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The Naming of the Books: 2014

Every year, I keep a list of the books I’ve read between January 1st and December 31st. Mostly it’s for my own reference, but I know some people enjoy talking about books so I post it every year, too. The list does not include magazines, short stories, or individual comic-book issues — and with my good friend Genevieve Valentine writing Catwoman, I read more individual comic-book issues this year than I normally do! — but it does include things like chapbooks and graphic novels/trade comic-book collections. So, without further ado, here is the list of books I read in 2014, in the order I read them:

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft Joe Hill
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910 Alan Moore
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969 Alan Moore
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009 Alan Moore
1966: Untitled Bruce Lee/Phil Dick Project Robert N. Lee
Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty Ed Brubaker & Greg Rucka
Locke & Key: Head Games Joe Hill
Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows Joe Hill
The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee Sarah Silverman
Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom Joe Hill
Locke & Key: Clockworks Joe Hill
The Mocking Dead Fred Van Lente
Lucifer: Devil in the Gateway Mike Carey
Lucifer: Children and Monsters Mike Carey
Lucifer: A Dalliance with the Damned Mike Carey
Lucifer: The Divine Comedy Mike Carey
Lucifer: Inferno Mike Carey
Lucifer: Mansions of the Silence Mike Carey
Lucifer: Exodus Mike Carey
Lucifer: The Wolf Beneath the Tree Mike Carey
Lucifer: Crux Mike Carey
Lucifer: Morningstar Mike Carey
Lucifer: Evensong Mike Carey
Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega Joe Hill
Marvels Kurt Busiek
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Mark Haddon
Beneath the Surface Simon Strantzas
Goldenland Past Dark Chandler Klang Smith
The Ruins Scott Smith
Bullettime Nick Mamatas
Chimera David Wellington
Minotaur David Wellington
Myrmidon David Wellington
Outside the Dog Museum Jonathan Carroll
Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye Paul Tremblay
A Handbook of American Prayer Lucius Shepard
Snowblind Christopher Golden
Burning Girls Veronica Schanoes
Quiet Bullets Christopher Golden and Frank Cho
Gone Girl Gillian Flynn
Torn Lee Thomas
Crisis Lee Thomas
The Light Is the Darkness Laird Barron
The Troupe Robert Jackson Bennett
The God Engines John Scalzi
Horns Joe Hill
The Witches of Echo Park Amber Benson
Consumed David Cronenberg
Dare Me Megan Abbott
Dream Houses Genevieve Valentine

Normally, I aim to read 30 books a year, since that was my average for so long, but this year I managed to read 50. Of course, I read quite a few graphic novels at the start of the year and that always bumps the total up, since they don’t take as long to get through. I would be hard pressed to choose favorites this year — pretty much everything I read was strong — but Gone Girl and Dare Me were definite standouts.

One thing I notice in looking over this list is a dearth of short story collections. There’s only one: Strantzas’s Beneath the Surface. I guess this year had me more in the mood for novels than anything else. I hope to remedy this with more collections next year.

That’s it for 2014, folks! I hope you and yours have a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015 filled with lots of great books!

Doctor Who: “Last Christmas”

** Some spoilers follow**

After what I thought was a weak close to season 8, and compounded with what I thought was the wrong focus for the season (too much Clara and Danny at the expense of getting to know the new Doctor), I was trepidatious about this year’s Christmas special. But season 8 also had generally stronger writing and ideas than the last few seasons, so there was a small part of me that was hopeful, too.

The hopeful part won out, because I thought “Last Christmas” was a lot of fun. Yes, its premise was a hodgepodge of borrowed ideas — AlienThe Thing from Another WorldSanta Claus Conquers the Martians, the 2010 Eleventh Doctor episode “Amy’s Choice” — but I enjoyed what Steven Moffat, who wrote this episode, did with that source material. (Having Shona wake up to a to-watch list of movies — as well as “Thrones marathon,” which had me laughing — which makes these references overt actually works for the episode, not against it. It’s a very self-aware story.)

Moffat’s strength as a writer has always lied in little character moments and humor, and in “Last Christmas” we get a lot of both. The Doctor taking offense that there’s a horror movie called Alien is one of the best jokes of the episode, and pretty much everything Faye Marsay’s Shona did was great. I would welcome this character’s return to the show any time. If she became a companion, I would be very happy with that.

Moffat’s weakness as a writer, however, has always been plot logic, and “Last Christmas” suffers from that, too. Once it’s revealed the Arctic base is also a dream, the logic starts to unravel pretty fast. If the science team didn’t discover the dream crabs in a subterranean Arctic cave, then where did the crabs come from? How did they find each of these individual people? The Doctor didn’t even appear to be on Earth when he woke up from his dream-crab dreams (it looked like they were reusing the set of the volcano planet from “Dark Water”!), so how did the dream crabs get to him? The Doctor explains that he and Clara shared the dream because of their connection and that everyone else was “collateral damage,” but that doesn’t make sense. The ingredients of the dream — the Arctic setting, Santa Claus, etc. — are clearly on Shona’s mind from her list of Christmas movies, not the Doctor’s, so how did they all come together? Why, when they got too close to the people in the infirmary, did the dream crabs on their faces start to open up, as if to show them who was underneath? If that’s a defense mechanism, it doesn’t seem like an effective one. And most of all, why would the dream crabs give them dreams of being in a base under siege from the crabs themselves instead of happy dreams like Clara’s brief one with Danny, where everyone would be much more docile and easily digested? (One possible answer for this is the Doctor’s mind being mixed with everyone else’s. He’s more analytical and more used to being in bases under siege, so he unconsciously helped create the scenario. That’s just a guess, though. It’s not mentioned or suggested in the script.)

