Another New Year’s Eve rolls around all too soon, and we all know what that means. Happy birthday to me! 48 today and STILL a fresh new voice in this GODDAMN GENRE. This time last year I was crossing my fingers for better times ahead as the pandemic faded in the rear-view mirror. Hasn’t quite turned out that way, with war and inflation and untold economic and political turbulence, but hey ho. Maybe next year…?
A YEAR IN BOOKSELLING – First year since 2018 I haven’t had a new book out, which feels a little strange. You always worry you’ll suffer when you’re not flooding the marketplace with new content, but Age of Madness came out after a lengthy break, and I’m pretty happy with how that turned out. To my shock and amazement the First Law books, and especially the original trilogy still sell well (better than ever, in some ways) 17 years after The Blade Itself first came out. I am aware of my immense good fortune there, but I’m also aware nothing lasts forever. Resting on one’s laurels is never an option.
I haven’t been entirely idle, however. Undertook a first foreign trip to my old stomping ground Celsius festival in Spain and immediately got Covid. Then visited Lisbon for Portugal Comic Con and was among those who didn’t get Covid. Had a great time at both, incidentally, when I wasn’t self-isolating, but it’s clear this is gonna be a feature of cons and festivals for the foreseeable future. May mean I have to be a little choosier about those events I do attend. No new novels appearing any time soon, but there’s some interesting stuff going on in the limited edition space, which seems to be a big growth area in publishing of late. Some ultra high end letterpress editions of The Blade Itself from Curious King sold out within a few hours at a price I personally would not believe people will pay, the awesome limited of The Trouble With Peace came out from Sub Press, and the artwork from John Anthony di Giovanni arrived for a limited novella coming from Sub Press next year, The Great Change and Other Lies, which collects three short stories that were exclusive to Waterstones editions of The Age of Madness books in the uk along with a brand new story. More news on the release of that as I have it…
A YEAR IN BOOK WRITING – Slow going this year, I must admit, mostly because I’ve been spending most of my time on various side projects. Can’t speak about those, though one small thing I can mention was my first proper screenwriting credit, on an episode of Love Death and Robots: Mason’s Rats, based on Neal Asher’s short story. But The Devils was always designed as a project that could fit in around other things, and I have made some progress, up to three quarters of the way through now, some 160,000 words of first draft. That was supposed to be about the full length when I began, but it’s grown somewhat in the telling, as they often do. I’ll admit I was feeling pretty bleak about it during the writing, but it’s hardly the first time, and experience has taught me the best thing to do (the only thing, indeed) is push through, and pick up the pieces later. Everything will feel better in the dawn! Having finished the third part, cut down and revised it, I’m feeling a lot more positive. Now to plan and write that all-important last part, before gathering some editorial input and subjecting the whole thing to several brutal rounds of revision. Can’t really commit to a publication date yet, since it really does depend on a lot of other impossible to predict factors, and I reckon I’ll need a fair bit of time to revise and sharpen this up, but I will certainly mention it when the first draft’s finished.
TV AND FILM – My film watching is still at a low ebb. Getting to the cinema is such a lot of effort, and although I’ll happily sit down and watch two or three episodes of TV of an evening, committing to a whole film always seems like a step too far somehow. My wife and I tend to broadly agree when we go to see a film, but I really liked Living while she found it intensely dull. Elvis was a highly enjoyable assault on the senses. Top Gun: Maverick felt like a big, bold, brassy macho throwback in many ways, but you’d have to say it was superbly well made and a lot of fun. Glass Onion seems to inspire intense love and hate but I just … quite enjoyed it, I guess? Lots of great moments and performances but, like Knives Out, I didn’t find it all that effective as a mystery and the ending felt kinda contrived. Marvel stuff seems to have gone off the boil after several years of dominance. I loved Doctor Strange and Thor Ragnarok, but Multiverse of Madness and Love and Thunder I mostly watched with a kind of baffled wince.
