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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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One more day to San Diego Comic Con!  I’m packing light so I can come back heavy.

If you’re in the SDCC neighborhood, come see us: Jodelle Ferland, Melissa O’Neil, Roger Cross, Anthony Lemke, and Executive Producer’s Jay Firestone and Vanessa Piazza for autograph signings at the Dark Horse Comics booth (2615) on Thursday at 5 p.m. and again on Friday at 3 p.m., and our Dark Matter panel on Thursday night (7:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m., Room 6BCF.  Secret will be spilled; no prisoners will be taken!

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If you’re a fan of science fiction and aren’t reading Alastair Reynolds – WHY THE HECK NOT?!!  He is one of a handful of contemporary SF authors who should be required reading.  His books are narratively rich, wondrously engaging hard scifi epics possessed of astounding scope and creative depth.  Sound familiar?  Yes, if you love the works of Iain M. Banks (his Culture books in particular), then you’ll love Alastair Reyolds – and vice versa.

Slow Bullets, his latest release, tells the tale of Scur, a conscripted soldier who, left for dead following a vicious post-armistice ambush, awakens on a prisoner transport vessel.  Something has happened to ship, an accident that has claimed the lives of many in their stasis chambers, but released many more, allies and enemies, who must broker an uneasy truce if they are to survive and find out exactly what happened to them.

At a modest 192 pages, Slow Bullets is a great introduction to Reynolds’ masterful storytelling, and the perfect gateway book for those looking to discover their new favorite SF author.

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Speaking of gateway books, I described Frostborn, the first instalment in author Lou Anders’ Throne & Bones series, as a terrific introduction to the fantasy genre for young readers – or older readers looking to raise future Tokien enthusiasts. The second book, Nightborn, does a great job of building on what has come before, expanding the world and its characters in a bold, dynamic adventure. Familiar faces, Karn the gamer and Thianna the giantess, are joined by (or “run afoul of” to be more precise) two new additions to the series, dark elves Tanthal and Deestra (aspiring elite agent of the Underhand!).  A deeper world, increasingly more complex characters, and a twisty-turny quest for the Horn of Osius make for a highly enjoyable, fast-paced read.

Speaking of books, my very favorite children’s book series is about to be getting the small screen treatment compliments of Netflix.  A Series of Unfortunate Events is a devilishly dark and wickedly humorous series focusing on the treks and travails of the Baudelaire children, three hard-luck but incredibly resourceful orphans.

Here’s hoping this version will allow us to forget the hugely disappointing big screen adaptation hated by fans of the book series and considered non-objectionable by those who didn’t know any better.

No word on a release date.

While you’re here, may I direct your attention to a few Dark Matter-related links:

A first look at Ruby Rose as the android, Wendy, in Dark Matter Episode 7:

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Pretty badass looking, no?

http://www.ew.com/article/2015/07/06/ruby-rose-dark-matter-photo

U.K. scifi fans love us!

http://www.tvwise.co.uk/2015/07/syfy-uks-dark-matter-grows-by-5-in-week-2/

“Pulling off a rare feat, the space opera series actually grew its audience in its second week, drawing a consolidated audience of 393K viewers. All told, Dark Matter posted gains of around 17K viewers or just under 5% on the series premiere’s 376K viewers.

The (albeit marginal) ratings growth is significant, as it makes Dark Matter the first new series launch on Syfy UK in the past year to actually grow its audience from the premiere.”

Big things happening on the Dark Horse Comics front, publishers of the Dark Matter comic:

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/ucp-dark-horse-ink-tv-807049

“In a deal a year in the making, comic book powerhouse Dark Horse (The Mask, Hellboy) is getting into the television business with Universal Cable Productions.”

Today’s entry is dedicated to blog regular Das.  Happy Birthday, Birthday Gal!

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“Carnibal is eat the same species.”

– Akemi on cannibalism.

“Hello Kitty’s pet is cat so not carnibal but don’t you find strange?”

– Akemi elucidating on the topic of cannibalism.

“My stomach and back is touching.”

– Akemi’s way of letting me know she’s hungry.

