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A mix of 2016 and prior releases, here are my favorite comic book reads of this past year in no particular order…

MY FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVELS OF 2016…

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Replica (vol. 1) written by Paul Jenkins, art by Andy Clarke – Aftershock Comics

Meet Trevor Churchill, an Earth-born peacekeeping agent on the intergalactic hub known as The Transfer. When Trevor’s already near impossible assignment becomes a bit too much for the errant detective, he turns to the only logical approach, REPLICATION. More of a good thing can’t hurt, right? A single clone could be helpful; unfortunately the replication process doesn’t go as planned!

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The Fix (vol. 1) written by Nick Spencer, art by Steve Lieber – Image Comics

THE FIX is a story of the crooked cops, scheming mobsters, and corrupt politicians that run Los Angeles-and the sex toy that can bring them all down. Oh, and the hero is a drug-sniffing beagle named Pretzels.

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Jupiter’s Circle (vol. 2) written by Mark Millar, art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Alfredo Torres – Image Comics

In mid-century America, the world’s greatest superheroes triumph in their public battles, while struggling with private ones. Social and political unrest take a personal toll as suspicion and betrayal cast a shadow over the most trusted friendships.

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Teen Titans: The Judas Contract written by Marv Wolfman, art by George Perez – DC Comics

They were Earth’s teenage defenders–unbeatable and unstoppable. Riding high, they took an eighth member–a young girl–into their ranks. She was their downfall. From the retirement of Robin and Kid Flash, to the birth of Nightwing and the introduction of Jericho, to the ultimate betrayal of a Titan–“The Judas Contract” still has fans talking today!

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Wrinkles written and illustrated by Paco Roca – Fantagraphics

Retired bank manager Emilio, suffering from Alzheimer’s, is taken to an assisted living home by his son. He befriends his roommate Miguel, an overconfident ladies’ man. Together, they employ clever tricks to keep the doctors from noticing Emilio’s ongoing deterioration ― and keep him from being transferred to the dreaded confinement of the top floor of the facility. (“Better to die than to end up there.” Their determination to stay active as individuals and maintain their dignity culminates in an adventurous escape.

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Bitch Planet (vol. 1) written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, art by Valentine De Landro – Image Comics

In a future just a few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords will result in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. When the newest crop of fresh femmes arrive, can they work together to stay alive or will hidden agendas, crooked guards, and the deadliest sport on (or off!) Earth take them to their maker?

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Jupiter’s Legacy (vol. 1) written by Mark Millar, art by Frank Quitely – Image Comics

The children of the world’s greatest superheroes may never be able to fill their parents’ shoes. When the family becomes embattled by infighting, one branch stages an uprising and another goes into hiding. How long can the world survive when one family’s super-powered problems explode onto the global stage?

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Dark Knight: A True Batman Story written by Paul Dini, art by Eduardo Risso –Vertigo

This is a Batman story like no other-the harrowing and eloquent autobiographical tale of writer Paul Dini’s courageous struggle to overcome a desperate situation.

The Caped Crusader has been the all-abiding icon of justice and authority for generations. But in this surprising original graphic novel, we see Batman in a new light-as the savior who helps a discouraged man recover from a brutal attack that left him unable to face the world.

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Divinity written by Matt Kindt, art by Trevor Hairsine – Valiant Comics

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union – determined to win the Space Race at any cost – green lit a dangerously advanced mission. They sent a man farther into the cosmos than anyone has gone before or since. Lost in the stars, he encountered something unknown. Something that…changed him.

Long thought lost and erased from the history books, he has suddenly returned, crash-landing in the Australian Outback. The few that have been able to reach him believe him to be a deity – one who turned the scorched desert into a lush oasis. They say he can bend matter, space, and even time to his will. Now the rest of the world’s powers must decide for themselves – will the enigmatic Divinity offer his hand in friendship, or will Earth’s heroes find themselves helpless against the wrath of the divine?

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Daredevil: Born Again written by Frank Miller, art by David Mazzucchelli – Marvel Comics

“And I — I have shown him… that a man without hope is a man without fear.” The definitive Daredevil tale! Karen Page, Matt Murdock’s former lover, has traded away the Man Without Fear’s secret identity for a drug fix. Now, Daredevil must find strength as the Kingpin of Crime wastes no time taking him down as low as a human can get.

