2016 in Review
New Year’s Eve, people, and you know what that means. Yes, indeed, I am 42 years old today. Can it really be a year since I reviewed last year? Apparently it can.
2016, then. Bloody hell. It’s been quite the year for deaths and political upheavals. The blog continues to be in a fairly moribund state – indeed this is my first post in, what, four months or more? Sad! Still, I’ve been doing this a while now, and I think it’s better that I use it when I’ve got something substantial to announce or discuss than just trying to dream up content to fill the space. So posting will continue to be light around here, I shouldn’t wonder. Probably you’d all rather have more fiction anyway, if given the choice…
A YEAR IN BOOKSELLING – With the publication of my collection of Short Stories, Sharp Ends, I now have ten books in print, would you believe. The Blade Itself came out in May 2006, so it’s rather neatly ten books in ten years, although the distribution’s been pretty lumpy and, since I actually started writing The Blade Itself in 2001, if I remember correctly, I haven’t actually written anywhere near as fast as a book a year. Sharp Ends made I think number 8 on the Times Hardcover list, which is a pretty strong showing for short stories, and everything else continues to tick over nicely. Georgia was the first new translation deal in a while, making somewhere between 25 and 30 total. After an awful lot of travelling last year I’ve toured a fair bit less, though I was out and about in the UK for Sharp Ends and visited Spain and the US a couple of times.
A YEAR IN BOOK WRITING – Another slightly piecemeal year interrupted by some side projects and bits and pieces, but I got going in earnest on the new book in the second half and I’m now not far off a reasonable first draft. In case anyone’s unaware what the current project is, I’m working on another trilogy in the First Law world, taking place about fifteen years after Red Country, but my ideal plan is to draft the whole trilogy before publishing the first book, so I can see exactly what I’ve got and where I’m going before going back to revise and fine-tune that first book. There are good reasons why they say the start of a book should be the last thing you write, and I think ideally that applies to series too, where the realities of publishing make it a possibility. The advantage is hopefully a more coherent and polished series plus a rapid and well-planned publication schedule, the disadvantage is a long wait for the first book. I can’t really see a scenario in which you get a new book from me before the end of 2018, and maybe later. But we’ll see…
TV and FILM – We live in a golden age of TV, no doubt. There’s just a steady splurge of quality, boundary-pushing stuff coming out of Netflix, which for me this year has included Narcos, Stranger Things, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Better Call Saul, Bloodline, Daredevil, Luke Cage, among others. Game of Thrones had in some respects its best series yet – certainly the most exciting and pay-off heavy, though for me I thought you could tell in the details that they’d run out of book to draw on. Enjoyed the first season of The Expanse a lot – just the right mix of the familiar and the original. Amazon’s Man in the High Castle was a triumph of setting and design but the jury’s still somewhat out on whether they can knit a convincing narrative out of it. Black Sails continued to deliver in its third season. Gotham season two was a little patchy, but strong at its best and for me still the pick of the recent crop of superhero stuff – it’s dark enough but still has a cartoony, comic-book sensibility. Second season of Italian crime drama Gomorrah was as brilliant as the first – hugely recommended. I even watched a couple of things on olde-style terrestrial TV. I must admit The Night Manager underwhelmed me a bit – it was good, but it failed to ever really catch fire. Planet Earth II was just astonishing, though. I was blown away by David Attenborough’s natural history as a kid and I’m still watching it now with my kids. Superb film-making on every level.
Cinema continues to be a much more minor interest, really. I probably go to the cinema more to watch kids films than adult ones. I always love a western, but The Revenant I found a little disappointing – beautiful but uninvoving. The Hateful Eight I quite liked but maybe because I was expecting less. For me Tarantino’s best since Pulp Fiction but then that’s not a high bar. Indeed Hateful Eight and the Revenant had about the right amount of dialogue for two films but just very badly distributed between them… You had to love Deadpool, so boldly and cleverly put together around a great central performance, and the time was just right for an irreverent adult take on the superhero movie, not that the Marvel steamroller looks like stopping anytime soon. Rogue One was good, not without issues and patchiness, but good, though digital Peter Cushing seemed to prove that live actors have a bright future for some time to come. Arrival touched the numinous at times but in the end offered up one of those mysteries that’s a lot less exciting once it’s solved. Which leaves La La Land as my film of the year by some margin – an original and brilliantly made musical which managed to be joyful and intimate without being soft-centred.
GAMES – I’ve dialled back the gaming this year somewhat. Final Fantasy XV was a decent if not a vintage entry in the Japanese crazy hairstyles roleplaying series, a lot more fun and a lot less pompous than the last one I played, but also even more incomprehensible than usual from a plot standpoint and strangely dudebro-tastic. Uncharted 4 rather inexplicably failed to float my boat – I loved the first one and liked the other two, but this most recent one, despite the usual great looks, barnstorming set pieces and sparky personality, just really bored me. I put it down half way through, which almost never happens for me. Perhaps just a format that’s had its day. I played a big batch of Telltale games and largely enjoyed them all. The Wolf Among Us and Walking Dead Season 2 were both great, but the touch on the Game of Thrones adaptation was a little less sure. The more ‘painterly’ graphical style made things look more wooden not less, the story was a lot more distributed, and you just got the sense that nothing you did would actually make all that much difference. Some great shocks along the way, though. Just started Tales from the Borderlands, and that’s been great so far. Bursting with the wit and cartoonish visual flair that Game of Thrones lacked somewhat. That maybe leaves Dark Souls III as my game of a rather weak year, an entry that continued to fine-tune the system and perhaps make it a little more accessible, while retaining most of the sense of wonder and gruelling gameplay.
WHISKY – Decided to try and finish a few bottles off and cut down my burgeoning collection of dusty glassware, so I didn’t get much new this year. Mackmyra, Swedish distillery, was an interesting light tipple. Then I got a great cask strength Glenfarclas – an independent distillery I really like that specialises in the classic rich, sherried style. Oh, and an Old Pulteney 1989 – I’m not always a fan of that salty maritime business but this is great, complicated, rounded stuff.
THE YEAR AHEAD – There’s a lot up in the air as we go into 2017 both from a professional and personal standpoint. We’ll probably be moving in the new year and starting off another big building and renovation project which will no doubt suck up a lot of energy, and I’m waiting to hear whether a long-standing side project is finally going to bear fruit. I’ll be hitting my usual haunt in Aviles in spain in the summer, and probably Worldcon in Finland too, though that’s yet to be confirmed. Other than that, it’s going to be full steam ahead with the new trilogy, hopefully finishing a first draft of the first book in early feb, so I can then spend a couple of months going over it, refining the characters’ voices and arcs so I’ve got a good foundation for a more detailed plan of the other two books. The dream would be to get well into a draft of the second book by this time next year, but you know what they say about dreams…
Happy new year, readers!