially those so avidly following the trend in superhero movies. The DCU has gotten off to the worst start imaginable, basically sprinting out of the blocks, getting two meters and then snapping both ankles. Marvel, on the other hand, continues sprinting with bionic legs and not even a look backwards at its howling competition. This trend is only going to rise, especially now that they have acquired Spiderman and inducted him in to their already well developed ranks. Even Deadpool has managed to do the impossible and provided us with a smarmy, sarcastic, adult themed comic book movie that has done exceptionally well at the box office (it is still only the second best R rated comic book movie over the last decade as it didn’t quite reach the heights of Dredd).
Yet while the MCU is thriving, the Marvel properties outside of Disney’s reach continue to falter. Bryan Singer disappointed everyone with his iteration of one of comic’s greatest villains, and succeeded only in ruining Apocalypse, and putting a major halt on any future movies in the X-Men franchise. These superhero movies are not the only disappointments in a wholly unsuccessful year – Zoolander 2 failed miserably in its attempt to do the original justice, Inferno proved that it is apparently impossible to turn a Dan Brown novel in to a decent movie, Independence Day frustrated millions of fans who loved its predecessor (I am not counted amongst them), Ghostbusters was just ill-conceived from the get go, and I could just keep going. The end of the year did pick up the trend and try to raise the year to a more acceptable level of quality. We were lucky enough to get another excellent entry in the Star Wars universe, La La Land and its Oscar baiting story is a masterpiece that I have yet to see, Manchester by the Sea has given audiences a grim view of real life problems. It is only a shame that it took the film scene so long to build momentum. Let’s all just hope that the momentum carries it right the way through 2017.
Whereas the movies seemed to suffer, television did not. This year we have been gifted with some truly fantastic series. The truth is, so much of this success has to do with the live streaming giants of Netflix and Amazon Prime, who are using their financial clout to develop shows that just generally could not have been produced two years ago. Once again I guess it’s apt to start with the comic book shows, given my general love for the genre. And yet again Marvel have proven their worth in the form of both Daredevil, Jessica Jones and, to a lesser extent, Luke Cage. Here, Netflix has given us grit and brutality that the movies simply cannot portray. We are treated like the adults we are, and given characters who undoubtedly do their page counterparts justice. The DC television universe is also going strong and providing an interweaving narrative that covers several different franchises. However, this is an area that I long ago neglected, getting through only two seasons of Arrow before throwing in the towel. Even still, it is expanding and has its ratings so it must be doing something right.
It would be amiss of me not to talk about the television event that was Game of Thrones. This series keeps going from strength to strength, and there are not many episodes of any series that can draw panic and fear in the way that GoT does. HBO is without a doubt a goliath in producing adult TV shows, even when you look at their past accolades of the Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and the Wire you cannot doubt their calibre. And they seem intent on proving that sheer competence in their programmes with this year’s entry; Westworld. It was a creation of pure intrigue and complexity, with an anti-human theme that will question your own loyalties right the way through.
It is not all sunshine and glory though, for the year started off with an absolute disgrace of a show as MTV provided us with their take on the Shannara Chronicles. The books aren’t exactly a work of masterpiece, but the show is a mass of inconsistencies that will only baffle the mind. It was not the only culprit. Vinyl promised so much, but what it offered had a foundation as weak as the building that collapsed in the pilot’s closing scenes. The reintroduction of the X-Files was simply a mess. The new series of the Walking Dead proved to be a slow, torturous mass of non-events sandwiched between a couple of not-so-bad episodes. And then there was Heroes Reborn. The first season of Heroes was a genuinely interesting, mostly engaging, take on how people dealt with their often burdensome gifts, but it gradually went downhill until it reached a final season that was utterly atrocious. Tim Kring took a winning formula and ground it to dust beneath the heel of his boat. With Heroes Reborn he unzipped and urinated over that idea…and that’s all I really have to say about it.
Not many people will be aware of this just from reading my site, but I am somewhat of an avid gaming fan, even if I don’t have as much time as I would like to spend on it. And, as a gaming fan, this year was quite exciting for me as it saw the PS4 finally acknowledge the growing importance of 4K. I was genuinely surprised when I saw the difference it made, and it acted in revitalising my slightly faltering love for the industry. But 4K gaming is only worth a damn if the games released on the console are any good in themselves. And this year did not disappoint, with some soon to be classics being released. First of all, I just want to say Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End….wow…just wow. Great story, characters, locales, graphics, voice acting. It had everything and, if this is to be the end of Nathan Drake’s adventures, what a way for him to bow out. The biggest surprise of the year for me was Titanfall 2. I went out on a limb and bought this, if only for the multiplayer to pass some of the spare 30 minutes I rarely found myself having, but I did not envision myself becoming quite so enamoured with the beauty of its single player campaign. Yes it is short, but it is also infinitely engaging. Then we have Final Fantasy 15, which proved that just because a game spends an eternity in development, it does not mean that it will be a poor game. In fact, quite the opposite, with it being one of the highlights in an already excellent series. There were a lot of other good games released; Doom, Dishonoured 2, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Overwatch, Battlefield 1, and Firewatch. There were also some duds, but none more so than the incredibly overhyped No Man’s Sky. The developers on this game promised something so immersive, expansive and unending that the final product was always going to be a disappointment. But not only was it a disappointment, it was a phenomenally bland and boring game. Hours could be spent doing pretty much nothing, with no real end game, and no option to play with friends. The final product was almost a nihilistic endeavour in insignificance.
