Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Ten of my favourite things from 2012

1. Favourite literary controversy

Fake and paid-for reviews have concerned us here for a while, and we’ve had a few run-ins with people who didn’t appreciate us pointing out what they were up to, so it’s been gratifying to see that issue blow up over the last year. The reputations of writers like Stephen Leather have been ruined by their ludicrous shenanigans, and maybe that’ll make less successful writers think twice about going down the same route.

2. Favourite blog

I’ve tried to spend more time offline this year, especially since September, when I deleted my accounts on Facebook and four or five other websites. If I’m online in the evenings these days I’m using Mrs Theaker’s Chromebook; the router kicks all my devices offline at 7pm. But I always make time to read my favourite blog: Peter Tennant’s Trumpetville. Regularly updated, thoughtful, as carefully-written as his reviews for Black Static, and always interesting. Most importantly, once or twice he’s said he agrees with me about things.

3. Favourite toilet read

Batman: Knightfall Volume 2: Knightquest. Not good enough to be read anywhere else, but perfect for the smallest room. Talented writers and artists doing their best to make sense of a silly new “Batman” with an appalling costume. That it (and its companion volumes) gave rise to such a brilliant film (see below) is the best possible illustration of the adage that bad books make good films.

4. Favourite decision

Deleting my Facebook account. Even if it did make loads of people think I’d blocked them! I’ve got a half-written blog post on the subject which I’ll try to finish off soon. Flagrant hit-bait!

5. Favourite television programme

No Game of Thrones for us last year – we switched to cable and don’t have Sky Atlantic. Doctor Who only had a handful of episodes, and though some were brilliant, some were a bit ropey. The Thick of It and 30 Rock were brilliant but we focus on fantasy here, so I’ll go for The Walking Dead. Andrew Lincoln’s acting in the first half of season three was the best I saw in any medium all year. We had to watch a unicorn chaser (usually Hot in Cleveland, which has also been on good form) after every episode.

6. Favourite film

I’ve mentioned on Twitter a few times how much we liked Jack and Jill – not many Hollywood films have the message that it’s okay to have self-respect even if people don’t find you attractive, and even fewer have Al Pacino dancing in a cappucino advert – but it’s not really a contender here. My favourite film of the year was The Dark Knight Rises. My expectations weren’t high after seeing lukewarm reviews, but I thought it was superb from start to finish. I loved Tom Hardy’s Jimmy Stewart / Sean Connery doing Ian McKellan as Magneto voice. My favourite of the trilogy, and I liked the others a lot too. It sets a bar for quality, commercial, big-scale film-making that I hope others will try to match.

7. Favourite music

I think my most-played albums of the year have been Air’s Le Voyage dans la Lune, Beak>’s >>, Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s Drokk, and Mogwai’s Special Moves. I listen to music a lot while I’m working, and so it’s often instrumental, more or less. I bought my first ever Kraftwerk albums this year (no idea why it took me so long), Computer Love and Autobahn. James Kochalka’s Digital Elf was my summer holiday favourite and Our Most Beloved was one of my favourite Christmas presents. Mojo CDs like Power, Corruption and Lies Revisited, Electricity: A Brief History of Future Sound and Rumours Revisited had long stints in my Panasonic 5CD Changer, as did Pet Shop Boys’ Format and New Order’s Movement Disc 2. As ever I had regular binges on The Wedding Present and Buffalo Tom, but the latest albums haven’t quite clicked yet (they will eventually, they always do). I loved Nero’s Welcome Reality for its funny noises more than its songs, but I did, I think, kind of love it in the end. Visions by Grimes had some great moments but was a bit smothered by sounding too much like other people. I liked Grand Duchy’s Petit Fours (which had been lost and never listened-to in my collection for years) for the opposite reason: the best tracks sound like a lost Pixies record. At some point “Black Suit” will be noticed by whoever picks songs for film soundtracks and become as ubiquitous as “Where Is My Mind?” Lee Ranaldo’s Between the Time and the Tides was a wonderful, committed, emotional record and if I made myself choose an album proper, that would be it. But my favourite music over the last year has been the eighteen tracks of AFX’s Analord 1 and Analord 11. I’ve listened to them daily and they are pretty much my idea of perfect music. Must buy EPs 2 to 10 sometime soon!

8. Favourite comic

My favourite comics of the last year were the American Elf digital collections by James Kochalka, and published by Top Shelf. I’ve bought these on the day of release on Comixology and often read them instantly. Superb, poetic, funny, saucy, childish, profound, and so cheap that not buying them seems almost impolite. I’ve also enjoyed Double Barrel, Dreadstar, Saga, The Walking Dead, Invincible, Incorruptible and many others. (I’m planning to look at my favourite books of the year in a separate post analysing my 2012 reading as recorded in my Goodreads spreadsheet. One for the thrillseekers, that.)

9. Favourite gadget

A hotly-contested category! The Google Nexus was my favourite for a while, but the brightness of its screen gave me headaches, and the screen ratio means there’s too much wasted space when reading books and comics. I bought Mrs Theaker a Kindle Fire for her birthday, and it’s alright, but frustratingly limited to the Amazon Apps store, which for some reason (hm!) currently lacks Comixology. My new Das Keyboard is as clicky as anticipated, but I do miss how relaxing my old wave keyboard was, even if it did take up half my desktop. I didn’t like the Kindle Paperwhite (or the Kindle Ghostlight as I call it) at all at first, but it has enough benefits over my old Kindle that I have been using it.

The Logitech Wireless Speaker Adapter for Bluetooth audio devices connects to my stereo’s aux inputs, passing on sound from bluetooth devices like the iPad, PC and phone. The Logitech Mini Boombox is a small but decent speaker with a chargeable internal battery that works wonderfully with the iPad and is perfect for the kitchen or bathroom. Both have been ace.

Our Virgin TiVo has been brilliant all year. We had a series 1 TiVo many years ago, and only stopped using it because it could only record one channel at once, and not in terribly high quality. But as far as selecting programmes to record it was better than every other PVR we’ve ever tried (Sky+, Virgin+, etc). Having a three-tuner, HD, brand new TiVo has been wonderful.

But my gadget of the year has to be an old one: my iPad. It does so much and gets better by the week. I do my proofreading (and read pdfs) in Goodreader, watch Netflix and Lovefilm, listen to MP3s, NPR and BBC radio, read in the Comixology, McSweeney’s and Kindle apps, write reviews and blog posts in Pages, record and delete TV programmes with the TiVo app, browse my photos (and access all my other desktop files) in Dropbox. At some point maybe I’ll upgrade to a newer iPad, but the one I’ve got is already fantastic.

10. Favourite job

In my daytime work I’ve been lucky to work for some excellent publishers who have paid my invoices promptly and been remarkably indulgent of my little eccentricities. But I won’t mention them here because I don’t want you getting in touch with them to offer your services. Scoundrels!

Getting my job as British Fantasy Awards administrator back was really nice. Becoming a regular reviewer for Interzone has been fab. And compiling Shelflings for the BFS. And editing Theaker’s Quarterly! I love what I do.

But of course my favourite job is always being a dad. Aww.

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