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Roche Limit (vol. 3) written by Michael Moreci, art by Kyle Charles – Image Comics

Earth is in ruins after the Black Sun’s annihilation of the planet. Now, in the last remaining human city, its inhabitants fight for survival, while a chosen few realize that their world may not be what it seems.

MY FAVORITE COMIC BOOK SERIES OF 2016…

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4 Kids Walk Into A Bank written by Matthew Rosenberg, art by Tyler Boss – Black Mask Studios

A FUN(ISH) CRIME CAPER ABOUT CHILDREN! 11 year old Paige and her weirdo friends have a problem: a gang of ex-cons need her dad’s help on a heist… the problem is those ex-cons are morons. If Paige wants to keep her dad out of trouble, she’s going to have to pull off the heist herself. Like Wes Anderson remaking RESERVOIR DOGS, 4KWIAB is a very dark & moderately humorous story about friendship, growing up, d & d, puking, skinheads, grand larceny, & family.

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Tumor written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, art by Noel Tuazon – Oni Press

Private investigator Frank Armstrong barely scrapes by in the Los Angeles underbelly until “the big one” hits his desk. Locate and retrieve the daughter of a drug kingpin, and he can finally afford more than the one-dollar meatloaf. Unfortunately, the job offer arrives just as the symptoms of his fatal, late-stage brain tumor intensify. Frank must find the target and keep her safe while time collapses, family turns into foe, and the specter of his murdered wife resurfaces in the eyes of a mobster’s daughter.

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The Omega Men written by Tom King, art by Barnaby Bagenda – DC Comics

Kyle Rayner, the White Lantern, is dead. And the Omega Men killed him. On live TV. They’re a criminal gang, a terrorist organization, a fanatical cult.

And they’re the only hope for freedom this godforsaken sector of the universe has.

No matter what the citizens of the Vega System think they saw, the White Lantern lives…as the Omega Men’s prisoner. What they really want him to be is their latest recruit in their relentless war against the all-powerful Citadel and its tyrannical Viceroy.

As Kyle gets to know this motley crew of outlaws, he’ll question everything he knows about being a hero. In this strange system where the Green Lanterns are forbidden, will he break his oath and join their revolution? Or will he discover that the Omega Men are monsters in the end?

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Afterlife With Archie written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, art by Francesco Francavilla and Jack Morelli – Archie Horror Comics

When Jughead’s beloved pet Hot Dog is killed in a hit and run, Jughead turns to the only person he knows who can help bring back his furry best friend — Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Using dark, forbidden magic, Sabrina is successful and Hot Dog returns to the land of the living. But he’s not the same… and soon, the darkness he brings back with him from beyond the grave begins to spread, forcing Archie, Betty, Veronica and the gang to try to escape from Riverdale!

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, art by Robert Hack and Jack Morelli – Archie Horror Comics

On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress Sabrina Spellman finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda.

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Civil War II: Kingpin written by Matthew Rosenberg, art by Ricardo López Ortiz – Marvel Comics

When Earth’s heroes go to war, that only spells opportunity for the villains! And few have the knowhow to take advantage like the Kingpin! For while an Inhuman with the ability to predict the future has inspired a clampdown on crime before it can even happen, Wilson Fisk has managed to stay one step ahead of the good guys — and his business is booming! But what’s his secret? One thing’s for sure — his competitors are jealous and that’s bad news for Fisk’s men. Worse still, Fisk has reason to believe that one of his own is plotting against him. But enemies inside and out are nothing compared to the ultimate threat to his empire — the Punisher! As conflict rages all around him, can Wilson Fisk stay the Kingpin of a world without crime?

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Vision written by Tom King, art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta – Marvel Comics

The Vision wants to be human, and what’s more human than family? So he heads back to the beginning, to the laboratory where Ultron created him and molded him into a weapon. The place where he first rebelled against his given destiny, and imagined he could be more — that he could be a man. There, he builds them. A wife, Virginia. Two teenage twins, Viv and Vin. They look like him. They have his powers. They share his grandest ambition (or is that obsession?): the unrelenting need to be ordinary. Behold the Visions! They’re the family next door, and they have the power to kill us all. What could possibly go wrong? Artificial hearts will be broken, bodies will not stay buried, the truth will not remain hidden, and the Vision will never be the same.

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Kill or be Killed written by Ed Brubaker, art by  Elizabeth Breitweiser and Sean Phillips – Image Comics

The darkly twisted story of a young man forced to kill bad people, and how he struggles to keep his secret as it slowly begins to ruin his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones.