I guess the most adequate way to finish this off is with something akin to an awards ceremony – a bit of subtle appreciation for the things that truly made this year one to be happy about, along with admonition for the things that tried to steal away the joy that the others brought. So here are my best and worst for 2016. Enjoy!
Best Book – The Vagrant. This is a little bit of a cheat. The Vagrant was actually published in 2015, but I was only made aware of it this year. Normally I would not consider it for that reason. However, I did not do a review of 2015 and I truly believe this book deserves far more recognition than it currently has. First of all, the way it is written is an absolute marvel. It presents to us a prose that is both obscure and complex, concise yet adequately detailed. Peter Newman works a minor miracle by giving us a character that, while mute, can convey more emotion and development than pretty much any other protagonist that I have read about this year. Oh….and there is a goat that is a little bastard and hilarious for it. To see my praise in full then click here for the review.
Worst Book – Dead Man’s Steel. I was not instantly drawn in to Luke Scull’s world when I read the Grim Company, but it held a promise that encouraged me to read on. After reading Dead Man’s Steel I am a little disappointed that I did. The novel was bafflingly disjointed and full of ridiculous coincidences. None of the characters, especially the antagonists, were given the development they needed. The ending was a non-event. There were huge plot points that were given zero closure. Everything felt inconsequential, with some things added and given prominence while having absolutely no impact on the overall feel or climax of the series. I have given the story a full critique here.
Best Film – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This was a hard choice because Civil War was such a phenomenal movie and probably would have pipped this to the title….except that Rogue One holds a scene that will simply blow you away and places Darth Vader back on his pedestal as the greatest movie villain of all time (so screw you prequel films). Even aside from this the film is excellent. It gave us something new in the Star Wars universe, and that’s a character driven war movie about the grit and loss of battle. It is, at times, a bit depressing, but that only adds to its worth. It’s not afraid to be different, and revels in showing the audience a darker side to the rebellion. If you are a Star Wars fan then this is a must see. If you are not a Star Wars fan, well then you should be, but even still this is a must see anyway. If you would like to see just how highly I rate this movie then you can read my review here.
Honourable Mention – Captain America: Civil War. All I will say is best MCU movie to date, and you can read exactly why here.
Worst Film – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. If I let out an elongated sigh that would probably sum up exactly how I feel about this movie. I have already spent too much time expressing my disappointment, and if you would like to read that, in detail, then please click here.
Dishonourable Mention – Suicide Squad. Warner Bros showing for a second time, in one year I would like to add, that it is either incapable, or unprepared, to develop a cohesive DCU for the fans. Like BvS, this is a monstrous mess. I haven’t written a review for this yet as I have only recently brought myself to watch it. It is not as bad as BvS, but it is not good. It is not good at all.
Best TV Show – Daredevil Season 2. 2016 is clearly the year where Marvel and Disney position themselves as goliaths in the entertainment industry (not that they ever weren’t). Working with Netflix they have managed to give us a perfectly paced, adult orientated show. The characters are flawless in their portrayal and conception, the fight scenes are some of the most brutal you are likely to see, and the story is surprisingly understated. There is not much to fault here, and to see exactly why you can read more here.
Honourable Mention – Game of Thrones. Need I say more than it is Game of Thrones? It is heart-breaking, brutal, full of twists and turns, has ridiculous production values, and is only beaten to the top spot by the most minimal of margins. I will be watching this series again soon, so keep an eye out for a fresh review!
Worst TV Show – The Shannara Chronicles. This is an adaption of a fantasy series that is often considered mediocre at best. What is worse is that it is produced by MTV so every young character is given a pristine shine that does not dim no matter what the circumstances, as well as a wardrobe that can only be described as emo-elf (which is skinny jeans, leather jackets, and a sneer that says f**k you to the world). If this doesn’t give you an idea how bad this is, then maybe, if you go here, it will.
Best Game – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. This is simply a masterpiece. Never before in gaming have I seen such a perfect marriage of voice acting, characterisation, story, intrigue, graphics and action. I don’t review games on my website solely because I don’t have the time to dedicate to playing as many as I would like, but if I did then this would have an easy 5 stars. It is a faultless game that is worth any gamer’s time.
Honourable Mention – The Wolf Among Us. As above, this is also a 5 star game. I am cheating once again here because this game was not released in 2016, but I played it for the first time (and second time, and third time) in 2016. It presents fairy-tale characters in a way you have never seen before. Want to see a foul-mouthed Mr Toad, then the Wolf Among Us has it. How about a chain smoking little pig named Colin. He’s here too. Pole dancing Little Mermaid; check. Woodsman with a penchant for drinking alcohol and beating on hookers; that’s right, you guessed it, he is also present. They are all enthralled in a story that will keep you gripped. But the main achievement here is Bigby Wolf, who quickly became one of my favourite videogame protagonists of all time. If there was ever a game that I would love to see made in to a TV series, this would be it.
Worst Game – No Man’s Sky. As I said, I haven’t had a chance to play as many games this year as I would have liked, so my interpretation of what the worst game is may be up for discussion. But I played nearly 6 hours of this and I was utterly bored. It held none of the intrigue that the developers had promised. Instead I spent a large amount of time looking for fuel for my ship and then getting lost in the caverns below the surface of the planet as I did so….yeah I think I’ll pass on this thanks.
So there we have it, my lengthy review of 2016 for your perusal. It had its ups, it had its downs (so many downs!), but the year was not a total washout. As always, I am open to your comments and encourage you to voice your support or dissent to my views. Happy New Year to you all and I hope you have a good one.