“Wow. So depressing Facebook account ever.”

– Akemi passing judgement on my Facebook activity which is entirely comprised of me sharing missing pet and adopt-a-dog posts.

Hey, Germany, look out!  Dark Matter is headed your way:

Space.ca offers up 5 reasons to count down the days until the Dark Matter debut:

http://www.space.ca/article/Dark-Matter#sthash.VZqdJGhx.dpufhttp://www.space.ca/article/Dark-Matter

Dark Matter makes TV.com’s list of 11 Most Anticipated New Series for summer 2015:

http://www.tv.com/news/most-anticipated-new-summer-shows-143154270939/

Get your Dark Matter t-shirts!

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On a non-Dark Matter-related – but no less awesome – here is the trailer for my friend, Lou Anders’ first book, Frostborn:

And a review of his second book, Nightborn:

http://linkis.com/bit.ly/cuL8S

Another prolific friend has a book forthcoming:

https://outtherebooks.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/a-small-excerpt-from-alastair-reynolds-new-novella-slow-bullets-is-available/ 

While another friend seems to be doing alright:

http://io9.com/john-scalzi-signs-a-massive-10-year-13-book-publishing-1706919623

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I was actually developing Dark Matter as far back as 2007.  That year comes to mind because, in 2007, we were producing Stargate: Atlantis’s fourth season and I remember walking the corridors of the ship we constructed for episode #405, Travelers, and saying to Paul: “We’ve got to find a way to keep these sets. They’d be perfect for Dark Matter!”  In retrospect, it was probably a good thing we didn’t hold on to those sets.  The storage costs over seven years would have no doubt eclipsed the price tag of our spanking new sets.

The nice thing about waiting seven years for your show to get green lit is that it gives you plenty of time to develop the hell out of it.  Characters, their journeys, seasonal and series arcs – you’d be surprised how much you can flesh out over the course of 84+ months.

With a more than fully fleshed out show on our hands,  the plan was to roll right into Dark Matter if and when Stargate ever ended.  I’d been preparing myself for Stargate’s eventual end since Stargate: SG-1’s fifth season, back in early 2000, so I’d grown inured to the dread of cancellation.  As a result, when the end did come, and Stargate: Universe was cancelled in 2011, I was taken by surprise.  I wasn’t ready!

This business is funny sometimes.  Given the fact that Brad Wright and Robert Cooper had effectively established MGM’s t.v. division and made the studio TONS of money with Stargate, I imagined they be set.  A studio deal.  A couple of blind pilots.  Offers to use their years of experience to help shepherd or run whatever other productions the studio had in the pipeline.  No?  A letter of reference?   A hearty handshake?  A “Thanks for multi millions?” scribbled on a post-it?

If they weren’t exactly rolling out the welcome mat for the guys that had earned them enough cash to purchase a tiny country (something modest with a lot of beachfront property), I figured my chances were…slimmer…

“I’m sorry.  What department did you say you used to work in?”

“Uh, television.  A t.v. show actually.  We ran for seventeen seasons, produced over three hundred episodes and two movies?   Stargate?  STARGATE?!”

“Could you spell that?”

Even with a writing/producing background on one of the most successful franchises in television history, the chances of selling a pitch are slim.  People love great ideas.  They love great scripts.  But, usually, not enough to buy them.  Established properties on the other hand…well, that’s a different story.  And that’s something I was well aware of from my days working development.

And so, rather than roll the dice on a pitch tour, I made a single call – to Keith Goldberg at Dark Horse Comics and presented him my idea for Dark Matter.  He loved it and, in no time, we were in business with publisher Mike Richardson on a four-issue SF comic book series.  That would eventually be collected into a trade paperback.  Which would be used as a visual aid and sales document to help Prodigy Pictures President Jay Firestone sell the show.

So, much respect for Mike Richardson, Keith Goldberg, artist Garry Brown, colorist Ryan Hill, editor Patrick Thorpe and the rest of the gang at Dark Horse Comics (Kari Yadro, Aub Driver, Spencer Cushing et al.)