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Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples – Image Comics

SAGA is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in a sexy, subversive drama for adults.

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Black Hammer written Jeff Lemire, art by Dean Ormston – Dark Horse Comics

HEROES NEVER DIE…THEY JUST GET RETCONNED! Once they were heroes, but the age of heroes has long since passed. Banished from existence by a multiversal crisis, the old champions of Spiral City…Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Colonel Weird, Madame Dragonfly, and Barbalien…now lead simple lives in a timeless farming town. Even as they try to find their way home, trouble has a unique way of finding heroes wherever they are!

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Turncoat written by Alex Paknadel, art by Artyom Trakhanov – BOOM! Studios

300 years since humanity was brutally subjugated by the alien race known simply as the Management. Two years since these invaders abandoned Earth to return to their home world. Following her participation in the brutal massacre of human-alien hybrids left behind by the Management, resistance fighter Marta Gonzalez declines to join the new human government and starts her own private detective agency instead. Gonzalez is forced to confront her own bloody past and acknowledge the fact that the transition from oppression to emancipation is anything but clean.

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Of the some eighty or so books I read in 2016, these were my favorites.

In no particular order…

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News of the World by Paulette Jiles (October 4, 2016)

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this morally complex, multi-layered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

A quick and compelling read, I finished this book in a single day.  The relationship at the heart of this western drives a narrative at turns spirited, humorous, and incredibly touching.  Unforgettable.

***

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Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (April 26, 2016)

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened or the consequences will be too terrible to bear.

The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into dark, medieval practices of the distant past.

Oh, this one’s a weird one.  Delightfully so.

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (October 3, 1999)

Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. 

The world’s most accomplished author of contemporary fiction delivers the best book on the craft of writing. 

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 The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales (April 12, 2016)

In a world beset by amassing forces of darkness, one organization—the Regional Office—and its coterie of super-powered female assassins protects the globe from annihilation. At its helm, the mysterious Oyemi and her oracles seek out new recruits and root out evil plots. Then a prophecy suggests that someone from inside might bring about its downfall. And now, the Regional Office is under attack.

Super-charged madness here.  I hear a movie is already in the works. 

***

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Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

In Seinfeldia, acclaimed TV historian and entertainment writer Jennifer Keishin Armstrong celebrates the creators and fans of this American television phenomenon, bringing readers behind-the-scenes of the show while it was on the air and into the world of devotees for whom it never stopped being relevant, a world where the Soup Nazi still spends his days saying “No soup for you!”, Joe Davola gets questioned every day about his sanity, Kenny Kramer makes his living giving tours of New York sights from the show, and fans dress up in Jerry’s famous puffy shirt, dance like Elaine, and imagine plotlines for Seinfeld if it were still on TV.

If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll love this book.  I am and I did.

***

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The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman (October 7, 2014)

New York City in 1978 is a dirty, dangerous place to live. And die. Joey Peacock knows this as well as anybody—he has spent the last forty years as an adolescent vampire, perfecting the routine he now enjoys: womanizing in punk clubs and discotheques, feeding by night, and sleeping by day with others of his kind in the macabre labyrinth under the city’s sidewalks.

The subways are his playground and his highway, shuttling him throughout Manhattan to bleed the unsuspecting in the Sheep Meadow of Central Park or in the backseats of Checker cabs, or even those in their own apartments who are too hypnotized by sitcoms to notice him opening their windows. It’s almost too easy.

Until one night he sees them hunting on his beloved subway. The children with the merry eyes. Vampires, like him…or not like him. Whatever they are, whatever their appearance means, the undead in the tunnels of Manhattan are not as safe as they once were.

And neither are the rest of us.

I’m not a fan of vampire fiction but this book totally upended my expectations.  The sequel was recently released and I’ve already purchased a digital copy.

***

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Company Town by Madeline Ashby (May 17, 2016)

Meet Hwa. One of the few in her community to forego bio-engineered enhancements, she’s the last truly organic person left on the rig. But she’s an expert in the arts of self-defence, and she’s been charged with training the Family’s youngest, who has been receiving death threats – seemingly from another timeline.

Meanwhile, a series of interconnected murders threatens the city’s stability – serial killer? Or something much, much worse…?

One hell of a cool read.

