Looking Back, Looking Forward

John Otter lists his top ten speculative fiction-type things he enjoyed the previous year.
on Jan 2, 2014 · 14 comments

This was originally written on January 1st, but got bumped due to technical issues and…well, a rather large announcement that took precedence over my random musings. Rather than go back and change the beginning, I decided to be lazy and…well, not.

Well. Here we are. On the cusp of a new year. 2013 has gone its way. 2014 has dawned.

Okay, I need to stop there. I was going to try to get all poetical on everyone, but I just can’t muster the creativity this morning. I’d like to say that it’s because I was at a wild party, but that wouldn’t be true. Instead, my family did our usual thing. After the kids were in bed, my wife, my brother-in-law, and I played board games into the night. Then, about an hour before midnight, we debated whether or not we should throw in the towel and all just go to bed. For some reason, the debate stagnated and we wound up watching my wife play “Plants vs. Zombies 2” on her iPad until midnight. We’re a wild bunch here, that’s for sure.

Over the past week or so, news organizations have done their usual retrospectives, looking back over 2013 and at the big stories that captivated our attention. I suppose I could try to do that too, but truth be told, I don’t pay that close of attention to the world at large. I certainly can’t add anything to the broader discussion of books and movies and such that have come out in the last year. So instead, I thought I’d be a little selfish and introspective and come up with a list of my top ten speculative fiction-type things that I discovered, enjoyed, or recommend from the previous year.

Here we go (and not necessarily in any particular order):

10) Discovering Brandon Sanderson. So he’s not Christian spec fic, but he’s still an awesome author. Actually, I didn’t discover him. Jill Williamson basically forced me to read him. Okay, so that’s not technically true either. But she did “discover” him first and then told me about his book Steelheart, the story of a young teenager trying to take down a supervillain in a world without heroes. And since I do the whole superhero fiction thing, I decided to read the book for myself. I’m glad I did. It was a fun read, a rollercoaster that kept me turning pages to the very end. Now I’ve got another of Sanderson’s books loaded on my Kindle and I’m hoping to get to it soon.

heartless9) Devouring Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s books. Here’s another one that I stumbled across during 2014. Actually, “stumbled” isn’t quite the right word. When the list of finalists for the 2013 Christys came out, I decided that I should acquaint myself with the work of some of my fellow finalists. I knew I couldn’t read them all, so I stuck to the YA and Visionary categories. Since Stengl was nominated in the latter, I snagged her first book, Heartless, and started reading. Once again, I devoured all of her books. I still need to read a few of the latest, but I’m not surprised she was nominated. If you haven’t checked out her books yet, you definitely should.

8) Feeding my board game addiction. Hello, my name is John, and I am addicted to buying what I call “nerdgames,” namely board games that are incredibly complicated with numerous rules and complicated strategies. Notice I said “buying.” My kids are a little too young to play them at present and it’s hard to find time to meet up with people who can. But I’ve found a couple of gems this year that I’m happy to recommend. I backed Nothing Personal when it was on Kickstarter and I’m glad I did. It’s a fun mafia-themed game that looks complicated when you first start playing but is really pretty easy to pick up. Qwirkle is another fun one, sort of like “Bananagrams” with colors and shapes instead of letters. My seven year old son can play this and regularly beats me at it. I could keep going, but those two are probably the best of the best.

A-Cast-of-Stones7) Reading Patrick Carr’s novels. Patrick and I roomed together at an ACFW Conference a few years ago. His was the first novel I was asked to read and endorse as a published author, and I was more than happy to do so. If you haven’t checked out his books yet, you definitely should. It’s set in a very imaginative world and the characters come to life in a wonderful way. Start with A Cast of Stones and keep going. You won’t regret it.

6) Getting sucked into “Arrow.” Again, it’s a superhero thing. I started watching Arrow on the CW and I’m so glad I did. The first season really hit its stride halfway through and the second season is making this one of my “can’t miss” favorites. The addition of a lot of DC’s characters have just made things better. Get caught up on this. You’ve got time before the show comes back from its mid-season hiatus.

cover_amishvampiresinspace5) Getting bent out of shape over Amish Vampires in SpaceI’m not mad that this book was published. Far from it. If you haven’t read this one, you absolutely have to! The book is simply amazing. I wish more people would give this one a chance. Now, I understand, the title or the cover or some combination thereof has put some people off the book. That’s a shame, because they’re missing out.

