Best of 2018
Which is going to be a movie/TV-heavy list, for the first time ever. Not because my tastes or habits changed—fiction on the page is still and always where it’s at for me—but because, since I’m now judging for the World Fantasy Awards for 2018, it would feel a bit . . . weird and unclassy, I guess, to be saying what my favorite books of the year are.
However, I can slap a couple of novels up here that in no way could get submitted for a World Fantasy Award. So:
Laird’s, being NOT fantasy, just fantastic, it’s . . . it’s kissing cousins with all those Balducci-Childs-Cussler versions of Reno Raines, except with The Rock playing lead, and a hand behind the pen so sure that I wonder if it’s not made of stone. To say it straighter: it’s about as good as fiction gets. Every word’s in the right place, every scene is intentional, Laird knows the genre inside and out, and it’s gripping, it’s touching, there’s tension, you don’t know how it’s all going to play out. Some solid writing, here, and, as a result, some really good, intense reading. Can’t wait for the next installment.
And the Arden, wow. This novel is amazing (and’s 2019, not 2018, so isn’t eligible for the WFA’s I’m helping judge). And the whole trilogy? It’s the best fantasy trilogy I’ve lucked onto since . . . man. His Dark Materials, I guess (though, if duologies can count, then Dreamblood). If I could somehow forget these three books just to read them all over again for the first time—sign me up. Still and all, I may try to audio them, just for a wonderful re-do. Thanks to Mackenzie Kiera for forcing the first one on me, insisting it was the best of the best, She was right.
Both by friends, but I think they’d each be tops all the same: Theo’s collection—I should say “collection,” since it’s really kind of a memoir in stories—flat blew me away, and Adam’s, I was late to it, but, I mean, every story in here sings, and works, and all together they kind of become something more. Each of these: so good.
If you’re as into Bigfoot as I am, then Wild Thing is the place to be. And, after episode 9, Laura Krantz thanks all the people she talked to who didn’t make it on-air. I’m in that group (rightfully so, as the Bigfoot stories I know aren’t mine to tell).
As for Switchblade Sisters, it’s one of those podcasts where I listen mostly for how well-prepped April Wolfe is—well-prepped and both guiding and following the discussion, enthusiastically. But, I admit, I only listen to the ones where I know either the movie the guest has done or the movie they chose to talk about. And then I hie myself to the video shelf, to rent whatever they were just dissecting and putting back together so well.
And of course I’m still hooked on Cocaine & Rhinestones and Shock Waves, and I still dial up Lore and Booked and This is Horror and Post-Mortem with Mick Garris as well. Oh, and I finally made my way through the first season of Serial. It was fun enough. Feel like, anyway, now I know what a lot of media is taking as source material, as model, as mode. As in: do we get American Vandal without Serial?
Oh, and I can’t forget these two—or, I shouldn’t. And I THINK (hope) they were both 2018, anyway. That’s when I listened to them.
They’re kind of halfway between watching a making-of documentary and reading the little bfi book on them. Completely addictive. Will definitely cue up whatever gets this treatment next (fingers crossed for Scream).
nonfiction book, singular
Not that I didn’t read more—I maybe read more NF this year than ever before—but this ONE stood so much higher than the rest, for me. Most of these pop-science books are by people who of course know the material inside-out, but not all of them are by people who can really write, too. Craig Childs can, and does. He makes the Ice Age right there, walks you through it. Gonna be reading this one again.
Though, if I WERE letting more into this category:
Ask me, it’s wimpy not being able to pick a winner, instead trying to smuggle two into a top slot. But, I’m a wimp, can’t decide:
The Rider, it’s quiet, which usually isn’t my thing, but man, it packs such a punch. I mean, sure, it’s that it’s about people and places and ways of living that feel so intimate and real to me—I know all this, I grew up in these trailers, in these corrals, around these same fires—but, too, that ending, it’s one of the all-time good ones, I think.
And, Widows, wow. It’s first and foremost a crime movie, and always loyal to that build, but it’s more, too. And again, it’s the ending that makes it all resonate, and last. Trust Gillian Flynn to deliver, right?
best horror television
This is on everybody’s list, isn’t it? Anyway, instead of saying again everything I already said, I’ll just link it.
best season of television (ever?)