***

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The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North (May 17, 2016)

My name is Hope Arden, and you won’t know who I am. We’ve met before – a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets.

It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.

A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.

No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit – you will never remember who I am.

That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .

North (aka Catherine Webb) is the author of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and Touch, both of which made my Top Reads list in previous years.  I look forward to her next book making it 4 for 4.

***

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The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka (July 21, 2015)

Eric Argus is a washout. His prodigious early work clouded his reputation and strained his sanity. But an old friend gives him another chance, an opportunity to step back into the light.

With three months to produce new research, Eric replicates the paradoxical double-slit experiment to see for himself the mysterious dual nature of light and matter. A simple but unprecedented inference blooms into a staggering discovery about human consciousness and the structure of the universe.

His findings are celebrated and condemned in equal measure. But no one can predict where the truth will lead. And as Eric seeks to understand the unfolding revelations, he must evade shadowy pursuers who believe he knows entirely too much already.

Smart, provocative SF.

***

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Beyond Redemption by Michael H. Fletcher

Faith shapes the landscape, defines the laws of physics, and makes a mockery of truth. Common knowledge isn’t an axiom, it’s a force of nature. What the masses believe is. But insanity is a weapon, conviction a shield. Delusions give birth to foul new gods.

Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken—men and women whose delusions manifest, twisting reality. High Priest Konig seeks to create order from chaos. He defines the beliefs of his followers, leading their faith to one end: a young boy, Morgen, must Ascend to become a god. A god they can control.

But there are many who would see this would-be-god in their thrall, including the High Priest’s own Doppels, and a Slaver no one can resist. Three reprobates—The Greatest Swordsman in the World, a murderous Kleptic, and possibly the only sane man left—have their own nefarious plans for the young god.

As these forces converge on the boy, there’s one more obstacle: time is running out. When one’s delusions become more powerful, they become harder to control. The fate of the Geisteskranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath.

The question, then, is: Who will rule there?

This wildly imaginative novel was my favorite book of 2015.  The sequel was released in November and is also on my to-read pile.

***

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Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (February 26, 2008)

No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Joshua Ferris brilliantly depicts in his debut novel is family at its strangest and best, coping with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks.

With a demon’s eye for the details that make life worth noticing, Joshua Ferris tells a true and funny story about survival in life’s strangest environment–the one we pretend is normal five days a week.

If you like your humor pitch dark, then Ferris is the author for you.  Also check out his most recent To Rise Again at a Decent Hour.  

***

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The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (September 15, 2015)

Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.

The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They’ll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.

In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery – and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.

But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.

A brilliant entry in the fantasy genre, full of twists, turns, and unforgettable characters.

***

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Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry (June 14, 2016)

When Nora takes the train from London to visit her sister in the countryside, she expects to find her waiting at the station, or at home cooking dinner. But when she walks into Rachel’s familiar house, what she finds is entirely different: her sister has been the victim of a brutal murder.

Stunned and adrift, Nora finds she can’t return to her former life. An unsolved assault in the past has shaken her faith in the police, and she can’t trust them to find her sister’s killer. Haunted by the murder and the secrets that surround it, Nora is under the harrow: distressed and in danger. As Nora’s fear turns to obsession, she becomes as unrecognizable as the sister her investigation uncovers.

A riveting read.  The best thriller since Gone Girl.

***

1

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

He was born an outsider, like the rest of his family. Poor yet resilient, he lives in the shadows with his Aunt Libby and Uncle Darren, folk who stubbornly make their way in a society that does not understand or want them. They are mongrels, mixedblood, neither this nor that. The boy at the center of Mongrels must decide if he belongs on the road with his aunt and uncle, or if he fits with the people on the other side of the tracks.

For ten years, he and his family have lived a life of late-night exits and close calls—always on the move across the South to stay one step ahead of the law. But the time is drawing near when Darren and Libby will know if their nephew is like them or not. And the close calls they’ve been running from for so long are catching up fast, now. Everything is about to change.

A surprisingly fresh take on the werewolf tale.  

***

Honorable Mentions

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danier

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

Dark Run by Mike Brooks

***

Hey!  Two of Akemi’s three special-order Christmas gifts were waiting for us on our return to Toronto this afternoon…

img_5556 img_5557

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Upon further consideration, I’ve elected to leave Montreal a day earlier than our planned Monday departure.  This will give me a full day to decompress before the start of our 7-day work week.  Yes, your math is correct.  A 7 day work week starting on Tuesday because Line Producer Norman Denver and Production Manager Brandon Tataryn don’t care about NFL Wildcard Weekend since their Denver Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention.  The expected late Saturday call should ensure we miss both games played that that day.

