Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015: My Most

Some surprising entries show up in my recap list this year: authors who provided a superlative disappointment or a transcendental joy, movies that thrilled unexpectedly (or unexpectedly fell flat), things that broke down or performed wonderfully, crowd-funded projects that swept me to triumph or left me asking "is that all there is?"

In no particular order, here for 2015 are my most:

Disappointing New Novel

Fish Tales by Sheri S. Tepper: Astounding as it may seem to those who follow this blog, Tepper makes my #1 negative rating this year. The book came out in 2014, but I didn't read it until early this year. My initial reaction was, it's just as well that Tepper is putting down her pen, if this is all that's left. Gone was the elegant language, the sense of story, and the brilliantly-compelling, though oddball, characters. If it had been anyone but Tepper, I would have put the book down long before halfway through, and never come back.

In second place is a culturally-inaccessible debut from Nina Nenova, The Capital of Latecomers, translated from Bulgarian, but not rendered in Western thought-modes. It reminded me of a former entry in a most-disappointing list, the 1990 movie Jacob's Ladder

Neal Stephenson might have made it to this bottom of the list award with Seveneves as well, except that I've had disappointments from Stephenson before that turned into "wow!" reactions upon re-reading. I'm willing to give it another go, but that'll be an assessment for another year.

Enticing Debut Novel

Then Comes a Wind by R.J. Stewart: I reviewed this novel after reading it for the second time; the first was as a beta reader. 

Among other things, I said of the novel: "If I had encountered Stewart's blizzard at the same age as I did [Laura Ingalls] Wilder's, I might not have been so fearful of one, principally because neither Will nor his women are frightened by the storm. Storms are just what happen on the prairie, and the Suttons' approach to life is to cope with what happens. There are darker turns to this story, though, that make it inappropriate for very young readers."

Close second to this is Novel Concept by Dan Fiorella. (While this is not his debut novel, he counts for the purposes of this list, because he is new to me as a writer, and I found the book on the Kindle Scout list.)

I reviewed it with a solid thumbs-up, recommending it for anyone who loves the humor and wit of Max Shulman, Christopher Moore, or Dave Barry.

Delicious Re-Read

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis: I first read this novel in the 90s when it came out in paperback, after devouring The Doomsday Book by the same author a few years earlier. I reviewed it for Blogcritics in 2005 after a third re-read, and again recently after re-reading it on Kindle.

Each time, I have been rewarded with new insights. Most recently, it was the critical role played by computer modeling (and the poor decisions those models foster), which led the novel's main character Ned Henry to the realization that "that's the problem with models—they only include the details people think are relevant..."

As with Tepper, I have rarely run across a novel by Willis that I did not enjoy reading. If time-travel isn't your thing, try the delightful Bellwether, which asks (and answers) the question: Where do annoying trends and cultural memes come from?

Second place in this list is Neal Stephenson's brilliant Anathem, which I reviewed this year after re-reading the Kindle version.

Deflated Expectation on the Screen

Mockingjay Part 1: Maybe the disappointment was similar to having The Hobbit broken into a movie trilogy; the novel by Suzanne Collins was not that much longer than the first two in the trilogy, but by dint of expanding the action scenes and dialog, the film made a two-release meal of it.

One result of splitting the tale into two films was making an interim minor climax into a major cliffhanger, so that Part I could end on a teasing question. This reduced the impact of the character arcs that made Mockingjay (the novel) such a powerful read. Other, more trivial, problems introduced in the expansion paled before that disappointment.

Difficult to Choose the Best

I have a section of my movie collectiona fairly large shelf, in factreserved for sports movies starring Kevin Costner. 2015 saw two more titles added to that list: Draft Day and McFarland USA.

Draft Day was reviewed in this blog last May, when I said of it that Costner "makes us see the son devastated by the need to fire his own father, the child grieving for a hero-parent, the man uncertain how to respond to impending fatherhood in his own right, all while trying to deal with the intense pressure to perform brilliantly for his team." 

In July, I happened to catch McFarland USA, another Costner sports outing in which the actor represents a conflicted man in a situation that calls for leading a team to self-discovery, effort, and eventually, glory. This is his forte, and Costner shines again as a track coach leading a group of mostly-Latino runners to victory.

One of the best scenes in McFarland USA comes over the closing credits as runners from that first teamthe real guysset out for a training run with the real coach Jim White, with notes about their lives after their track victories. It is impressive how many of these boys who might have left school before graduation, instead went on to college. They then became servicemen, policemen, and managers of businesses.

And they still go on training runs with their coach.

Triumphant Crowd-Funding

My spouse and I got in early on one of the "most" Kickstarter projects of all time this year: Exploding Kittens. This crowd-funded game racked up an impressive list of superlatives in its 30 days as a project: Completely funded in the first 24 hours, it ended the month 10,000% funded, with the highest number of backers ever (over 200,000), and nearly $9 million in pledges. 

It became, first the most-backed game ever, then the most-backed project ever. Eventually, it would even spawn imitations on Kickstarter.

The company stretched, and stretched again, finally delivering us a game box with a magnet closure that meows when opened, with sufficient space for both the standard family-friendly game and a full NSFW deck. The first time we played it, we were delighted, and two other players in the game were inspired to buy their own decks!

Regift-Suitable Project Backed 

On the other hand, a truly "meh" result came from the Kickstarter project for Crop Circle Towels. This could have been an awe-inspiring product, but it fell a little short thanks to the skimpy dimensions of the Bath Sheet, the shallow pile, and the slightly less than color-fast nature of the green dye used on them. I am surprised the product made it to Amazon! 

Bath sheets are usually 35 inches by 60 inchesI notice the largest size Crop Circle towel is no longer labelled "bath sheet" on Amazon, though.

I hope my nephews like their Christmas presents!

Ready-for-the-Bin Hardware

Our sturdy portable 3D printer, the Bukito from Deezmaker, which gave us so much pleasure producing knick-knacks and trinkets at Chick-fil-A over the last 20 months, finally bit the dust this fall. 

Obsolete technologythings move so fast in an emerging art!and cumulative wear-and-tear made the prospect of repairing it more expensive than simply replacing it with something more up-to-date. We will probably look at a Delta printer, simply to be exploring a different mode of printing.

Life-Enriching Hardware

Our Kindle Paperwhites continue to perform beautifully, especially with auto-updates, and with Amazon Prime First freebies and Kindle Scout additions. My spouse got a new-version Paperwhite as a belated birthday present, and reports the 300-pixel screen is easier and more enjoyable to read. 

I count my Kindle as, not just this year's, but this decade's, most useful lifestyle change.