And I say this, yes, having imbibed Breaking Bad and Deadwood and Hannibal and at least most of the other canonically-‘great’ stuff (okay, minus Mad Men, Six Feet Under). Still, this season, man, it rose above the series. It even rises above the first season of Jessica Jones, for me. Matt Murdock has such a good arc, the antagonist/Kingpin is so good, and all the story elements just dovetail together with such precision, and manage to escalate over and over again without getting screechy or melodramatic, quite. Each episode I didn’t see how things could go on now that THIS had happened. But then the season kept unfolding. So impressed. So bummed it’s now cancelled.
series I FINALLY saw
You know how Gaiman only ever planned on 75 Sandmans? How Rowling had the ending for the Harry Potter series in mind the whole time? This show feels like that. It’s that Tequila Sunrise build (which of course doesn’t start there), of ‘brothers’ going different directions, ending up pitted against each other, both loving and hating one another. It feels grand, mythic, and is so satisfying. Can’t recommend this one enough, really. Was, for me, the definition of addictive.
best limited television series
Or, I’ll pretend it’s limited, that the creators haven’t announced intentions for more—or, I’ll pretend The Haunting of Hill House wasn’t limited, so as to smuggle this one in. But, really, with how this trilogy of novels unfolds, I don’t know how they do later installments, since the lead character’s face changes, and the viewing audience prefers continuity, wants the same actor. Anyway, everybody’s always talking Bladerunner, I know, but this is where science fiction + crime/noir is for me.
Runner-up here: Descender, of course. Which is amazing. But RCM, it’s . . . sometimes the art and the style of storytelling and the cartooning and the dialogue and the colors and the world, they’re all just so of a piece, right? And, when the person behind the pen knows comic booking well enough to not have to show off about it, can instead just use those techniques to economize the story, that makes the reading experience so pure. This story’s an absolute blast. And, am I remembering wrong that this is this creator’s first comic book? If so, wow. If not, still wow.
How to pick just one amazing find/article/theory/idea from 2018, right? Such an amazing time to be watching all this news unfold—all this history changing beneath our feet, it feels like. So, to take the cheap way out, here’s someone else’s wrap-up, which is both fair and comprehensive:
science fiction movies
These two just have it. Their worlds aren’t new and glitzy and ‘look at me, I’m the future,’ they’re just assumed, and, like the Nostromo, even a bit grimy and used-up. And there’s high action and real people in both, great drama—just the whole package. If I had to pick just one to live with, I guess I’d land on Hotel Artemis, just because it’s a closed-door thing, and I have a predilection for that Agatha Christie kind of build. And also for endings that let someone walk off into the sunset. More like these, please.
horror comedy movie
Werewolves on mopeds, ghosts, pizza delivery, a gate to hell, a mystery . . . what’s not to love? This movie’s got it all, and it never lets up, and what makes it work is how seriously the characters are taking all this.
movies I saw late
Which is to say, had I seen them in their respective years, they’d surely be on that year’s list:
Evidently there’s a certain formula for a cover that might leave me unable not to get a disc out of the Redbox kiosk, yeah. This semiotics, or am I just really that transparent? Either way, I need to go ahead and buy these two, as it’ll save me money in the long run (also should pick up Spy). Action-comedy is a genre I can never get enough of. It’s not afraid to have a romantic comedy heart, and the characters are kind of on this providential path where everything’s going to work out SOMEhow, but there’s still thrills and spills, all that. Can’t get enough.
streaming-only horror movies
I guess Mayhem‘s KIND OF horror comedy too, in that there’s some ridiculous fun stuff going on, in that it’s not REALLY trying to make you leave the lights on. But it’s got a high gore-quotient, for sure, and a solid redemptive, kind of self-discovery arc. Loved this one, completely.
And Bird Box, wow. I know newcomers keep wanting to say it’s cashing in on A Quiet Place‘s success, but, of course, Josh wrote the novel long before (and didn’t NEED the adaptation to win the world—the novel already did that, and has been doing it). This is a very solid adaptation. Happy for him, for it, for us, for horror—everything, I guess. Just generally happy.
billed as horror but really action/crime
My second Shudder selection in a row, I guess. Anyway, this is likeYou’re Next, but across a whole city, and a longer moment. Amazing good.
horror movie, SINGULAR
I always pick a slasher for this, don’t I? Anyway, the slasher doesn’t get much better than this, I don’t think. It’s the whole package, and is good for watching over and over and over. My write-up’s here, but, in short: a slasher with heart, and also with a lot of blood.
But yeah, runners-up, should-have-beens, almost-weres—it was another good year for horror:
Here’s my way-long Halloween write-up—I did so dig it—and A Quiet Place is phenomenal (my write-up), especially how deftly it handles exposition, and that closing shot is so strong, so prefect. Really, I should probably be doing a three-way tie here, but I can’t be wimpy in a category that counts so much, can I?