And much respect for Executive Producers Jay Firestone and Vanessa Piazza for getting the show to air.

And much respect for my terrific cast, crew, VFX, and post personnel helped me produce one hell of an awesome SF series.  And a ship-based SF series no less!

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Well, finally!  It’s official!

http://io9.com/first-details-on-david-hewletts-return-to-syfy-in-dark-1695188609

“David Hewlett is returning to Syfy! This summer Hewlett will reunite with Stargate Atlantis writers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie on their new show Dark Matter.

Hewlett will have a recurring part as Talbor Calchek. In a slight change for Hewlett, Calchek is a sleazy agent for unsavory mercenaries who will appear in a four-episode arc.”

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Who is Tabor Calchek?  Well…

“Slick, silver-tongued, and more than a little seedy. Tabor Calchek is the team’s handler and the ultimate agent. For the standard 10% commission, he uses his underworld connections as a broker to secure his clients their lucrative assignments. Tabor is sly, manipulative and opportunistic, and can always be counted on to look out for his client’s best interests…right after his own.”

Imagine a cross between Stargate: Atlantis’s Rodney McKay, Entourage’s Ari Gold, and Nic Cage’s Detective Rick Santoro from Snake Eyes, and you’d have a pretty fair approximation of the Tabor character.  His morals are as suspect as his fashion sense, but he is a hoot!  When it came time to cast the role, we reached out to David and made him an offer.  No audition necessary because I knew he would nail it.  And he did, delivering a performance that had us all struggling to stifle our laughter during his takes.  Behind the scene pics to come.  But here’s something to tide you over…

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Little known fact: When he’s not acting, David Hewlett works station security on Shaofu 2!

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Our second BIG guest star announcement:

“Also guest-starring in the show’s first season will be Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black) as Wendy, described as a “dangerously beautiful android with a full range of pleasure features.”

Well, sure.  That’s one way to describe her, but I prefer…

“Wendy is an entertainment model android designed and built for FUN. The crew discovers her, disassembled in a remote section of the ship and decide to bring her online. Using every bit of her entertainment programming to her advantage, she immediately charms everyone on board – with the exception the ship’s practical work model android who finds Wendy illogical and plain bad company. Resentment brews as the two droids vie for the crew’s attention and affection.”

Ruby landed on our show thanks to the inspired, out-of-the-box casting mind of Dark Matter Executive Producer Jay Firestone – and she was an utter delight to work with.  Smart, sweet, and exceptionally dedicated to her craft, she delivers a one-of-a-kind performance as the multi-faceted Wendy, at turns sunny, sharp, and totally kick-ass.  Oh, and 1000 bonus points to her for being such a compassionate dog rescuer.

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Ruby celebrated her birthday Dark Matter style, with Executive Producer Jay Firestone and the gang playing laser tag.

AND…that’s another wrap!  Episode #108 is in the books and director T.W. Peacocke heads to editing.

Monday, we roll right back into episode #109 with four days of director Ron Murphy’s episode still to shoot.

And then, Dark Matter stunt coordinator John Stead assumes the directing reins on episode #110.

While that goes to camera, it’s another Stargate reunion of sorts as director Martin Wood comes into town to prep episode #111.

And we finish Dark Matter’s first season in fine style, with another Stargate alum as director Andy Mikita drops by to shoot episodes #112 and #113.

I can’t believe we have less than two months to go.  I’ve got to start making plans for my return trip home to Vancouver!

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“My hair is hauntedly long.”

– Akemi today, presumably comparing her hair to Ringu’s creepy crawling Sadako.

I spent much of the weekend going over the director’s cut of episode #101 (directed by T.J. Scott, edited by Paul Day).  It’s pretty awesome – and will be awesomer still once they’ve addressed my persnickety notes (“add/trim head/tail”, “swap the wide for a closer shot”, “swap the close up for a wide shot”, “slug for insert”, “More ship!”).  I’m in for main unit call tomorrow so I can catch as much of the corridor/airlock sequences as possible and do the production meeting before heading over to editing.