It’s hard to believe we’re already about to prep Episode 305.  The production machine is in full gear eating into that glorious head start of a month back.  I’ve got a script to work on but my progress hasn’t been somewhat…slow over these holidays.  If you count the opening tease, partial pages, and dialogue fragments, I’ve completed exactly nothing so far.  But I’m hopeful that when I DO get started, I’ll positively blaze through this one.

While I haven’t been doing doing much writing, I have, on the other hand, been doing a hell of a lot of reading, surpassing my annual goal –4

Although, in all fairness, about 40 of them were graphic novels.  Still, I think I can polish off a few more before the New Year as I begin to compile my list of Best Reads of 2016.

So what were your fave reads of the year?  Do tell!

 

 

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I’m taking a break from the writing to do a little a lot of reading.  Although I fell behind earlier this year, what with the demands of production, I’m pleased to report I’m back on track to well exceed my goal of 100 books in 2016.  I read anything and everything – genre, graphic novels, non-fiction, bestsellers – and typically put together a “Best Of” list at year’s end.  2014, for instance, was a fantastic reading year –

https://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/december-2014-top-books-of-2014/

with a slew of recommended reads.

2015, sadly, was not.

When selecting books, I try to cast wide net, relying on everything from book shop recommendations to impulse buys to award nominees.  This year, I’ve really tried to focus on 2016 releases, short fiction and novels, so that, when I offer up my list of the year’s best reads, I can honestly do so from a well-informed position.  Ultimately, I end up recommending works in various categories that, perhaps not surprisingly, fail to make the short lists for many of the big name awards.

Check out my 2015 favorites here:

https://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/may-23-2016-presenting-the-2015-rogue-star-award-winners/

There’s nothing better than a really great book.  And, quite frankly, I don’t even mind the occasional bad book.  It’s true and let me explain why.  Given the choice, I’d prefer a truly terrible book to a mediocre book because, in the case of the former, I can quickly identify it as a crap read and immediately set it aside.  Books in the latter category, however, are big unmemorable time-wasters.  And, unfortunately, the majority of the titles out there fall into this category – which is why good recommendations are so important.

Nothing makes me angrier than shitty reading recommendations.  I’m the guy who will walk into chain bookstores so that I can peruse the staff picks and subsequently track down the individual staff members to call them on their crap picks.  Once subjected to a little scrutiny, they invariably crack, often declaring they never actually read their picks but insisting the reviews were “great!”, or shamefully admitting they were simply following marching orders from head office.  It really depends on the bookstore I suppose.

Earlier this season, I walked onto set one morning to discover actress Melanie Liburd reading a book that had been nominated for a prestigious Canadian literary award.  I immediately recognized the book because, a month earlier, I’d been foolish enough to check it out based on the fact that it had been nominated for a prestigious Canadian literary award.

“How’re you enjoying the book?”I asked.

Not all that much as it turned out.  And I wasn’t surprised.  Apparently, she’d gone into one of Toronto’s local hipster douchebag bookshops and had someone there recommend it to her because, well, it had been nominated for a prestigious Canadian literary award.  I was so annoyed that I left set to go back to my office, retrieved my emergency copy of Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle (one of several titles I keep stocked for just such emergency situations.  Other “In Case of Shit Reading Break Glass” titles include: Camp Concentration, The First Law Series, The Empire of Ice Cream, Old Man’s War, Saga vol. 1, The Man Who Ate Everything, City of Thieves, Fool, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, The Rosie Project, The Princess Bride, Me Talk Pretty One Day, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Speed of Dark, Afterlife with Archie, the first three books in the Ice and Fire series, The Player of Games, The Lies of Locke Lamorra, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Misery, Flowers for Algernon, This is Where I Leave You, Stories of Your Life and Others, Childhood’s End, and The Psychopath Test) and gave it to her.  She loved it.  I don’t recall what happened to that other book.  I think I might have tossed it.

Just as bad as big box bookstore head office staff recommendations are “Best Of” picks that suspiciously include novels written by editors or fellow writers from the site hosting said “Best Of” article.  Sure.  Maybe they are deserving, but it looks sketchy as shit and, unfortunately, undermines the credibility of  your selections.

