2021 Year in Review

While in the real world 2021 had all sorts of horrible things happening, including me getting COVID, in the world of fiction it was a pretty great year.  After an entire of year of next to no new content, we were inundated with fresh movies and tv series.  On our last episode of the Sci-Fi Pubcast we went over our favorites for the year, so I thought I’d put it out here as well.

I can barely remember what I’ve read this year but I think it was mostly older titles.  I do know I finally dove back into Star Trek novels this year in the hopes of catching up.  I was about a decade behind!  The reason was this fall’s release of STAR TREK CODA, a trilogy that forever closes out the serialized continuity running in the books since DS9/VOY/TNG Movies ended.  While some books are better than others, it’s a towering achievement for tie-in fiction.  And unlike the Star Wars Extended Universe (my first love!), this franchise got a proper send-off.  I can’t wait to finally, eventually, get to it.  I’m sure it’s great.

Speaking of franchises ending, on the exact same day as the final Star Trek novel, LEVIATHAN FALLS came out.  The ninth and final chapter of The Expanse series.  I was a slow convert to loving the tv series but it eventually got me into the books.  The tv show is great but the books are even better, and just kept improving.  The closing trilogy was the best of the series, and the final book was one of those rare endings that did not disappoint.  Highly recommended!

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child released their latest Pendergast book this year, BLOODLESS.  The last several books in this series have been merely good for me, but this was a delightful return to form.  This was the best Pendergast book in years!  It finally dipped back more into the genre content the series began in, after many years of mundane real-world killers.  

It was the year of Marvel on Disney Plus and all five (!) shows were solid.  I absolutely loved LOKI.  Not only was it fun, funny, and absolutely crazy with the comic book ideas, it was also a vital piece of the larger MCU.  Never in a million years did I think the overarching villain of the next five years would be introduced in a television show!

WHAT IF? was another pleasant surprise.  I expected an animated series to be less important and not in continuity, but this series was a ton of fun, had great animation, and looks like it’s going to directly feed into future movies.

HAWKEYE was a perfectly charming street-level Marvel show and Kate Bishop was instantly great.  WANDAVISION was a great mystery box that had a lot of fun with the sitcom parodies in addition to telling a wonderful story.  FALCON WINTER SOLDIER was the most traditional series and had a few missteps, but was still a great show.

I want to give a special shout out to the latest (shortened) season of DOCTOR WHO.  Jodi Whittaker has always been a wonderful Doctor, though sadly I found her first season full of very unmemorable stories.  Her second season was a vast improvement, and this final third year was even better.  It told a single serialized story over six hours, full of plots and villains, and it was the best thing the franchise has done since the 50th anniversary movie.  I’m very sad Jodi is leaving after such a short stay, but I am very excited to see Russell T Davies returning as showrunner.  His first four years on the show remain my favorite era.
The final season of THE EXPANSE is great so far.  STAR TREK DISCOVERY and LOWER DECKS have both been great.  Even THE FLASH is doing some of the best work since the Arrowverse peaked with Crisis on Infinite Earths two years ago.

10. Matrix Resurrections.  I get what the director is going for, but everything about this movie was good but not great for me.  A far cry from my beloved original trilogy.  Yes, I even loved the sequels!

9. Raya and the Last Dragon.  Excellent Disney animated fantasy adventure film.

8. Fast Nine.  I love the Fast movies, but this one didn’t quite do it for me.  I much preferred 5 6 7 8.

7. Ghostbusters Afterlife.  I enjoyed this more than expected.  The new characters were great, the returning characters were great, and the story was a great mix of horror and comedy like the original.  Still, I’d like to see the next movie set in NYC and not a cornfield…

6. Free Guy.  Biggest surprise of the year!  This was a hilarious and delightful action/comedy!

5. Godzilla vs Kong.  I thought Godzilla 2 was a better film over all, but this was still a ton of fun.  I love the idea of a hollow earth filled with titanic monsters and want more from that, but there some parts that were just plain silly.  But we all know what you to go to see a movie like this for.

4. Black Widow.  A solidly entertaining Marvel movie.  Yelena is a wonderful new character.

3. The Suicide Squad.  James Gunn made a hilarious and bloody comic book movie full of delightful characters (so many!) and action.

2. Shang Chi.  Another big surprise.  Marvel is always solid but this one really exceed my expectations on every level.

1. Spider-Man No Way Home.  Wow!  I had high expectations and this movie exceeded them.  A success on every level, an all-timer for the MCU, and the best Spidey movie ever made.



Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

I talked about the Pendergast series last month, but these two authors have many other excellent novels.

Before Pendergast overtook their careers, they co-wrote some incredibly engrossing thrillers: RIPTIDE, THUNDERHEAD, and THE ICE LIMIT are amazing page turners I have read many, many times. Riptide is a pastisch of the Oak Island Money Pit and every single chapter pulls you in. Thunderhead is about discovering a lost Anasazi cave city out West and the mysterious killers who try to keep it secret. Ice Limit is about an expedition to retrieve a strange meteor from the Arctic Ocean.

There are two co-written series spinning off from the Pendergast series starring Gideon Crew and Nora Kelly respectively. While not as good as the main series, they are still definitely worth a read. I particularly loved THE LOST ISLAND for going full on genre for the first time in years. But the best of all is BEYOND THE ICE LIMIT, a sequel to a novel from 16 (!) years earlier I’d been dying to read.

Of Douglas Preston’s solo works, my favorites would be THE CODEX, IMPACT, and particularly BLASPHEMY. The later is about a particle accelerator test that enables the scientists to speak to an entity claiming to be God. Hi-jinks ensue. The Codex is an old fashioned adventure quest to find a lost treasure buried in South America. Impact is about mysterious meteors hitting the Earth that could wipe out humanity.

Of Lincoln Child’s solo works, my favorites are UTOPIA, DEEP STORM, and the THIRD GATE. Utopia is ‘Die Hard at Disney World’ so that hits all sorts of buttons for me. Deep Storm is an engrossing deep sea thriller about the discovery of an alien artifact at the bottom of the ocean. And Third Gate is a great thriller about discovering an ancient Egyptian tomb that is literally haunted.

My favorite stories by these two authors are invariably the ones that lean into their sci-fi/fantasy sensibilities. When it’s just a mundane killer story, I tend to lose interest, but even those are always expertly written.

Leviathan Falls

Last night I finished the ninth and final book in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey.

So many series, be it books or movies or television, have disappointing finales. There’s a very short list of good endings to long running series, and this is absolutely in there!

My introduction to The Expanse was the first season of the television series. It didn’t really hold my interest until the very last scene that introduced an alien goo taking over people. Before that it just felt like generic grim-dark sci-fi to me. That ending intrigued me enough to dig into the books… and I immediately fell in love with the story. The second season on of the tv series was of course excellent as well.

What I love about the books in particular is that in the midst of all these sci-fi events and crazy plot twists and conspiracies and battles we had a cast of very down to earth and funny characters. The books are actually pretty damn funny in between the life and death moments. And the story consistently went into unexpected places. Each book fundamentally altered the state of humanity in a major way, steadily taking us from a small little sci-fi noir/conspiracy tale to extra-dimensional dark gods from beyond trying to wipe out humanity. And the evolution was so subtle and well done it never felt out of place.

I won’t go into spoilers on how the series ends, but I found everything about it to be dramatically satisfying. The characters ended up in good places, dramatically speaking. It’s a shame the authors will never return to this franchise outside of a short story in a March collection. I’d love to see where things go from here, but they absolutely left it at the perfect stopping point.