Part 3 of my recommendations of great SF from 2009 – fantasy & scifi on the screen, including film, television, and other miscellaneous forms of dramatized entertainment. (Just wait until you see the miscellaneous.) These are the works that I’ve nominated for the Bradbury Award (basically, the Nebula Award for Dramatic Presentation – technically not a Nebula, but it’s pretty Nebula-like since it’s nominated on voted on by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). Some of my recommendations pretty much follow the mainstream, others less so:
Up: One of my favorite Pixar movies to date, write up there with Wall-E and The Incredibles. So many things I loved about this. The fact that a cranky old guy is the hero (not just a colorful supporting character). The fact that many laws of physics are defied but no one cares because it’s awesome. (E.g., I’m no expert, but you probably can’t walk around pulling along a house held aloft by hundreds of balloons as if it were a giant balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.) And the fact that the metaphorical, character, and plot arcs all come together so beautifully.
Doctor Who – “The Waters of Mars”: I’m a recent convert to Doctor Who and this special was one of the strongest from the show. I love that they’re pushing David Tennant’s Doctor to such challenging new places before he takes his final bow. And, as they’ve done in many Doctor Who episodes, they’ve taken something ordinary – water – and made it disturbingly horrific.
Pontypool: This independent film is sort of a sophisticated zombie apocalypse story. The premise is that you are infected with insanity not by a blood or saliva, but by the English language itself – certain words carry the virus. Wonderfully original surreal science fiction horror. If you can find a way to see it, then do so.
District 9: Despite some drawbacks, this was one of the most sophisticated and thought-provoking pure science fiction movies to come out in a while. Broke a lot of new ground for SF on screen.
Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” Music Video: Yes, Lady Gaga. This is a ground-breaking pop music video akin to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and like “Thriller” it is firmly rooted in the SF genre, drawing on traditions of horror, science fiction, and surrealism. In five minutes Lady Gaga makes a stonger artistic statement than James Cameron does in 162 minutes of Avatar. I know I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, so I may need to write an entire post on this one…
So those are my personal top five dramatic presentations in SF from 2009. The new Star Trek movie was also entertaining, but not much more than that – and I do hope for more than just entertaining when it comes to Trek. Despite my swipe at Avatar, I found that entertaining too, and I was very happy any time I was watching luminescent alien landscapes in 3D. But the story and characters were just not interesting enough to put it in my personal top five. This year’s Harry Potter movie was my favorite to date and probably would have made my top five if there weren’t such other good contenders this year.
I also am waiting to catch up on Season 4 of Doctor Who before watching David Tennant’s final appearance, otherwise that one might have made it too. Similar note for Torchwood: Children of Earth and Moon – heard they’re both excellent but haven’t seen them yet. And, lastly, oh how I wish the last episode of Battlestar Galactica had been even worth considering for a nomination, because it was a really awesome show up until that disappointment…
Still to come: recommended books, and possibly a note on why we should enthusiastically embrace Lady Gaga as a member of the science fiction community.
Continuing with my recommendations of high-quality speculative fiction from 2009, here’s my personal list of recommended novelettes. As with the short stories, my reading hasn’t been anywhere near comprehensive, but these are long-short-stories I read this year that have really stuck with me:
“The Gambler,” by Paolo Bacigalupi, Fast Forward 2. Interesting near-future tale about a reporter trying to cover stories of extinct butterflies in a new media world that’s only concerned with the dating life of the latest pop culture icon. Definitely a near-near-future story, but Bacigalupi’s characters and prose make this one a keeper.
“I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said,” Richard Bowes, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. A queer (in both senses of the word) and haunting Phillip K. Dickish tale that blurs the line between speculative fiction and autobiography.
“The Score,” by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Interfictions 2. Highly original story of a rock star/peace activist, whose death leaves behind a complicated legacy for his friends and allies. Not to mention the intermittent cameos his ghost keeps making. Told in the entertaining form of blogs, emails, instant messages, and transcipts.
“A Wild and Wicked Youth,” by Ellen Kushner, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. High fantasy tale of swordsmanship and youthful friendship against the backdrop of a richly detailed and convincing feudalistic world with a rigid class structure.
“Eros, Philia, Agape,” by Rachel Swirsky, Tor.com. This story provides all the joys of a classic Isaac Asimov robot story, but updated for the 21st century with wonderfully sophisticated characterization, prose, and social insight on the complexities of possession, love, and individuality.
It’s that time of year whenst folks are reflecting back on 2009 and thinking about nominations for awards and the like. Thus year, for the first time I’m actually participating in Nebula and Hugo award nominations, a task I am leaping into with both gleeful abandon and a deep weight of responsibility. These are some of my favorite SF short stories from last year:
“Superhero Girl,” by Jessica Lee, Fantasy Magazine. An original twist on the superhero story, masterfully woven with ambiguity. This is Lee’s first published story, and it’s an impressive debut. Audio version also available at Podcastle.
“Clockwork, Patchwork, and Ravens,” by Peter M. Ball, Apex Magazine. Wonderful steampunk tale with a memorable clockwork narrator. Not surprisingly, Peter recently picked up an Aurealis award for this one, one of several strong pieces from him this year. (BTW, for those keeping track, this one clocks in at just under 7,500 words, just missing the novelette category.)
“Interviews After the Revolution,” by Brian Francis Slattery, Interfictions 2. An elite international circuit party in the midst of revolution and music in Latin America, told in the form of a documentary. Everything Brian Francis Slattery writes seems to be brilliant.
“Reservations,” by Christopher Green, Expanded Horizons. Lovely magic realism story. Chris had a bunch of great pieces this year but this is the one that most sticks with me.
“The Film-makers of Mars,” by Geoff Ryman, Tor.com. This brilliant story only served to fan the flames of my secret crush on Geoff Ryman. Did I say that out loud?
For short-shorts, I highly recommend The Daily Cabal, which has a steady output of quality short-shorts from Dan Braum, Jason Fischer, Angela Slatter, Jeremiah Tolbert, and others. One of my favorites this year was Fischer’s “Inventory,” a story in the form of a classic 80s adventure game. GO READ.
Interesting that my list has a fair bit of overlap with Rachel Swirsky’s recent recs, which more than anything probably reflects that we have similar tastes.
Many great stories came out this year, and these are just a few of the ones that have really stuck with me. – not at all exhaustive, especially considering there’s tons of great stuff out there I haven’t even read!
Coming soon: novelette, novella, and book recommendations, plus my controversial recommendations for the year’s best SF on-screen.