Instead, I’ve been increasingly relying on the following as proven sources of solid recommendations:

Rocket Stack Rank: This site offers up monthly aggregate ratings of stories (short, novelettes, and novellas) with short synopses and estimated reading times for each along with links to online reading copies.

Reddit is a great source for recommendations as well.  Subreddits I regularly check out include: science fiction, scifi, books, and comic books.

My favorite local bookshops: White Dwarf Books and The Book Warehouse.

So, how has YOUR summer reading been coming along?  Any books YOU’D recommend?

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Here’s the thing about awards, awards shows, and awards organizations.  The best nominee doesn’t always win.  Hell, the “best” nominee rarely ever wins because, in spite of what people tell you or what camp you happen to fall into, the vast majority of people base their votes on friendships, familiarity, popularity,  ideas, or messages.  Those who do vote for “the best” tend to select from a fairly narrow range of possibilities – based on friendships, familiarity, popularity, ideas, or messages.  It’s somewhat bewildering, occasionally downright frustrating, to see awards go to certain works while other equally great (occasionally better) works go ignored, often not even making a preliminary list of nominees.

As a fairly voracious reader, I read a lot of books in 2015, many of them award nominees, just as many lesser-known works from lesser-known (to me) authors.  And, as I began to check out the 2016 releases, I looked back at the titles I enjoyed in 2015 and thought: “That deserved some sort of recognition.”.  And then: “Hell, I should just give out my own awards.”

I read a lot across a wide variety of genres.  I can make a well-informed decision.  I know what I like.  And, most importantly, I AM opinionated.  So, why the hell not?

At first, I thought I’d call my awards The Jovians (Get it?) but discovered the Jovian Awards (for Fantasy & Science Fiction) already exists.  My second choice would be the Saturn Awards but, alas, that too has been taken.  A quick google search turned up –

Mercury Awards – for music
Venus Awards – for local working women in business
Mars Awards – for designers (named after the chocolate bar, not the planet)
Neptune Awards – for marketing
Pluto Awards – for SciFi, fantasy and alternate history books
Kepler Awards – for European young scientists
Uranus Awards – surprisingly available!

In the end, I settled on something a little more in keeping with the wayward, independent spirit of these awards: Rogue Star (“a star that has escaped the gravitational pull of its home galaxy and is moving independently in or towards the intergalactic void” [wikipedia]).

Presenting awards in three categories (only because I didn’t read enough potential entries in any of the alternate categories.  Also, I need to get out there and watch more movies.).  Great reads all.  Check them out!

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BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL

NOMINEES

Bitch Planet, vol. 1 – Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, Image
Divinity – Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine, Valiant
Jupiter’s Circle, vol. 1 – Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Image
Saga, vol. 5 – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Image
The Walking Dead,vol. 23 Robert Kirkman and Stefano Guadiano, Image

WINNER

Saga, vol. 5 – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Image

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BEST SHORT STORY

NOMINEES

“A Murmuration” – Alastair Reynolds, Interzone
“Calved” – Sam J. Miller, Asimov’s
“Re: re: Microwave in the break room doing weird things to fabric of spacetime” – Charles Yu, Terraform
“So Much Cooking” – Naomi Kritzer, Clarkesworld
“Today I Am Paul” – Martin L. Shoemaker, Clarkesworld

WINNER

“Today I Am Paul” – Martin L. Shoemaker, Clarkesworld

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BEST NOVEL

NOMINEES

Beyond Redemption – Michael R. Fletcher, Harper Voyager
The Flicker Men – Ted Kosmatka, Henry Holt and Co.
Half A War – Joe Abercrombie, Harper Voyager
Touch – Claire North, Orbit Books
The Traitor Baru Cormorant – Seth Dickinson, Tor

WINNER

Beyond Redemption – Michael R. Fletcher, Harper Voyager

***

Congratulations to the winners.  You can pick up your prize – in the form of a beer – should we ever cross paths!

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With the deadline for the 2016 Hugo Awards nominations fast approaching (Thursday, March 31st), I thought I’d help out prospective voters by generating a list of recommended reads to guide them through the myriad titles released in 2015.

In the past, I could have put together a rundown of potential Best Novels but, alas, the past year kept me very busy, much too busy for extensive reading, and I realized that the list I’d offer up would be woefully incomplete.

