2020: Well, this sucked…

2020: Well, this sucked…

There is a scene in Madagascar that sums up my thoughts on 2020.  A commando-esque waddle of penguins have escaped their crate and taken over a cargo ship, before finally returning to Antarctica.  The penguins gaze upon the snow-swept landscape of their native home for the first time, before turning to each other with “Well, this sucks…”

I had high hopes for 2020.  It is the year in which one of my favourite games, Cyberpunk 2020, is set.  Its video games adaptation, Cyberpunk 2077, which I had been covering since its announcement in 2013 and the subject of my first commission, was also released this year.

The year started so well, too.  New Year’s Day witnessed my first article for Dicebreaker being published.  This was a lot of fun to write, as it combined technology and gaming, and was about Cyberpunk 2020.  This was followed by an article interviewing Mike Pondsmith, the creator of Cyberpunk 2020.

I continued to write for the BBC and Computer Weekly.  Some of my most popular articles from the year include The quest to make a global vaccine in twelve months and The UK’s quest for affordable fusion by 2040 for the BBC, as well as Two-factor authentication is broken for Computer Weekly.

All was going well until March came along, and then everything changed.

Within the space of a week, all events were cancelled and my children were sent home from school.  Caelia has worked from home ever since.  As such, I was responsible for home schooling my kiddies whilst Caelia was working in our attic bedroom.  I managed to squeeze in my work when they went out for their daily walks (whatever the weather).

At the start of the year, I had been invited to take part in a live journalism project called News on Stage. Due to Covid-19, this became an online performance over Zoom.  I had an absolute blast presenting my talk, called ‘The dice finds a way’, about the psychological benefits of roleplaying games.

Geek Pride restarted the weekly podcast and I have become one of the regular co-hosts alongside Matt (Geek Pride’s founder).  In the past few months, we have started inviting special guests onto the podcast, such as the authors Ben Aaronovitch, Dana Fredsti, Gav Thorpe and K T Davies.

I was also a guest on the Two D Ten podcast.  I had been listening to the host, Nathan, for many years, and it was great to chat with him about gaming and life in lockdown.

Life the universe and something

After rattling around Derbyshire on a ten-year old bike a friend had given me before she emigrated, I finally bought myself a new bike.  My only regret is that I did not do this sooner.  My old bike was, it would be fair to say, long past its best, as the gears were failing and the seat was falling apart.  My new bike, a Specialized Rockhopper, is much better and I can now actually cycle uphill without stopping.

Caelia and I celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary by exploring the Derbyshire’s industrial heritage at Lumsdale Valley. I am sucker for exploring old buildings, and this was a wonderful day out for us both.  It would also be the last time that we would have a day out together this year, as lockdown came into force a few days later.

It would be fair to say that lockdown had a huge impact on everyone’s lives.  In our family we all worked from home for the rest of the year, holidays were cancelled and birthdays parties were missed.

Home schooling my kiddies was an interesting experience.  Admittedly, I took an unconventional approach.  I showed them Sneakers as background for computing science, whilst Caelia demonstrated how to service the car.  However, my kiddies were reluctant for me to teach them citizenship for some reason!

Lockdown was not all bad though.  It was great that we spent more time together as family.  We held board game nights with the kiddies and I introduced my family to D&D, which we now play every other week.  I also took advantage of the quiet roads, during the first lockdown, to teach my children how to cycle safely on the roads.

Finally, I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Jeremy Bulloch. My family and I first met Jeremy at the National Space Centre in 2009.  We chatted about Star Wars for a few minutes, until he spotted our daughter. He tickled her toes and played with her – for ages.  Eventually, after half an hour, we carefully asked the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy “Excuse me Mr Boba Fett sir, but can we have our baby back?  Please?”  We still have the Boba Fett poster that Jeremy signed to our daughter, which has pride of place on her bedroom wall.

Meeting Jeremy Bulloch at the National Space Centre in 2009.