Egad I’ve watched a lot of telly, and quite a lot of it was very good. No doubt there are many I will fail or forget to mention, but some of the standouts: Severance was arresting, original, and brilliantly designed. The White Lotus had some great writing and observation. For All Mankind is a pretty ripping space exploration yarn with a side order of alt history. Sherwood was a really involving British crime drama. The English was a dark and gripping western with some incredible cinematography. Maid and Dopesick were highly watchable miniseries. Cobra Kai is always good for a laugh. The Bear was a highly original and really gripping watch – unusual format with every episode a little gem, as carefully formed as a one of its lead character’s Michelin starred plates. I also managed to catch up on 5 seasons of Yellowstone, which in many ways is really traditional long form US TV, occasionally somewhat over the top but highly watchable nonetheless. I really enjoyed its prequel 1883 as well, a wagon trail western with shades of Lonesome Dove, which is always a good thing.
Moving closer to the fantasy realm, I watched a couple of Marvel offerings with the kids – Moon Knight and She Hulk, both a bit patchy, for my money, with stuff to like and stuff not to. On the Star Wars side, I watched Boba Fett and maybe two episodes of Obi Wan which were both pretty awful, frankly, then was knocked on my heels by Andor, which I thought was just brilliant – dark, grown up, thoughtful, acutely observed noir somehow transposed to the Star Wars world. Much the best thing they’ve produced since the original films, in my opinion, though that bar, with the possible exception of Rogue One and bits of The Mandalorian, ain’t that high for me. I loved Dark and so had big expectations for its spiritual successor 1899, which I think largely paid off with some truly gobsmacking moments, though the jury’s still out on whether the endless puzzle boxes can open to reveal something meaningful or, in the style of Lost, will just hold more puzzle boxes. Which brings us by a roundabout route to the three towering fantasy series of the past year: Wheel of Time, Rings of Power, and House of the Dragon. I think it ill befits me to be negative about things that are so close to what I work on myself, so let’s just say this: I really liked House of the Dragon.
GAMES – I finally got a Playstation 5 this year, and played a few of the big releases, several of them instalments in series I’ve enjoyed before. Horizon: Forbidden West had a lot to admire, though I felt like it didn’t push the formula or worldbuilding much beyond the excellent first game, and the basic template of an open world scattered with tasks in various categories is maybe starting to feel a little bit tired. I felt a bit similarly about God of War: Ragnarok – don’t get me wrong, class leading writing, acting, and character design with some genuinely emotional moments, but it didn’t blow my mind the way the previous instalment did, or ever have me really itching to pick up the pad. The thing that did blow my mind? Probably surprising no one – Elden Ring. I’ve always liked the Dark Souls games, and some might say this is very much an evolution of the form, but I don’t know, something about the scale, the scope, the open world and the stunning fairy-tale-gone-bad vistas it creates, the crazy story told in tantalising fragments, and the slight dialling back of the difficulty somehow propelled what was already a unique experience to a whole different level. There’s a sense of wonder to it that seems, without wanting to get too pretentious, almost to touch the numinous at times. Horizon and God of War are great games, but Elden Ring feels like something new. Certainly that would be my game of the year, though I would observe I was shocked and actually a little bit horrified when I looked back at my year’s stats, to find there was a game I’d spent more time playing than all three of the ones I’ve mentioned put together. Goddamn, it was Crusader Kings 3. I’ve always loved strategy stuff, and Paradox’s particularly intense and detailed versions of the form in particular, but it was a long time since I’d played any (because, ironically, they end up taking up too much time). Loved playing this one…
THE YEAR AHEAD – I think it’s highly unlikely the Devils will publish in 2023. I hope we’ll make 2024 but of course I make no promises. Depends a lot on these pesky other projects, which I very much hope I’ll be able to talk about at some point in the coming year. But no promises there either, of course. As Nicomo Cosca might say: “promises are pretty, but what can you buy with them…?”
Happy New Year, you beautiful bastards, and (for yet another time) let’s just hope this one is better than the last…