Today, I showed Akemi Alex Mallari Jr’s bo staff sequence.  Her first response was: “Kung Fu Panda!”  Her second response was: “Very cool!”

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This afternoon, I visited The Comic Pile in Kensington Market and picked up the above-pictured titles.  It’s been a while.  Following the conclusion of the under appreciated The Superior Foes of Spiderman, and Miles Morales’s recruitment by SHIELD, I rarely ever pick up single issues anymore.  The big event crossovers are just too damn tiresome.  Only a few trade paperbacks make the list: The Walking Dead, Saga, Alex + Ada, and, surprisingly, Afterlife with Archie.  Is there something I’m missing?

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Not that I’ll necessarily have time to check them out.  The production has seriously cut into my reading time.  I definitely won’t be getting close to the 180 books I read in 2014 (check out my top titles of the year in this blog entry: https://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/december-2014-top-books-of-2014/).  But that won’t stop be from trying.  I’m presently reading The Rosie Effect on set between set-ups and picked up the above-pictured books today.

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I have little time to read and even less time to watch television, so the shows I actually check out are few and far between.  There’s Game of Thrones (premiering April 12th), and there’s The Walking Dead premiering – Hey, whaddya know! – tonight at 9:00 p.m. on AMC.

What are on your watch lists?  Besides Dark Matter of course.

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“Top 25?!”said Paul.  “How many books did you read this year?”

Well, after the paltry 65 I got through in 2013, I decided to make a concerted effort to improve on that embarrassing number in 2014.  My goal was a lofty 120 – which I ended up far exceeding, racking up a very respectable 180 books on the year (and I could have done even better had I not been distracted by this pesky production).

Let’s be real.  Most Best of the Year lists are full of crap, lazily lauding critical darlings or rewarding mere premise over execution (I’m tempted to compile a list of “Top 10 Worst Books That Made Everyone Else’s Top 10 Best Books”).  This, on the other hand, is my diverse list of the books that truly resonated with me this year; books I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.  And do!

So, yeah.  Top 25.  But then, after I started compiling my list, I realized I was excluding some terrific books – and so, I expanded it to a Top 30.  And, eventually, 35.

Many of these books were published prior to this year – but I’ve indicated the 2014 releases with an asterisk (*) and capped my countdown with a mini Top 10 Titles of 2014 list.

All to say – here are the books I most enjoyed reading between January 1st and December 31st (inclusive!) of this year.  It’s a nice eclectic mix covering everything from graphic novels and genre (horror, fantasy, SF, mystery) to general fiction and non-fiction.

What titles made your list?

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*35. BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

A series of bizarre murder-suicides in Russia pique the media’s interest, but when these horrific incidents begin to proliferate and start striking closer to home, the world descends into a blind panic. Rumour spreads that people are being driven insane by the sight of some mysterious otherworldly entities and, soon, people have retreated into their homes, covering up their windows, refusing to open their eyes if they venture outdoors.  A helluva page-turner.

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*34. THE ROAD TO RECKONING by Robert Lautner

You can almost smell the gun smoke, sweat, and campfire in this gritty Western character piece about a young boy, orphaned after his father’s murder, who enlists the help of an ornery bastard to get him home.  Smart and absorbing.

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*33. FROSTBORN by Lou Anders

Award-winning editor Lou Anders first novel is a Norse-inspired, adventure-fueled tale for young fantasy enthusiasts. Karn, a young farmer-to-be, strikes up an unlikely friendship with Thianna, a half-giantess, to take on undead forces, an ancient dragon, troublesome trolls, an opportunistic uncle, and more! If you’re looking to inspire your child to follow in your Martin/Eddings/Jordan-loving footsteps, then this book is a great place to start.

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32. ANCILLARY JUSTICE – Anne Leckie

The mysterious Breq is much more (and less!) than she appears. Once a military starship possessed of Artificial Intelligence, she now exists as merely one of the thousands of former ancillaries (a.k.a. corpse soldiers) that live as extensions of her former self. Reduced to a single fragile human body, fueled by the memories of her powerful past, she sets out on a seemingly impossible mission of vengeance. Sound cool? Well, it is. And smart. I haven’t read an SF novel this engrossing in quite a while.