Being a voracious and fairly quick reader, I thought of tackling the Best Novella or Best Novelette categories but, again, my show running duties on Dark Matter made that impossible.  And so, after careful consideration, I decided instead to take on the Best Short Story category reasoning there was plenty of opportunity in the downtime between set-ups, scripts, and sleep.  As it turned out, I was right and, in the preceding month, I’ve read A LOT of shorts stories – more than I’ve read in any given month.

Yes, even though I read a lot, I’m well aware that I covered but a tiny fraction of all of the eligible short stories out there.  I tried to be as sweeping as possible, selecting titles from varied publications, drawing on suggestions from all over, choosing writers irrespective of politics or personality.

What follows is a list of MY Favorite Genre Short Stories of 2015.  If any of these make the short list for the Hugos, I’ll be giving them a re-read and ranking.  I’ll do the same for any other nominees I may have missed.  And then, I’ll vote for what I consider the Best Short Story of 2015.  If the best short story I read is among the five nominees, then I’ll vote for that.  If what I consider the Best Short story doesn’t make the list, I’ll be voting No Award.  Fair?  I think so.

Well, here you go, for those interested.  My Top 13 Short Stories of 2015:

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“A Murmuration” by Alastair Reynolds (Interzone)

An isolated scientist’s research into the flocking behavior of birds yields surprising results.

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“Calved” by Sam J. Miller (Asimov’s)

Amidst the backdrop of a world altered by ecological disaster, a father makes a desperate bid to reconnect with his son.

Read it here: http://samjmiller.com/publications/calved/

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“Dialed-Up” by Tom Maughan (Terraform)

In the near, performance-enhancing drugs give office workers the edge they need to compete.

Read it here: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/dialed-up

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“Re-Homing” by Debbie Urbanski (Terraform)

A couple looking to adopt find the perfect match in a remaindered child.

Read it here: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/re-homing

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“Re: re: Microwave in the break room doing weird things to fabric of spacetime” by Charles Yu (Terraform)

An unattended burrito instigates a cosmological crisis.

Read it here: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/re-re-microwave-in-the-break-room-doing-weird-things-to-fabric-of-spacetime

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“Some Gods of El-Paso” by Maria Dahvana Headley (Tor)

In future Texas, two outlaws deal in the currencies of sex and emotions.

Read it here: http://www.tor.com/2015/10/28/some-gods-of-el-paso-maria-dahvana-headley/

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“The Ninth Seduction” by Sean Mcmullen (Lightspeed)

A goblin crafts weapons and other technological marvels in advance of a coming battle.

Read it here: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-ninth-seduction/

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“The Sixth Day” by Sylvia Anna Hivén (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

A young girl, gifted with the ability to grow corn, receives a dire prediction from her older sister, gifted with the ability of prophecy.

Read it here: http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/the-sixth-day/

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“So Much Cooking” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld)

The bird flu apocalypse as related through perky Natalie’s food blog.

Read it here: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/kritzer_11_15/

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“The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zaci” by Benjamin Parzybok (Strange Horizons)

Eduardo, a ticket taker at a popular tourist attraction, begins to suspect that the Cenote Zaci may be claiming some of its visitors.

Read it here: http://www.strangehorizons.com/2015/20150202/cenote-f.shtml

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“The Way Home” by Linda Nagata (Lightspeed)

A squad of U.S. Soldiers must fight their way out of Hell.

Read it here: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-way-home/

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“Things You Can Buy For A Penny” by Will Kaufman (Lightspeed Magazine)

According to legend, the wet gentleman that resides at the bottom of a mysterious well will grant you a wish for a penny…

Read it here: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/things-can-buy-penny/

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“Today I Am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld)

An android caregiver to an Alzheimer’s patient mimics the personalities of her prospective visiting relatives.

Read it here: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/shoemaker_08_15/

If you have time, give them a read – and then report back.  Would love to hear your thoughts.

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During my first year on Stargate, I put on fifteen pounds (The Freshman Fifteen!). I blame mostly the fantastic catering – Steve’s terrific cooking and Anthea’s extraordinary desserts.  At one point, we were producing two shows (SG-1 and Atlantis) and that meant TWO catering options.  Then script coordinator Lawren Bancroft-Wilson would scout out the trucks and report back so that we could make informed dining decisions.  The SG-1 truck has schnitzel!  Or The Atlantis truck has hazelnut torte!  It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to walk from one end of the lot to the other to put together our ideal plates.  Between the fine food and the sitting around all day in the production offices, chatting with my fellow writer-producers (and, occasionally, writing) I tipped the scales at 180 lbs!