4) Playing waaaaay too many videogames. Yes, I’m a gamer. My particular poison is PC gaming. And this year, I found some fun ones to occupy my time. Scribblenauts Unmasked, Reus, Papers, Please, the list could go on and on. But if I was going to pick the one that surprised me the most, that has to be Miasmata, a game programmed by two brothers (I think). You’re a plague victim trying to synthesize a cure from jungle plants. You have to fight the ravages of the disease and use a unique cartography system to find what you need and cure yourself. Simply incredible!

3) Miss out on too many movies. I still haven’t seen the second Hobbit movie. I missed Ender’s Game. I did see Thor 2 and loved it. I did see Star Trek Into Darkness and left feeling “meh.” And I did see Man of Steel and was horrified at Supes’s snap decision (pun intended). But perhaps one of the best movies I saw this year was a kids’ movie. My older son went to see Frozen and became obsessed with it. I eventually took him to see it a second time and I understand why. Very funny, heartwarming, with an ending that surprised and delighted me. If you haven’t seen it yet, go check it out.

Me at last year's ACFW genre banquet, dressed as the "Are You My Mummy" boy.

Me at last year’s ACFW genre banquet, dressed as the “Are You My Mummy” boy.

2) Became a Whovian. Before the beginning of this year, I didn’t get Dr. Who. Well, I understood that people enjoyed it and loved it, but I never had sat down to watch an episode for myself. This year, I finally decided to bite the bullet and see what it was all about. And I quickly burned through all seven seasons in time to watch the 50th Anniversary special. I was almost despondent when I realized I couldn’t watch the Christmas Special  and then elated when I realized I could get it on iTunes. Suffice it to say, I’m in the Whovian fandom now, although I’m a little worried about Peter Capaldi as of right now. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Numb-Cover1) Published three more speculative fiction stories. I added three more stories to the critical mass of Christian spec fic this year: Gauntlet Goes to Prom, Failstate: Legends, and Numb. I love all three and I’ve loved seeing people’s reactions to them.

So there we go. 2013 in review. I’d do a list of what I’m looking forward to in 2014, but I need to get moving. So I’ll ask you: What was your favorite spec fic related thing from the previous year? Or What spec fic related thing are you looking forward to most in 2014?

John W. Otte leads a double life. By day, he’s a Lutheran minister, husband, and father of two. He graduated from Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a theatre major, and then from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. By night, he writes unusual stories of geeky grace. He lives in Blue Springs, Missouri, with his wife and two boys. Keep up with him at JohnWOtte.com.
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  1. bainespal says:

    I did bad at speculative fiction in 2013. I haven’t read any Christian speculative fiction since the beginning of the year. I did get through Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. Watched Deep Space Nine and the new Battlestar Galactica, and I love both of those shows. Started watching Voyager, but I’m still in the first season and it’s pretty hard to sit through an episode at this point.

    I also began watching Doctor Who, and I can see brilliance buried beneath generous helpings of cheese. I’m in the second season. But it’s still hard to sit through an episode.

    Now I’ve got another of Sanderson’s books loaded on my Kindle and I’m hoping to get to it soon.

    Which one is that? I’ve previously read Elantris as well as the Mistborn trilogy, and I’m waiting to have time for The Way of Kings, hoping that The Stormlight Archive might be the next Wheel of Time.

    But if I was going to pick the one that surprised me the most, that has to be Miasmata, a game programmed by two brothers (I think).

    I remember your review of that one. I never got around to buying Miasmata. I did try another indie adventure game, Waking Mars, and I’m impressed with the artwork and with the 2D platform mechanics used in an adventure context. I haven’t gotten all that far into the game yet, but I can confidently recommend it.
    I also bought FTL: Faster Than Light based on your old review of it. Thanks for the heads-up about it, because it is totally awesome! We can re-stage all our favorite adventures from the glory days of space opera television! I think FTL is my favorite indie game that I’ve ever played so far.

    • John Otte says:

      Watched Deep Space Nine and the new Battlestar Galactica, and I love both of those shows. Started watching Voyager, but I’m still in the first season and it’s pretty hard to sit through an episode at this point.

      DS9 is under appreciated as a Star Trek series. Once the Dominion war got started, it simply blew my mind from week to week. And BSG was simply incredible too. I get what you’re saying about Voyager, but give it a little time. The one thing that seems to hold true about any of the Star Trek spinoffs is that you have to suffer through the first two seasons. They’re usually pretty bad, but by then, the writers and characters find their footing and start telling better stories.

      Which one is that?

      It’s another Jill Williamson recommendation, The Rithmatist. Something about drawing stuff with chalk and the drawings doing something…magical?

      I also bought FTL: Faster Than Light based on your old review of it. Thanks for the heads-up about it, because it is totally awesome! We can re-stage all our favorite adventures from the glory days of space opera television! I think FTL is my favorite indie game that I’ve ever played so far.