Read, watched and recommended

The year opened with me seeing Doctor and the Medics in Derby. The venue may have been small and the sound quality dire, but for sheer entertainment value and audience engagement they were fantastic.  It was the only gig I saw this year.

I used the lockdown to catch up on films I had missed.  After everyone and their dog recommended it, I finally watched John Wick, which had amazing action sequences.  Likewise, Logan had a great story and excellent world building, whilst Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s animation style wonderfully conveyed the sense of motion.

I have been enjoying The Purge films, as they are a rare combination of political commentary and horror.  The First Purge took this to the next level, as it felt more like a contemporary documentary than a film.

Caelia and I watched Upload together, a genuinely funny series about the meaning of life and death in a world where personalities can be digitally recorded, and life extended virtually.  There were a few plot leaps between episodes and there was a distinct shift in tone in the final episode.  That said, it was brilliantly cast, with Zainab Johnson fantastic as the exuberant Aleesha. I hope we will see more of her in the future.

As Caelia is a complete Trekkie, we also watched Star Trek: Picard together.  I had a couple of issues with the story, mostly surrounding the handing of Dr Jurati, but the series worked well overall.  Patrick Stewart was great as always, but it was Michelle Hurd as Raffi who blew me away.

I had been wanting to watch WestWorld for some time.  The first season was an excellent story to dive into and had me gripped until the end.  The second season struggled to match the brilliance of the first, but still kept us intrigued and looking forward to the next episode.

Tales from the Loop was another series we enjoyed together.  It had a distinctly slower pace than typical television, but the imagery was spot on.  Despite many of the stories having a mournful tone, there remained a sense of wonder throughout.

Finally, I have been watching Love, Death & Robots; a series of short animated films adapted from stories by some of the best science fiction authors around, including Alastair Reynolds and Peter F Hamilton. At just under fifteen minutes long, and with no overarching narrative, it was excellent series to dip in and out of.

On the subject of books, I caught up on some of the William Gibson novels I had missed.  Pattern Recognition was an awesome near-future tale that had a fantastic protagonist with Cayce Pollard.  In contrast, The Peripheral was a riveting story that was just as much about today as it was about tomorrow.  However, a guaranteed way for me to have imposter syndrome is to read a collection of articles by my favourite author – in this case William Gibson with his collection of essays in Distrust That Particular Flavor.

I finally read the first volume of Brian Wood’s graphic novel series Briggs Land, a political-thriller set within the American secessionist movement.  As topical as his previous DMZ, this was a gripping exploration of the nature of law and order versus freedom.

Despite enjoying podcasts, I generally struggle to listen to audiobooks.  However, Vampire: The Masquerade – Walk Among Us was a great audiobook-novella that had some fantastic voice acting, which immersed me in the story.

With not meeting friends in person since March, I took Star Wars: Squadrons for a spin with some old university friends.  It was great working together with friends in a squadron, whilst occasionally yelling “Lock S-foils in attack position!”

I picked up Quantum Break in the sales, which was a fantastic time travel story that actually made sense!  Also in the sales was Far Cry 5, but I do not think I was playing it right.  All I did was ignore the other companions and concentrate on Boomer the dog, who I just patted all the time.  It was a bit like One Man and His Dog, but with fully-automatic weaponry and religious lunatics instead of sheep…

Back to the future

Hopefully, next year will be everything 2020 originally promised to be.  I am already writing an article for a new client and have been asked to pitch ideas to another.  The BBC have also asked me to submit ideas to them, so expect more of my Will we ever? articles in the coming months.

As we have recently moved in to Tier 4, I will contine working with Geek Pride to provide entertaining distractions. As such, expect more podcasts that rarely stay on script and sessions of D&D where we try to break the DM.

For now; stay safe, keep well, and enjoy the holiday season.

Peter Ray Allison, December 2020
Somewhere in the vicinity of Derby