And, for the horror movies you might expect to be on a rationally-built (not slasher-leaning) end-of-the-year list, this is pretty much them:
And, believe me, as always, I watched a lot of horror this year, but still, I’ve only, so far, hit three of these: Hereditary, Anna and the Apocalypse, and Annihilation. And, I’ve got Shudder, I should have cued Mandy up, but I’m waiting to catch it on a bigger screen. I hear that’s the way to do that one. And I’ve had a couple of people I trust rec Terrified to me, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Same with Revenge and Apostle and Cam and The Endless. And I’ve never even heard of The Night Comes for Us. Surely I should watch that one as well. The cover/poster’s definitely got something going for it.
And, talking horror and everything else (books, comics, tv, whatever), I started doing a monthly best-of—not EVERYthing I engage, but what I most fondly remember—specifically SO I wouldn’t be weighting stuff at the end of the year heavier than stuff way back in the beginning of the year. But? Making this list, I didn’t look back to those even once, loser that I must be, so I can’t imagine I haven’t neglected something I really loved back in the land of March. Sorry, March books. I probably wasn’t quite fair to April, either. Anyway, here’s a stack of links to all those posts, which kind of function as a longer year’s wrap-up, I suppose (or, is ‘lead-in’ the more accurate term?):
Looks like I even did a mid-year wrap-up preview, crazy as that sounds. On it? A lot of what’s on this list, surprisingly enough (with the addition of my still-favorite meme of all time).
And, as for me, I don’t know: wrote three novels, I guess—two slashers and a haunted house job. Put two other novels temporarily in the drawer, to be fixed when I’m a better writer (it’s a big drawer). Was, I think, my second year as an endowed chair here at CU Boulder, which was and is cool. Dialed back my low-res teaching at UCR-Palm Desert and IAIA a lot. Found a non-Chipotle place that I enjoy eating at (The Lost Cajun), which is a serious big deal, as I never try new places—thanks, Mike Hance. No, I actually found TWO places: Tocabe as well. Thanks, being lost.
Um . . . I finally taught this big comic book lecture course the right way, I think (key: way less books, three- and four-week dives into each). Wore this get-up TO comic book lecture, which was fun. Had a story run in Lightspeed, which, being a mostly-horror dude, was a good surprise. Sold my last two old trucks (69 C-10 and 72 Cheyenne), which is kind of ridiculous, since I’ve still got this cargo trailer that I now can’t pull (Jeeps are for crawling, not hauling (also, I don’t like rock-crawling)). Finished what I thought was going to be a rewatch (with my daughter) of Voyager, but, to tell the truth, those last couple of seasons were all-new to me. Think, back when it was happening, that grad school ate all my extra hours—I must have drifted away from Trekland, just kept X-Filing my way through the nineties.
And. . . spent the whole year on a Kona Hei Hei, which is a heck of a bike. At 46 I’m not the fastest rider on the trail, on the shoulder, wherever I am, but I am always out there pedaling, anyway—and often getting passed by people twenty years my senior (this is Boulder). Already need new tires and brakes, soon to need a tighter chain.
What else, what else . . . oh: pulled the eject lever on Facebook, which has been wonderful. Fell deep, deep, deep into the LaCroix hole (Key Lime & Lime are my go-to’s, Orange and Coconut and Lemon are forever gross, but I can get by on the rest of them), and I can’t seem to stop chewing this Mentos gum. Got addicted to Hoka trail-running shoes, though I’ll never be a trail-runner. They’re good for standing-desk duty, though.
Music I listened to the most would either be my country playlists or Bob Seger, album by album, getting ready to see him in concert in February (realization of a lifelong dream—first cassette I ever cued up was Nine Tonight). Oh, and: for the first time EVER, I went the whole year without losing or breaking my sunglasses. Longer than a year, really, since I got them on Black Friday in Park City, UT in 2017. It’s amazing. Feels like this is a new way of being, maybe.
Oh, and, for Christmas I got a Galaga machine. Over the last ten years I’ve lost basketball (ankles), hackysack (knee, back), and pool (shoulder), but to have Galaga back, man, it means everything. I’m not quite back in form YET, but I’m putting in time every day, will be there again before too long:
So, the big plan for next year: lot of family time, both near and painfully far (forty-five minutes), write a lot more books, publish a lot more stuff, and, yeah, probably end up with another old truck. But shh about that for now. Also, I’ve got my eye on some alligator boots, but, I should probably say: have had my eye on these boots for years now already.
Stay golden, y’all.