At times, this year felt like a novel written by George R.R. Martin: shocking twists and all of your favourite characters die. However, on the whole, 2016 was a positive year for me.
I continued to write for Computer Weekly and various branches of the BBC, as well as starting to write for Alphr. Despite my primarily journalistic writing, I also finished the first draft of my novel. There is still a lot of work to do with the editing and redrafting, but having the first draft completed was an immensely satisfying experience.
As research for an article about fusion power, I was luckily enough to be invited to the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, where I got to stick my head inside a fusion reactor (the reactor was switched off at the time). One of my most fun articles to write was the cost of a bottle of water on the ISS, which was commented upon and quoted on national television by No Such Thing as the News (from 11:30-13:30).
As part of my research for my article about mechs for BBC Future, I interviewed Jordan Weisman, the creator of Battletech. However, the highlight of my year would have to be meeting George Takei and Walter Koenig at Destination Star Trek.
Despite becoming a father for the third time, I still found time to attend a few conventions. Birmingham Comic Con remains the highlight of the convention calendar, as does EdgeLit. However, the pinnacle of my year was being one of the speakers at SledgeLit, where I gave workshop about non-fiction writing. I also attended the UK Games Expo and EGX gaming conventions.
Read, Watched and Recommended.
I cannot start any review of the year without mentioning The Death House by Sarah Pinborough. Evocatively poignant, The Death House was a fantastic novel about dying and living. On a more visceral note, Alastair Reynold’s Revenger was an epic piece of high-octane space opera in a fantastically realised setting, which is not surprising given Al’s background.
I read Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb, the second novel in her third – and possibly final – trilogy featuring her most famous creations of the Fitz and the Fool. I adored the first book in Robin’s latest trilogy, which was one of the few times I ever gave a five-star review, but as much as I enjoyed Fool’s Quest, which was a lot, I found it suffered from the mid-trilogy slump, in that there was no build-up or satisfying conclusion.
I have started listening to audio books and radio-plays. Tracks was a great medical thriller, which shares much in common with Oktober by Stephen Gallagher. By the time the concluding chapter was aired, I had no idea who was behind the conspiracy, which is no mean feat in this day and age.
Whilst this year saw no comics on the scale of Locke and Key like last year, I did read the concluding volume of DMZ by Brian Wood. To say DMZ is timely is a mild understatement, as it follows a second civil war in America, but rather than focusing on the opposing sides, DMZ instead chooses to follows the people caught in the middle of the battle
Whilst Caelia and I did not get as much chance to watch as many films as we would like, we did manage to catch The Martian, which was a surprisingly credible representation of surviving on Mars. Or, as Matt Damon says, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” Interstellar, on the other hand, was overblown and flaky with the science and tries too hard to be the next 2001: A Space Odyssey (which we also saw this year).
We did, however, catch up on a lot of television this year. One of the stand-out shows for me this year was Into the Badlands. Inspired by the classic Journey to the West, this post-apocalyptic drama is set in the American deep-south, where warlords have banned the use of guns and now employ highly trained martial artists to enforce their law. The use of plantations fits well with the kung fu drama, evoking the warring states period of China. Daniel Wu is perfect as the conflicted warrior Sunny, and his kung fu training shines through. The choreography is similarly brilliant and Emily Beecham was perfectly cast as The Widow.
The Man in the High Castle was a fantastically realised show, based on a Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, where America was invaded by the Germany in World War 2. There was an incredible attention to detail helped in part by the unsettling images of iconic American landmarks draped with Swastikas, counterpointed by the sense of hope that permeated the series.
Another show I enjoyed was Constantine, based upon the Hellblazer comics, which I have been reading since the nineties (yes, I am that old). Unlike the film of the same name, the TV series was much more faithful to the comics, and one fantastic episode (The Devil’s Vinyl) had John Constantine defeating the devil’s music by using the Sex Pistols.
I have been enjoying the various iterations of the Metal Gear Solid games for twenty years and it was my favourite game whilst at university. Naturally, I had been looking forward to playing Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, after playing its prologue Ground Zeroes last year. Kiefer Sutherland was perfectly cast as Snake (sadly no “DAMMIT!”) and the game was an engrossing tale about cold-war espionage whilst exploring post-traumatic stress of soldiers.
However, Life is Strange was one of my favourite games of this year. Rather than relying on adrenaline-fuelled action, Life is Strange was a fantastic tale of self-discovery during those formative days at university and shared much in common with the classic adventure games of the nineties. After running around all day, it was great to sit and unwind without having to rely upon quick reactions.
Finally, I cannot round off my recommendations without mentioning the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, who played a storming gig at Nottingham Rock City as part of their tour celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their debut release, Come Find Yourself. For a band with such a laid-back reputation, they are fantastic to see live.
Life, the Universe and Something.
The big news for Caelia and I was the birth of our third child, Rick, born two days before the tenth anniversary of when we first met. With the maternity leave, this meant that Caelia and I spent much more time together as a family.
We saw the New Year in at Centreparcs, courtesy of a fortieth birthday present from my parents. I was never a huge fan of holiday parks, but, once we had children, we discovered Centreparcs was great. The health spa with a dozen different saunas is sheer bliss.
Rather than our usual holiday in Wales, we instead stayed in a small cottage in Blakeney on the Norfolk coast; a fantastic place to visit and one we will be going to again, if only so I can reach the lookout house this time, after my attempt this year ended in a marsh).
I took Ada LARPing once again at the Lorien Trust events, with Michael joining us this time. It took little encouragement, mostly for the opportunity to chase after daddy and hit me with rubber swords.
Now that I work from home, I have started cycling regularly, something which I used to do a lot when I was growing up in the north east (an area not famed for its public transport). After servicing a mountain bike I was given when a friend emigrated to New Zealand, I have enjoyed regular cycle rides over to the next village.
Whilst not all of the events I attend are suitable for children (my little girl is a bit of a wuss), the UK Games Expo is a fantastic event for children. Held in early June, shortly after my daughter’s birthday, it was where she decided to spend her birthday money on her first proper board game, Dixit, a game designed for all the family to play as adults have no advantage over children when playing it.
Back to the Future
I already have articles lined up with Computer Weekly for the new year, but the first few months of 2017 will mostly be spent editing, proofing and redrafting my novel.
I continue to receive interest about my novel, and I have already promised one agent that it will be finished by Spring 2017. So, if I am to have any credibility as a writer, I should – finally – put my money where my mouth is.