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31. A CALCULATED LIFE By Anne Charnock

In the late 21st century, society has stratified into the haves (genetically-enhanced individuals who live comfortable lives free of addiction and crime) and the have-nots (drudge workers who live in segregated, crime-ridden communities). Our protagonist, Jayna, is a hot up-and-comer at a corporation that track global trends. She has the perfect job, the perfect life and yet, she can’t help but feel that something is…off. Perfection aint all it’s cracked up to be and when Jayna decides to inject a little unpredictability into her ordered existence, things take a turn for the dangerous.

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30. SCHRODER by Amity Gaige

In the heat of a custody battle, a desperate father takes his daughter on an ill-advised extended road trip. It’s one of several big errors in judgement that lead our protagonist down an inevitably heartbreaking path. The fairly straightforward premise belies a surprising complexity in this touching and tragic tale. On the surface, not “the type of book” I’d enjoy – but I was thoroughly engrossed.

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29. THE INVERTED WORLD by Christopher Priest

A city moves along a railroad track in constant, laborious progress, attempting to keep up with something called “the optimum” – or risk losing pace and falling victim to a gravitational field that has warped space and time. This is a truly bizarre work of science fiction that jumps between multiple narrative styles in telling a story that is both grounded in its characters yet intellectually and creatively provocative in its conceit. At times, I felt like I was reading Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow – on acid.

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*28. TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR by Joshua Ferris

Online identity theft turns a middle-aged dentist’s life upside-down in this wickedly dark novel about self, faith, and the inherent dangers of not flossing.

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27. The Circle by Dave Eggers

Our young heroine lands a job working for The Circle, a cutting edge internet company that is Google, Facebook, and Yahoo rolled into one. Before she knows it, she is at the forefront of a wave of technological advancements that will revolutionize social interaction. But at what price? A smart, scary book that explores the potentially insidious consequences of our increasingly “connected” lives.  Delivers a powerful message on our increasing willingness to relinquish privacy and freedom in exchange for convenience.

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26. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie has distinguished himself in a fairly crowded field, delivering gritty, visceral, yet darkly humorous tales that fly in the face of established high fantasy conventions. His world-building is as unique and richly textured as the colorful characters who battle and banter their way through his stories, and I list him among my very favorite authors. Period. Beginning with his first book, The Blade Itself, and continuing through five subsequent novels, I can honestly say “I’ve never read an Abercrombie book I haven’t loved.”.  Red Country is Joe at his consistent best, a story about a young girl, Shy South, who sets off to rescue her younger siblings from a group of murderous outlaws. She is aided in her quest by Lamb, her (seemingly) spineless soft-spoken stepfather, and the unlikeliest of allies in a group of risk-averse mercenaries. A hell of a lot of fun.

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*25. ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer

A team of four women set out to explore a mysterious region known as Area X. By all accounts, they are the twelfth group to journey into the bizarre amazon-like territory. All of the previous expeditions have ended badly, marked by murders, suicides, disappearances, and, in the case of the eleventh, the inexplicable return of its members, sickened and psychologically broken by their experience. Our narrator, a biologist, apprises us of her team’s progress as they venture deep into Area X, making strange discoveries and unearthing hidden agendas, all the while dogged by a creeping suspicion that all is not right…

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24. The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

A great near-future thriller that follows Detective Henry Palace in his investigation of a suspicious suicide – amidst the backdrop of societal breakdown as the world prepares for the apocalyptic arrival of Asteroid 2011GV.  While the clock ticks down toward an extinction level event, suicides abound and people abandon all to pursue their bucket lists, but Henry demonstrates single-minded focus.  The first book in a three part series, each focusing on a different investigation – and the continuing erosion of civilization.

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23. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

A clerical error sparks a property dispute between a former Iranian Air Force Colonel and a recovering addict, a conflict fueled by desperation and pride that eventually leads to tragic consequences. Dubus does a masterful job of presenting us with the very real and very sympathetic people on both sides of the issue. This one will stay with you.

