Hey look, another “look back on 2014” blog post! Instead of doing just books or just movies or whatever, I decided to highlight a bunch of new sci-fi that rocked my world in 2014. DISCLAIMER: this is not a comprehensive list, and I’m sure I left a few things out – feel free to add anything I missed in the comments!
Saga: technically, this has been around since 2012, but volumes 3 and 4 were released in 2014, so I’m including it in my list. Like a cross between Romeo and Juliet and Star Wars, with a heavy dose of “rated M for Mature” thrown in. It’s absolutely amazing. Image has a number of interesting sci-fi comics right now, but you kind of have to start with Saga. Other Image sci-fi comics I’m enjoying: Roche Limit, The Fuse, and ODY-C.
The Fire and Stone series from Dark Horse Comics is the latest round of Alien vs Predator with the engineers from Prometheus thrown into the mix. It’s four sets of four stories that fit in between the films, where the end of each leads into the next, so it’s really like sixteen episodes all together. I love that even though it’s a known franchise, the writers created all new characters for this original storyline, and gave them some real depth. Dark Horse also did another short series called Deep Gravity that’s worth a look if you need an Alien-esque sci-fi fix.
And as a bonus, since I live in Portland where Darkhorse is based, there was a special screening of Alien at the Hollywood Theater that kicked off with a Q&A session with a panel of the writers and artists that worked on the series. The only thing that could have made a better night would be if the Hollywood served beer. Oh wait, they do… that night was awesome!
Since I’m talking about movies (see how I did that?), let’s move on to sci-fi films released 2014. Kind of a slow year for sci-fi films compared to the last couple of years (and already 2015 is going to have a number of juicy releases). I’m not going to list the superhero films (as fun as they are; and I know someone will say “Where’s GotG?”) but instead highlight two original content films.
Snowpiercer: The entire film takes place on a train that is continuously circling the Earth ever since a man-made snowpocalypse (trying to combat global warming) made the world inhospitable to all life. Heavy with allegory, violence, and just downright disturbing concepts and imagery, Snowpiercer is dark and beautiful and deep.
Interstellar: More people know about this one of course, and though the reviews are mostly positive, there are some downs to this movie: in particular the blustery insanely-loud score and the over-the-top mushy emotions. And let’s not forget the real science nerds who will find flaws in any sci-fi movie (the ones who forget “fi” is for “fiction”). Aside from those things, I think this is a great straight up science fiction film – as in, it’s not one of those action films that happens to have a sci-fi setting. It actually tries to get some modern science about time and space and gravity in there and at the same time manages to tell a quality story with good characters.
The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer: All three of these books came out in 2014, starting with Annihilation. Collectively it’s one continuous story, but it’s amazing how different each book is. The first is an almost Lovecraftian expedition story, creepy and at times very much a mindfuck. The second has an entirely different protagonist than the first and reads like a spy novel, with infinite microgames of power struggle and deception. The third spans multiple timelines across multiple characters to tie many of the questions together. Like all Great science fiction, not all questions are answered, but just enough to leave your mind spinning for weeks afterward.
Aside: if you are a writer I highly recommend Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook.
The God Hunter by Tim Lees: A couple of paranormal field ops trap a budding deity’s essence Ghostbuster-style, but things don’t go quite 100% and the consequences surface years later. The premise of this book is what drew me in, but the characters are why I recommend it: they are very real, very down-to-earth, and it’s easy to get drawn into the story with them.
The Peripheral: William Gibson is back, and he’s brought his love for virtual worlds and gadgetry back with him. On top of that, he’s brought some newer sci-fi concepts to the table that will both disturb and mindfuck, as well as some deep characters, most of whom are simultaneously hateable and endearing. The storyline is a little confusing at first, and then about 80 pages in it dips into one of those “oh, damn, what, really? dude…” moments where you know you’re hooked. I got to attend a reading with Mr. Gibson and he may have infected me with some really cool ideas.
Alien: Isolation: Holy crap, I think I just went five paragraphs without talking about Alien. It almost killed me! Anyway, if you’re any kind of gamer you’ve probably already heard of this one, but here’s the gist: it’s a first person survival game, which means using stealth and cunning more than weapons. You play Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley, who has been missing for 15 years (see the movie Alien). You and some other Weyland-Yutani employees are sent to Sevastopol Station, where the flight recorder of the USCSS Nostromo (the ship from Alien, the film) has been found. There are so many good gameplay elements around stealth tactics and crafting, but my favorite aspect of the game is the visual design: any fans of the sets in Alien and Aliens will just go to pieces, with the bubbly, green CRT monitors, angular furniture and consoles, and clunky, chunky handheld equipment. Also, you will probably poop your pants from fear. Seriously, I have to play in small doses because it makes my chest hurt.
I had been long waiting for Civilization: Beyond Earth, because I really loved Civ 5, but on release, some of the reviews made me a little skeptical. However, the reviews of a similar game called Endless Legend turned my head (in fact, Rock, Paper, Shotgun named it the Best PC Game of 2014). Developer Amplitude Studios has impressed me in the past, but this game is a whole new level. If you’re into the 4X thing (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate), it’s a must-play. It takes all the 4X standards and twists some of them just right so that it will make you fall in love with the genre all over again (by the same token, expect a slight learning curve). And the UI, wow – such eye candy.
Shadowrun Crossfire is a card game, kind of a deck-building game. If you’re not familiar with the Shadowrun franchise, it’s old-school cyberpunk mixed with fantasy. Yes, that’s right, you can be a Troll Hacker. Crossfire is for 1-4 players to play cooperatively, and has a cool persistent character element which means every time you do a “run”, you’ll end up with a couple of points. Get enough points and you get to add perks to your character. Get enough perks and take on harder missions. Be prepared for a fight, because the game hits hard.
Finally: I can’t stop thinking about Lifeless Planet. Seriously. Third-person sci-fi exploration kind of game, which means no guns, just you on a dead planet trying to figure out what the heck happened. It’s linear enough that you don’t feel lost in the game, which allows the story to unfold at a slow but steady pace. The story is great, and will stick with me, but of course most of the game is gorgeous visuals and sound. There are a few tricky puzzles and you can (and will) die, but checkpoints are frequent so death is never that frustrating. If you can stand to put down the guns for a few hours and immerse yourself on a mysterious alien planet, Lifeless Planet is well worth the $20 price tag.