      I know! I didn’t include FTL in the list simply because I don’t think I purchased it this year. I checked my Steam account for Miasmata and realized that I last played it (when I beat it) a year ago, so I counted it. I have played a lot of great games, most of then indy games, but Miasmata is the one that I still think about from time to time.

  2. Kerry Nietz says:

    Thanks for mentioning AViS, John. You rock. 🙂

  3. Amish Vampires in Space helped make the year for me.

    The thing brazenly worked; only the title (and cover) appeared silly and satirical. I hope the novel (and any sequels?) can keep working on its own, apart from MLP …)

    I also enjoyed Nightriders by Marc Schooley, an excellent paranormal Western with much more believable genre-bending than the just-for-fun-but-still-quite-lackluster Cowboys and Aliens movie (which was announced after Schooley started his story). Schooley had way more to say, also, and the story once again proved you can go almost over the top with “agenda” — and a controversial agenda at that, in this case — and still have a fantastic story.

    In 2013 I also enjoyed Heartless and began Cast of Stones. Hurrah for free ebooks.

    By the way, John, thanks for swapping places with me this one time. And it’s good to see you all caught up on your Who, just in time for the 50th and Twelfth Doctor.

  4. Kerry Nietz says:

    Thanks to you both!
    And I absolutely agree with your sentiment on Nightriders, Stephen. (And Cowboys and Aliens, actually.) Marc Schooley is a literary treasure, and downright good human being. MLP should sign him for three more books, sight unseen. 😉

  5. Tim Frankovich says:

    Hooray for Dr. Who, Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s books, FTL, Arrow, and complicated board games! It seems John Otte’s interests are very similar to mine. No wonder I like his books so much. (Still need to get Numb.)

  6. Julie D says:

    My comments on your list.
    10. I’ve read The Empire’s Soul,  Way of Kings, and Legion. I see some fresh elements in his work that make me want to find more.
    9. Her work is amazing, isn’t it? The fairy tale elements are so strong and beautiful.
    8.  My extended family loves Qwuirkle, but I like Ticket to Ride, Cataan, and Dominion too. Though Dominion is more of a card game.
    7. Only read Cast of Stones, loved the narrative voice.
    6. Seen a few episodes, mostly because Alex Kingston appears later in the season,
    5. Wonderful story.
    4. Not really a video game player.
    3. For the first time in my memory, there’s three movies at the  theatre I’d love to see: Hobbit, Frozen, and Book Thief.  Seen Hobbit once, but wouldn’t mind going again.
    2. Congratulations! Confetti! And I’m not so much worried about Capaldi as missing Smith.
    1. I should add those to my list.

  7. LadyArin says:

    Was it only this year i started reading Brandon Sanderson’s books? I think it might have been. Definitely my favorite discovery of the year. Legion might have been my favorite, but A Way of Kings was also very good, and i hope that he makes progress in getting some of them translated to the big (or small) screen.

    • Both Mistborn: The Final Empire and Legion have been optioned by studios (for the big and small screen, respectively), so those will likely be the first of his novels to go visual.  I certainly hope Sanderson never even briefly flirts with the idea of optioning out a single installment of The Stormlight Archive, as PJ’s mangling of Tolkien’s work would pale in comparison to what a screenwriter would have to do to Roshar in order to squeeze that projected ten-thousand-page opus into the temporal parameters of a film or even a TV series.

      • LadyArin says:

        If done right, Legion would be a fantastic TV series. I think Steelheart might be a bit more straightforward choice for a movie than the Mistborn books — but i’d be satisfied with either, honestly, so long as they were done well.
        And, yeah, there’s no way to make a decent Way of Kings adaption, TV or film. 

  8. Jason Joyner says:

    Well, it looks like you keep good company. 😉
    Jill suggested Steelheart to me as well. Then when you chimed in I had to try it. Now I’ve got The Rithmatist on my desk.
    Keep it up with the games. We need new things each year at the conference (although I’m doubtful to make it this year, but you never know.)

  9. I also started reading Brandon Sanderson this year. Haven’t quite gotten to Steelheart yet, but I LOVED the Mistborn trilogy.
    I have both Heartles and Cast of Stones sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read. Sounds like I should jump into them.
    Always great to welcome a new Whovian to the party.  I loved the 50th and am looking forward to Peter Capaldi’s take on the character.

  10. DD says:

    Arrow is one the few shows I regularly watch and has really come on its own.
    As for books, the latest installments of Brian Godawa’s Nephilim series and Morgan Busse’s fantasy series were in my top 10 list.

What do you think?