And then, over the course of a vacation, I lost a whopping 15 lbs on what I like to call The Snake Soup Diet.  Many of you may remember (if not, just do a blog search) that it basically consists of ordering the snake soup at the Hong Kong airport, then flying into Tokyo and being violently ill for a week.  The pounds just melt away!  Then, when you return home, you just start working out and keep the weight off.

Eventually, between eating right and exercising (at one point, I was doing a cardio workout in the morning and weights at night), I got down to my ideal weight of 165!

And then, last year, I moved to Toronto to work on Dark Matter.  No longer able to access my treadmill and weights, I was suddenly reliant on the condo’s health center and it’s weirdly inconvenient hours.   The demands of the production didn’t help either. There were times when I had to get up as early as 5:30 a.m.,  and got home as late as 10:00 p.m. – and the last thing I wanted to do was wake up even earlier to work out, or hit the gym after an exhausting day on set.

Toronto catering is, thankfully, nowhere near as good as in Vancouver.  However, our crafts service team (with the ever affable John Schieder at the helm) is very good – and very accommodating.  If you don’t like the breakfast options laid out for you on the crafts service table, just head over to John’s truck and he’ll whip you up a breakfast burrito.  Between breakfast and lunch, and then again between lunch and dinner, John’s crew serve up subs (aka “substantials”) to tide over the hardworking crew.  Options vary and range from homemade clam chowder to chicken burgers.  If we go late, the production will spring for dinner.  Eggplant parm sandwiches and pizza were popular offerings last year.  And, between that, are the catered lunches.

Staying in shape – and avoiding temptation – is hard when you’re working on a show.  But I’m determined to make this year different.

Forget the gym on weekdays.  I’ll kick off every morning with a 30 minute work out that will consist of stairs, lunges, calf raises, squats, burpees, tricep dips, push-ups, incline push-ups, decline push-ups, and crunches – 30 reps each.

Breakfast will consist of a protein shake (banana, whey protein, all-natural peanut butter, almond milk, berries, and steel cut oatmeal).  I’ll stick to lean options for lunch, have a healthy afternoon snack, and stick with a healthy dinner option.  The plan is to do three pescetarian days, two meat days, and two vegetarian days.

We’ll see if this game plan lasts past January.

They usually don’t.

So, that was my New Year’s resolution: To get back down to my fighting weight.

And yours?

Back in 2014, I read a whopping 180 books!  In 2015, distracted by scripts and work, I barely cracked 85.  As a result, my list of Recommended Reads isn’t quite as lengthy as last year’s Top 35 –

https://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/december-2014-top-books-of-2014/

But there were nevertheless some real gems in both the ongoing comic series and book categories…

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MY TOP 10 COMIC BOOK READS OF 2015

10. This Damned Band by Paul Cornell and Tony Parker

9. Ant-Man by Nick Spencer, Ramon Rosanas, and Jordan Boyd.

8. We Can Never Go Home by Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, and Josh Hood

7. Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda

6. Squadron Sinister by Marc Guggenheim and Carlos Pacheco

5. Jupiter’s Circle, vol. 1, by Mark Millar and Chris Sprouse

4. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack

3. Descender by Jeff Lemire

2. Arcadia by Alex Paknadel and Eric Scott Pfeiffer

1. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

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MY TOP 10 BOOK READS OF 2015 (hardly any of which were actually published in 2015).

10. The Deep by Nick Cutter (Horror)

9. 419 by Will Ferguson (Fiction)

8. The Candlemass Road by George MacDonald Fraser (Historical Fiction)

7. The Time Traveler’s Almanac edited by Anne VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer (Science Fiction)

6. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (Fiction)

5. Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg (Crime Fiction)

4. Get Carter by Ted Lewis (Crime Fiction)

3. Lexicon by Max Barry (Science Fiction)

2. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (Non-Fiction)

1. Sharpe’s Tiger by Bernard Cornwell (Historical Fiction)

Honorable Mentions:

Half A War by Joe Abercrombie

Nightborn by Lou Anders

The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Science Fiction)

The End of All Things by John Scalzi (Science Fiction)

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

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What were your top reads of 2015?

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