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22. Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Herman Koch excels at developing fascinating morally ambiguous, occasionally sociopathic characters – and his books are the opposite of feel-good summer reads.  So, with that warning in mind, prepare to be thoroughly engrossed by this novel about a physician to the stars who faces some serious legal consequences after one of his celebrity patients dies following a botched medical procedure.

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21. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

After a series of horrific child murders casts suspicion on the local Jewish community (a valuable tax source for the English court), King Henry II brings in a brilliant coroner, educated at the school of medicine in Salerno, to lead the investigation.  The only hitch – she’s a woman.  Operating at a time in England when female doctors are about as prevalent as tennis rackets, our protagonist, Adelia, must feign assistantship to her own assistant in order to solve the murders.  A great historical mystery.

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*20. We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

A story of two sisters and their incredible bond. Nell and Layla are inseparable, the best of friends, drawn even closer by their parents’ divorce. But Nell begins to notice a change in her sister. Layla becomes withdrawn and secretive, and Nell suspects it may have something to do with a popular high school teacher. Restrained and real.

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*19. Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?  by Roz Chast

At times reminiscent of Art Spiegelman’s brilliant graphic novel Maus in its depiction of the relationship between aging parents and their middle-aged offspring, this bittersweet memoir traces artist Roz Chast’s struggles to care for her increasingly infirm mother and father as they deal with their loss of independence, their health and, eventually, each other.  At times very funny and at times heartbreaking, it’s an eye-opening account of the realities that await us all.

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*18. Afterlife with Archie (Escape from Riverdale) by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa

Archie Andrews and the gang from Riverdale face a zombie apocalypse when their high school dance is crashed by the undead, forcing them to take refuge at Lodge Manor. Surprisingly dark, this grim take on the hitherto silly comic is shockingly effective. Right up there with The Walking Dead and World War Z.

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17. N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

Hill finally comes into his own with an unsettling story about missing kids, a dark fantasy land, and a creepy yet surprisingly nuanced villain. A standout read.

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16. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

A history of scientology and its frighteningly far reach. Terrifying.

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15. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I generally hate blog books but this one is the exception.  Incisive, engaging, and very, very funny, it’s complimented by some perfect and perfectly hilarious illustrations.

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*14. Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Jason Fitger writes a lot of reference letters.  A lot of woeful, meandering, passive-aggressive, unintentionally offensive reference letters that, if nothing else, offer tragic-comic insight into the world of their author, an embittered professor of creative writing at a small liberal arts school.  The book, a hilarious collection of his (un)professional missives, will have you carefully reconsidering the next time you ask someone for a professional recommendation.

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*13. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Many will no doubt draw comparisons to Kate Atkinson’s much-hyped Life After Life given the similar premise – a protagonist is continually reborn after death, reliving his/her life over and over – but whereas Atkinson’s heroine has no knowledge of her past experiences, North’s hero does and this makes for a completely different and (in my opinion) far more interesting narrative.  Armed with the memories of what came before, Harry August discovers others like him, time traveling kalachakra, who hold the secret to saving the world – and ending it.

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*12. In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

Historical documents, journals, and personal accounts are used to reconstruct the ill-fated polar voyage of the USS Jeanette and its 33 man crew who are forced to undertake a grueling thousand mile journey across the frozen Arctic when their ship goes down in icy waters.  Harrowing.

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11. Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer

When a young American backpacker turns up dead in Capetown and her friend disappears, Detective Benny Griessel is tasked with the politically-charged job finding the missing girl.  The narrative jumps back and forth between the official investigation and the young woman on the run in this highly suspenseful, immensely captivating page-turner.  Impossible to put down, I read this novel in a single night, staying up until 2:00 a.m to finish it.

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*10. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

It’s an going series, so I’m including it as a 2014 release.  Two former soldiers, deserters, and star-crossed lovers from opposing sides of an interplanetary conflict attempt to put the war behind them and raise their daughter with the help of some unlikely allies.  But their pasts come back to haunt them in the form of some even unlikelier enemies – and otherworldly complications.  The comic book version of an intricately plotted, character-driven cable drama.  Fiercely original.

