December 28, 2004

2004 Favorites

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at December 28, 2004 10:01 AM

As promised, here are my favorite media items from 2004. This is hardly a fair competition, since my media selections over the year were relatively small in number. Most of the books I read were not 2004 releases, and are therefore excluded from this list; in a nod to objectivity, I am also removing from consideration James Hime's excellent novel Scared Money. It's unfortunate that I haven't had a chance to play much of Half-Life 2 (as I have been away from my gaming computer during the vacation), and have only just started China Miéville's Iron Council, as these would certainly be contenders.

With those caveats, here's the list:

Books: The Confusion by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson is at his best when the pace is fast and the action is chaotic, and so the middle volume of the Baroque Cycle is the most fun of the three. It also helped that the focus of the book was on Jack Shaftoe, my favorite character from Quicksilver. Jack's pirate adventures (and a few memorable scenes involving his brother Bob) make it well worth suffering through digressions like Eliza explaining economics to French nobility. And while the ending may be abrupt, Stephenson wraps the series up nicely in The System of the World.

Music: Misery is a Butterfly by Blonde Redhead

The first song from this album that I heard was "Falling Man", and it seemed to reach through my ears to strike my soul like a tuning fork, ringing a melancholy resonance. As the title suggests, misery is a central theme in the album; when I'm feeling sad I can lose myself for a while in this music. Blonde Redhead has a rich and baroque sound here that is very different from their previous work; this is apparently a result of switching labels to 4AD.

Movies: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

I was expecting another Dude, Where's My Car?, but it turned out to be much funnier and smarter. Sure, it's a stoner movie, but it's also about individuality and race, and the American dream. And it's hilarious.

Games: Ninja Gaiden

This game is infamous for its difficulty, but it isn't the annoyingly cheap difficulty of its NES predecessors or the level-memorization that a game like Contra requires; it's more like a demanding teacher whose challenges, once overcome, are in hindsight highly effective lessons. Thus, I could expect to die a few times on any given boss, but after these defeats I would come back with a more graceful and polished technique, and emerge victorious. Even the minor battles look cinematic, and there's a special thrill to executing a combo that defeats four or five opponents. This was an almost perfectly balanced game with exceptionally smooth controls, and I enjoyed every minute. (But I'm still scared to play on Hard Mode.)

Discoveries: The above picks are chosen from 2004 releases, but I wanted to mention some older items that I only just discovered this year.

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (2003)

Cyberpunk noir detective novel with a brilliant premise and an appealing anti-hero. You know all this, because I've been raving about this book all year.

Angel (1999-2004)

After finally getting into Buffy the Vampire Slayer last year, I was skeptical about its spinoff; I had become thoroughly sick of the tortured, brooding dork by the end of Buffy's season 3 and wasn't particularly interested in seeing more of him. But in Angel Joss Whedon revitalizes the character with sharp writing and the right amount of self-mockery, and rounds it out with a terrific supporting cast. I'm eagerly anticipating the last DVD set (early in 2005) and lamenting the show's cancellation.

Danse Macabre by The Faint (2001)

The name says it all: dark and energetic new wave music. When work gets too frustrating, I put this on the playlist.

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville (2001)

Another one I've been raving about for a while. It's a horror novel disguised as fantasy disguised as steampunk. All genre cliches are either tossed out entirely or subtly parodied, and Miéville replaces them with a rich and imaginative world, and some very scary and bizarre monsters. This book infected my dreams; read it. (The Scar is equally good.)

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