It’s that time of year again – everyone’s doing the the “Best Of” lists, and so too are The Young Podawans! We both consumed a whole Imperial Star Destroyer load of geek entertainment this year, but this is our very best of the very best! So without further delay, here we go!
BRIAN: Confession: I didn’t read any books this year that actually came out this year. Like many of you, I have a massively extensive “To Read” list and this year was spent going through some of that backlog. The Best Book I read this year actually came out in 2012 (close enough?) and that book is THREE PARTS DEAD by Max Gladstone.
The story follows Tara, a detective and practitioner of the Craft, the ability to tap into arcane magic, as she tries to unravel the mystery behind a god’s death. Part murder mystery, part legal drama, part fantasy epic THREE PARTS DEAD presents a story and world-building the likes of which I’ve never read before. Described to me as “Legalpunk” and “gods as failed banks” this book is a genre all its own.
Max is a hell of a writer as well. From the cramped alleyways of Alt-Coulumb, to the vast celestial expanse of the a dead god’s remains to the churning machinery deep within the Church of Kos, everything is described in lush detail. Nothing is overbearing, but gives just enough to make the reader feel they can reach out and touch the world his characters inhabit on the paper.
If you’re looking for a fresh and inventive voice in SFF give this a try.
KRISTIN: SORCERER TO THE CROWN by Zen Cho. Some really great books came out this year, both standalones and installments of series, but SORCERER TO THE CROWN stood out for me in terms of characterization, setting, and plot (triple threat!). This book was a tremendous debut by Zen Cho, and I couldn’t put it down. I talked about this one in Episode 2, but it’s worth repeating.
The story follows Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer to the Crown, and Prunella Gentleman, a young woman seeking to learn magic on her own terms, as they set out to stop the decline of magic in England. Austenite hijinks ensue. With a rich historical setting (more believable than many alt-histories I’ve read) and a well-rounded, diverse cast full of lovable characters, this book is what fantasy SHOULD be. It was immersive, funny, and well-told, and if anyone I know asks me for a new read anytime soon, I’ll be putting this one into their hands.
BEST TELEVISION SHOW
BRIAN: SENSE8 was one on those things saw a lot of hype about on Twitter and after a while it became impossible to ignore so I took the plunge. Wow. What a strange and wonderful ride it was. The basic premise is there are eight strangers in different parts of the world who have a telepathic connection, forming a “cluster” and how they touch each others lives.
This connection starts off small, they see brief visions – a chicken in Africa seemingly runs across the desk in an office in South Korea. As their connections grow stronger they’re able to use each others personal strengths to empower themselves – a matau driver in Nairobi uses South Korean kickboxer’s martial arts skills to fight off a bunch of criminals, a Russian hitman uses a telenovela star’s acting abilities to talk his way out of trouble – there are all sorts of interesting intermingling of the characters personalities and backgrounds as they grow closer as unit.
This is all very cool, but it’s the characters themselves that are what really made me love this show. The cast is incredibly diverse and the eight characters come from completely different backgrounds which shape who they are and how the interact with the others. You also don’t see sexuality explored in such an honest and positive way as it is in SENSE8 – sexuality is an integral part of each character’s personality and their relationships with each other – it’s presented as something that should shared and embraced, not shamed and buried.
This show is really like nothing I’ve ever watched before and should be required viewing for creators on how to build meaningful relationships between their characters.
KRISTIN: I watched approximately 2 .5 new shows in 2015, and only one of those actually started this year, so this is tough. I’m going to have to go with OUTLANDER, which ended its first season in 2015, simply because this series holds a special place in my heart. The books received loving adaptive treatment from Starz and producer Ronald Moore, and I can’t think of another television series with women as its primary audience that has such a high-budget, gorgeous production quality.
If you’re not familiar with the series, OUTLANDER tells the tale of Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, a World War II nurse thrown back in time to 18th-century Scotland. There she meets (naturally) a gorgeous Scot and her husband’s evil doppelgänger-ancestor, who has an unhealthy obsession with Claire’s new husband, the afore-mentioned gorgeous Scot. It’s a tough show to watch, and some may never want to see the final episodes of the first season, which graphically depict brutal rape. However, the show was groundbreaking in its unapologetic emphasis of the female gaze. Men are the sexual objects in this show, which feels rare in fantasy right now, and Claire’s pleasure, pride, and capability are what drive the plot. Season 2 starts in the spring of 2016, and I can’t wait.
