Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Science Fiction and Fantasy Pleasures of 2007

Yesterday, I posted my Science Fiction and Fantasy Pains of 2007. Now that is out of the way, I can write about the things that made me giddy this year. Tomorrow, I'll post about those things that I feel ambiguously about, but today is for happiness. Yesterday was doom and gloom, but today is joy and celebration. I encountered a lot of SF/F that I enjoyed this past year, in fact it has been a good year overall, and it has been hard to limit myself to just five pleasures from 2007. But rules are rules, and yesterday I wrote that I would provide five pleasures. So here goes. Be warned though, like the LA Times article that inspired me, some of the things that brought me pleasure this past year aren't exactly new (just new to me).

5) Mass Effect by Bioware: There are times when I begin to wonder whether a visual medium can convey the wonders I imagine when I read a good Science Fiction novel. Then there are the times that I am playing Mass Effect. Bioware amazed me with their groundbreaking Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic videogame RPGs. I never thought they'd be able to top those games, or that anyone could for that matter. With KotOR Bioware out Star Warsed (I know it looks awkward, but it sounds cool out loud) Georged Lucas. Then they released Jade Empire and I was stunned. Jade Empire took the excellent non-combat resolution system from KotOR and overlayed an exciting, yet intuitive, action combat element. I'm not the most "1337" (that's leet or elite) of game-players, especially in 3D interactive environments, but I was able to excel at Jade Empire. The same has been true of Mass Effect. I may get pwnt (that's owned or easily and readily defeated by elite gamers) when I play Halo 3, but when I am battling the enemy in Mass Effect I feel extraordinarily proficient. That is the elegance of the combat system. My only complaints are that real life days aren't long enough for me to play this as much as I want and that the protagonist comes off as a bit of a jerk no matter what dialogue choices I make. This would be rated higher if it had come out sooner and I were deeper into the game.

4) John Scalzi's Old Man's War Series: Imagine if you took the Forever War, Starship Troopers, and Gulliver's Travels and you put them all in a blender set to liquify. That's what the Old Man's War series is like. I may be baffled that Scalzi is willing to offer whole stories from this series to his fans for free, sure in audio format (though you can read the text version here), but they are so good that I am tempted to send John money just to make sure he will continue writing. Not necessarily the Old Man's War series, I am satisfied with it as it stands, but other things as well. Scalzi has a wonderful writing style and his ability to convey humor and humanity in often horrible circumstances is remarkable. I cannot recommend Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades, or The Lost Colony high enough. It is rare to find accessible, yet crunchy, SF these days, but Scalzi has managed to do just that. He even manages to make political commentary without being preachy. Now that's hard.

3) The Detective Inspector Chen series by Liz Williams: If you took Blade Runner and Neuromancer, shredded the books, and pasted them into a novelization of Big Trouble in Little China with a dose of Bridge of Birds for good measure, you might just get something similar to the Detective Inspector Chen books. Maybe close, but not quite. The books take place in a society where both technology and magic exist, the protagonist has a demon wife, there's an underground trade in souls, and the internet equivalent has servers that are slightly disconcerting. The stories are as fun as the covers are stellar. If you like the Dresden Files and Hong Kong cinema, give this series a look.

2) The announcement of the 4th Edition of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game: I know this was on my list yesterday, but as I wrote then, this is a pretty big deal and I'm pretty excited about it. Yes, I lament the fact that a couple thousand dollars worth of books I own are now "obsolete," but I look forward to seeing what changes are coming with the new system. I have always thought that the game was fun, but that it lacked in certain ways as an abstraction of fantasy fiction in general. Many of the new rules seem to be aimed at fixing this small flaw and making the game a more seemless simulation.

1) The Geekerati Podcast I do with Eric Lytle, Bill Cunningham, and Shawna Benson: What does this have to do with SF/F? Everything. I decided to put the whole podcast down as a single Pleasure because otherwise I would have had nothing but Geekerati episodes listed in my top five. Starting with our interview with Susan Palwick about her excellent book Shelter, which was one of my favorite SF reads this year, the show has had a number of excellent segments. I recommend you stop by and listen to our Tim Minear (of Angel and Firefly fame) interview, our interview with Marc Bernardin (the Highwaymen comic), our interview with Win Eckert (of the Wold Newton Universe), or our discussion of Beowulf. In fact, hang out on the site for a while and download all our episodes. You won't be sorry.
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