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*9. The Troop by Nick Cutter

A field trip to an isolated island takes a horrific turn for a group of young boys when their scout leader welcomes an emaciated stranger into their camp. It’s a horror version of Lord of Flies that is at turns harrowing, humorous, and thoroughly engaging. Wonderfully written. It’s heads and shoulders above most novels in the genre.

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8. Super Graphic by Tim Leong

This visual guide to the comic book universe uses pie charts, venn diagrams, bar graphs, maps, and trajectories to highlight fun facts. Whether it’s a rundown of DC’s alternate Earths, the pizza particulars of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the alliances and connections of the denizens of Sin City, a Walking Dead kill counter, a map of Tintin’s travels, or a taxonomy of animal-named characters, there’s something here for most every fan to geek-out over. LOVED it!

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7. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

Moorish Spain (or a fictional version thereof) is the backdrop of this sweeping historical fantasy involving sieges, warfare, diabolical plots, courtly intrigue, crosses, double-crosses, friendship, and romance. At heart of it all are three protagonists whose backgrounds and alliances lead them on intersecting paths both heroic and tragic. Brilliant world-building and wonderfully nuanced characters. My introduction to the works of author Guy Gavriel Kay novel. Highly recommended.

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6. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

When his wife goes missing, family and friends rally in support of her distressed husband – until evidence surfaces suggesting he may have had a hand in her disappearance.  As suspicion mounts and the onion is peeled on a less than ideal marriage, the reader discovers that appearances can be very deceiving.  Replete with twists and turns, a compelling read.

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*5. Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Young Prince Yarvi is son to the King of Gettland.  Born with only one good hand and no aspirations to the throne, he has grown up in the shadow of his older brother.  But when his father and brother fall in battle, it falls on him to avenge them.  His scheming uncle has other plans, however, and Yarvi is betrayed and sold into slavery.  And so, it’s from his lowly position as a galley rower riding the Shattered Sea that his quest for revenge begins, one that will see him forge alliances with reprobates and renegades, battle fierce adversaries, and, ultimately, reforge himself into a force to be reckoned with.

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4. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

To honor the memory of his recently deceased father, Judd Altman learns he must sit shiva, spending the week in mourning with his fractured family.  Disparate personalities clash as unresolved issues resurface in this wickedly humorous novel.

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3. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman, a brilliant but socially inept professor of genetics, comes up with the optimal means to finding his ideal companion: a sixteen page questionnaire designed to weed out unsuitable candidates and zero in on his perfect match.  His scientifically sound approach to love yields unexpected results in this touching and thoroughly charming novel.

1*2. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Inspired by an experiment in the 1930’s in which a husband and wife research team raised a baby chimp in their home as a member of their family, this novel offers a fictional account of a similar experiment run some sixty years later – and its heartbreaking effects on those involved. Our narrator is Rosemary, a woman who reflects back on her childhood, growing up with a human brother and chimpanzee sister – until the dark day her sister, Fern, was taken away. The loss of their beloved family members has far-reaching consequences for all of them. Some fifteen years later, Rosemary attempts to learn the truth about her sister’s fate.  Humorous and poignant.

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1. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The book opens with our narrator, Jeannette, on her way to a New York City function, when her cab stops beside a homeless women rooting through the trash. Upon closer scrutiny, Jeannette realizes that homeless woman is, in fact, her mother. And so begins one of the most amazing books I’ve read in recent memory. The blurb on the back of the jacket does it an enormous disservice, painting it as a bleak autobiographical account of woman growing up in an abusive family. It’s actually quite touching, uplifting – and incredibly funny, reminiscent of David Sedaris at his very darkest. One of my Top 10 books of all time. Go read it!

MY TOP 10 BOOKS OF 2014

#10 – We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

#9 – Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

#8 – Afterlife with Archie (Escape from Riverdale) by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa

#7 – Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

#6 – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

#5 – In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

#4 – Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

#3 – The Troop by Nick Cutter

#2 – Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

#1 – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Happy New Year!

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