Unfortunately, Moffat’s usual ageism creeps into the story, too. After the final dream, in which Clara is an old woman, she wakes up again and immediately asks the Doctor, “Am I young?” Not “How old am I?” or  even just “Hand me a mirror.” No, it’s “Am I young?” followed by a deep sigh of relief when she sees she is. It makes Clara come across as extremely shallow. Moffat also relies on his “don’t” monster idea again. We’ve had don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t look at it, and now we have don’t think about them. (Although, to be fair, we kind of had that already in “Time Heist,” too.) I would be happy to see him get rid of both these tropes for good.

But mostly I liked “Last Christmas,” and the biggest reason why is that it let the Doctor be the Doctor. One of my main complaints about season 8 is that after a very strong first half, it A) started relegating the Doctor to the background of many of the episodes, and B) lost track of who the Doctor was, to the point where he was acting like a different person from episode the episode. “Last Christmas” lets him be the Doctor again: smart, funny, methodical, and a bit persnickety. Gone is the manic lunatic of “The Caretaker” and the unnecessarily manipulative asshole of “Kill the Moon.” Gone and good riddance, say I! Letting the Doctor be the Doctor again is the smartest thing Moffat could have done with this episode. It gets me excited about season 9 after “Dark Water”/”Death in Heaven” made me wonder if I should just stop watching Doctor Who altogether.

But the bulk of the strength of “Last Christmas” is thanks to Peter Capaldi. He is exceptional as the Doctor, and when the scripts actually let him be the Doctor he shines. I’m less excited about Clara staying on as the companion, but now that she and the Doctor have finally been honest with each other about Danny and Gallifrey, respectively, I like their rapport again. (The whole lying-to-each-other thing never should have happened in the first place. It felt incredibly forced.) Maybe next season will allow them to actually be Doctor and companion instead of Doctor and occasional travel buddy. (And maybe next year they can actually start looking for Gallifrey. Wasn’t that what he was going to do ever since the end of “The Day of the Doctor”? Come on, already, let’s do that!)

“Last Christmas” isn’t without its flaws, but it’s lightyears ahead of last year’s craptastic Christmas special “The Time of the Doctor.” Mostly, it leaves me eager to see where Doctor Who goes next season, which I didn’t think I would be.

The Holiday Haul

Hanukkah and Christmas brought me many fine presents this year, including these t-shirts from Alexa, a bottle of Grey Goose vodka from my brother and almost-sister-in-law, an amusing, antique grammar guide from 1922 called S.O.S. Slips Of Speech and How to Avoid Them from my sister-in-law, and many more. Among those many more were a hefty sum in Amazon gift certificates. Here’s what I spent them on:

Aickman Faber The four Robert Aickman collections recently released by Faber & Faber. Aickman’s “strange stories” have been recommended to me many times over the years by readers whose taste I trust, but it wasn’t until I attended a panel about him at this year’s World Fantasy Convention in Washington, DC that I finally decided to take the plunge.

Eiji Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman, Godzilla, and Friends in the Golden Age of Japanese Science Fiction Film by August Ragone. Because this is basically everything I loved as a child in one book filled with gorgeous photographs.

E-Space Doctor Who: The E-Space Trilogy. Season 18 of the classic series got off to a rather tepid start with serials like “The Leisure Hive” and “Meglos,” but then it rocketed into the stratosphere with three of the best serials of the Tom Baker era: “Full Circle,” “State of Decay,” and “Warriors’ Gate,” commonly known as the E-Space Trilogy. In my view, each of them is a masterpiece.

Horror of Dracula The Horror of Dracula. Christopher Lee. Peter Cushing. Hammer Studios. The launch of the greatest Dracula franchise of all time. ‘Nuff said.

KIng Kong King Kong. One of my all-time favorite movies, now on Blu-ray. It comes with a book of production photos and commentary by Ray Harryhausen, Ken Rolston, Fay Wray, and Merian C. Cooper. This was a no-brainer.

White Zombie White Zombie. One of my favorite Lugosi films, now on Blu-ray. With Kino, you always know you’re getting a high quality digital remastering and some fine special features. This one comes with a rare Lugosi interview.

Videodrome David Cronenberg’s masterpiece, Videodrome, on Criterion Blu-ray. Like Kino, Criterion usually does a bang-up job with their releases. This one comes packed with special features, including commentary by James Woods and Deborah Harry, but mostly I’m interested in watching it with a clearer picture and better sound than my old VHS tape offered.

Maltese Falcon The Maltese Falcon on Blu-ray. In many ways, it was this movie — not a horror film, as you might expect — that was the defining movie of my life. To me, it’s perfect from start to finish, and in the world of film noir it’s unmatched, except maybe — maybe! — by Double Indemnity. This one’s got lots of special features too, including, of all things, a blooper reel!

Now comes the hard part: finding time to read and watch them all!

Twitter Is Magic

First Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Chelsea Peretti favorites one of my tweets, and then this happens:

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 4.56.02 PM

Robert Aickman died in 1981. Retweeted from beyond the grave!