BRIAN: I know this might be considered a case of reverse nostalgia goggles, but STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS was my favorite movie of 2015. The Missus and I saw quite a few movies in the theater and at home this year, but this was the only one I immediately wanted to watch again when it was over.
THE FORCE AWAKENS was everything I could have hoped (lol) for. From the opening music and crawl until that classic credit roll, it was a nonstop ride of intense action, tremendous characters moments and more enough nostalgia for long time fans of the series to feel like they were kids again.
But it’s not the nostalgia that made this film great but how progressive it is. It is the building of a new story – that while built on the foundation of what came before – is firmly forward looking and accessible to the next generation of Star Wars fans. Nothing better represents THE FORCE AWAKENS being open and inviting to a new generation of fans than the diverse cast of new heroes in Rey, Finn and Poe. Representation is so important, especially in a film and series as culturally relevant as this and especially for the next generation of kids who will have Star Wars heroes who look like them to look up to.
Plus it gave us Emo Kylo Ren.
KRISTIN: Welp, Brian and I are of one mind on this one. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS was my favorite movie of this year. This installment of the Star Wars franchise was true to the spirit of the original trilogy, but it had the diversity the original movies lacked. Rey is the character I needed as a young girl, and she’s the character I look for in every SFF movie I see today. We’ve already covered why we adore this movie, but I do want to say that the best moment for me was when, in the theater, I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “If there are still no g**-d***ed female X-Wing pilots, I swear, I’ll–” and was cut off because a female X-Wing pilot appeared on the screen. Twelve-year-old Kristin’s life was complete in that moment.
BEST OTHER THING
BRIAN: I’ve been to a lot of wrestling shows. I’ve been to Pay Per Views. I’ve been to Wrestlemania. Twice. But I’ve never been to a show that made me more happy to be a wrestling fan than NXT TAKEOVER: BROOKLYN back in August. The sold out crowd at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn was rabid for the whole show, but there was one match in particular that I and many in attendance were particularly excited for.
Wrestling is at it’s best when you have a simple storyline with compelling characters. That’s what this was – the culmination of a two year storyline where the challenger Bayley, who started out as a star-struck fan just wanting a chance and had evolved into one of the one of the most beloved fan-favorites in recent memory. She had tried to win the title twice before, but failed. This was her last chance.
Opposing her was the arrogant and vain champion Sasha Banks, who dubbed herself “The Boss” of NXT. Where Bayley sought the adoration of the fans, Sasha showed them only contempt. She mocked Bayley for never being able to win “The Big One” and said that people like her, people like the fans who adored her, don’t get to be champion.
That’s the whole story and that was enough. Because both women were such great wrestlers and played their characters to such perfection, the crowd bought into everything. The fall of the three count, Bayley raising the championship and her friends (even Sasha) embracing her with tears in their eyes was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced as a wrestling fan. If there was one match I’d use to convince someone there’s more to wrestling than sweaty shirtless men hugging each other, it would be this match.
KRISTIN: I played a lot of games this year, but most of them were releases from 2012-2014. The last three years have seen a ton of great game releases, and most of those have been covered elsewhere. But for me, one of the best releases of the last year (technically it came out in December of 2014) was DON’T STARVE TOGETHER, the much-longed-for multiplayer version of Klei’s wildly popular survival game DON’T STARVE. In both versions of the game, the player takes the role of a scientist who has been dumped on a strange world with no tools, food, or hope. Using rudimentary tools made from flint, sticks, and grass, your goal is to, well, not starve. The game gets harder the longer you survive–creeping monsters come out of the darkness, giant spiders attack you when venture too near their webs, trees come alive and take revenge–and throughout it all, your sanity suffers from the loneliness and strangeness of the world around you.
But in DON’T STARVE TOGETHER, you get the pleasure of sharing your troubles with–or adding to the troubles of–another player. My husband and I clocked SO. MANY. HOURS. playing this game this spring. Cooperative play makes survival easier, but two people together attract more monsters, and it’s even harder to collect enough food to last through winter. It’s a brutal game, and completely addictive.
That’s it folks! What did you think of out lists? What are your favorite pieces of geek entertainment this year? We want to know! Thanks again as always for listening and reading!