Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Best of 2013

It's been something of an interesting year. I wish I could say it's been interesting for the right reasons, but, quite frankly, the year has been total rubbish on a personal level as I've lunged from crisis to crisis with barely a chance to draw breath.

However, I've kept up with my reading and, at times, my writing. Writing has proven difficult this year as my commute to work changed in April and now takes two hours longer than it did prior to my job change. With time at a premium, I've lacked the energy and drive at times to crack open Pages and get to work on some fiction. I've even struggled to keep up with my blogs.

On the other hand, I have started writing a column for my local newspaper. 300 words a week may not sound like very much, and it isn't, but it has kept me ticking over for the past 4 months as well as familiarising me with a style of writing I haven't needed to use much in the past.

I have, however, managed first drafts of a couple of hefty novellas, each clocking in at more than 20,000 words. In addition to those, I've created a handful of short stories and made in-roads on starting a novel shortly. My word count may not have hit my usual target of 100,000 for the year, but I've not done too badly, all things considered.

But what were the best things I came across this year? I haven't been to the cinema all that often (last going to see Kick Ass 2 a few months back), but I have read more than I have at any point in my life. Over the last 12 months I've read around 200 short stories, half-a-dozen graphic novels, 5 history books, a handful of books about football, and roughly 60 unread novels as well at 20-some re-reads.

So, my personal year's best is as follows:

Best Film

Star Trek Into Darkness was a thrilling film. Granted, I haven't seen too much this year (as explained), but of those I did see this was comfortably the best. It built on the good work of Star Trek XI and, despite something of a cop-out conclusion, provided a nice set-up to future Star Trek adventures following Spock and the gang.

Best Short Story Collection

I may be a couple of years behind, but Paolo Bacigalupi's collection Pump Six and other stories was magnificent. I don't often devour short story collections and prefer to make my way through them slowly, but I went through the eleven offered in this collection in a matter of three or four days. Bacigalupi will, in my view, be one of the defining writers of this generation with his dark and unsettling stories with a bleak outlook on the world. He's also undeniably brilliant.

Best Work of Non-Fiction

Annoyingly, I read the old edition of Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson about a week after the updated edition came out. I only found this out yesterday. 'Annoyed' doesn't quite cut the mustard. I loved Wilson's take on the tactical history of football. His hatred of the Charles Reep school of footballing thought also helped to win me over. It hasn't quite changed my views on how football should be played, but it's difficult to argue with his insightful analysis of how football has changed down the years. Writing about how football is played on the pitch is difficult, but Wilson manages it superbly. Now for the updated edition...

Honourable mention to Rubicon by Tom Holland, which is as good a piece of narrative history I've ever read. Holland charts the rise and fall of the Roman Republic with élan, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Best Horror Novel

I only read three horror novels this year, but all three were good ones. Both The Shining by Stephen King and The Ravenglass Eye by Tom Fletcher impressed me, but without doubt the best horror novel I read this year was Song of Kali by Dan Simmons. It was brilliant. The Indian underworld was grotesque and horrifying and, above all, believable, and I found myself sucked in. Simmons did more than just create a book of scares and thrills, though; he got under my skin and had me haunted for weeks after I finished the book.

Best Fantasy Novel

I've only just finished it, it's true, but The Lies of Locke Lamora knocked my socks off. Not since The Name of the Wind have I been sucked into a fantasy novel and found myself so utterly immersed. That it managed to impress me despite me having very high expectations of it it all the more impressive. I'm already looking forward to getting cracking on the sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies.

Best SF Novel

This was a toss-up between three. And in the end, The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes wins out simply because I loved the characters more than those in Moxyland (also by Lauren Beukes) and Osama (by Lavie Tidhar). All three were brilliant reads. But The Shining Girls made me sympathise with the protagonist more than the others. That said, Osama's concept alone runs The Shining Girls very close for the title.

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