Monday, 31 December 2012

We Interrupt This Broadcast | Happy New Year 2013

Hello again, everyone.

I'm back! If only briefly...

At the crack of dawn tomorrow, the other half and I will be making the drive up to the Isle of Skye, because we find ourselves in need of some time off from our time off. Also it's awesome. :)

To wit, tonight's celebrations will be scaled back a bit from those of previous years, but I can't think of a better place to take in the first day of the New Year than here, really:


Our bags are apt to be madly packed before we first foot a few folks after the bells ring in 2013, but of course I've already sorted the important things out.

Which is to say... the books I'm bringing:


I'm so keen to read each of these three that I couldn't tell you which I'll pick to begin with... and understand that I usually have my next five novels figured out months in advance!

Also coming with us, a handful of movie Blu-rays - the catch-up, it's safe to say, is well underway - and one particularly telling Christmas gift:


Finally, right? :P

Well, wish us luck with our first campaign. I can hardly wait to play!

Meanwhile, you all have an awesome New Year, you hear?

Friday, 28 December 2012

Book Review | The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington


Buy this book from


The Saint Elizabeth Flood of 1421 destroyed towns and villages overnight, the land between the warring cities of Geertruidenberg and Dordrecht becoming a desolate inland sea, mouldering church spires jutting up like tombstones raised to the lost souls below.

Yet even disaster can be profitable for the right sort of individual, and into this flooded realm sail three conspirators: a deranged thug at the edge of madness, a ruthless con man on the cusp of fortune and a half-feral girl who can swim like a fish. Working together, they could find reward beyond reckoning, but such promise is no guarantee against betrayals born of rage and greed.

In a world where peasants feast while noblemen starve, these three uneasy confederates will learn that theft, fraud and even murder are simply part of politics as usual in the now island-city of Dordrecht, and even if their scheme succeeds they may not live long enough to enjoy it...

***

Presumably for want of a better word, the work of North American author Jesse Bullington has been branded fantasy, but stand his latest alongside a cross-section of novels more obviously of the genre and you'll see immediately how inept a description this is. The Folly of the World features no firebolts, has Belgians where banshees might be, and most telling of all, it occurs in the real world... or else a setting very much resembling what you'd expect from said six centuries ago:
"They'd done a decent job building things up to accommodate the raised waterline, and the city walls were the city walls were the city walls, but now the great gray ring of Dordrecht was an island of stone and not a river town in the midst of bustling farmland, with huts and barns pushing up to the marshy edges of the place. Dordt was alone now, a great tombstone for the people of the sea-taken Groote Waard, and there was not a building in the city that didn't have a watermark somewhere along its flank from where the flood had pushed in before admitting defeat and retreating back to its newly conquered realm outside the walls. [The] place still stank like bog rot a year and a half on." (p.77)
Welcome, one and all, to the Netherlands — albeit in the ghastly aftermath of the Saint Elizabeth Flood of 1421, which sucked something like 70 villages and many thousands of unsuspecting residents into the greedy sea. In a rather happier accident, the aforementioned natural disaster also installed a body of water between two cities which had warred historically: Dordrecht and Geertruidenberg.

The Folly of the World largely ignores the latter, taking place primarily in and around the alien yet earthly landscape of drowned Dordrecht. Here, Bullington introduces readers to a pair of poor men who plot to win riches beyond reckoning. Jan and Sander are partners in crime, and lovers in time, but as self-sufficient as they seem, they need another to pull off the longest con they've ever attempted.

Jan finds their third in Jo, a wild dyer's daughter who can swim like a seal — who has had to, in fact, to escape her brothers' savage advances. Thus, though she is hardly glad to be bought - and for a paltry quantity of counterfeit coin, to add insult to injury - Jo reasons that the life stretched out ahead of her can only be better than that she abandons to the past.

Alas, Jan and Sander have other plans for Jolanda, whose mastery of the mouldering meer is exactly what our morally tawdry twosome require to recover a rare treasure long thought engorged by the water: a signet ring which could see Jan a rich man and Sander his upscale squire. But what cost their venal scheme? Far too high a one for two of the three, as we shall see.

All this occurs around the exhilarating outset of Bullington's harrowing narrative, in advance of a twist so significant that The Folly of the World becomes a whole other story hereafter. I shall not speak its name, except to say that sadly, this second tale - which is perhaps thrice as prolonged as the novel's masterful first flush - seems supplementary at best, as the would-be beneficiary of a fortune for squandering all-too-knowingly acknowledges:
"Everything that came after this was less important, if Jan were to be honest with himself, everything beyond this flooded land was dreamlike, insubstantial as clouded breath on a winter's morning, and only by taking the physical artifact could he transform — it was a witch's tool, a magic ring, a relic, not something to be faked. [...] The point was, the ring was down there in the dark, waiting, and he would have it, and then he would be graaf instead of grift." (p.107)
Narratively, Bullington's book can't quite recover from the sheer shock and awe of its elaborate opening act, but even at its weakest - specifically amidst a bland, meandering middle - The Folly of the World is incredibly immersive. Dordrecht's deadlands make for a truly singular setting, underpinned by a desperate sense of dread and an atmosphere so taut with tension that for safety reasons movement should be strictly forbidden.

In the interim, a welcome wealth of character development. Initially, our adult protagonists are a fairly straightforward pair:
"Sander might be more eager to wade into a fight or, sure, yeah, a murder or two, but Jan had a whole different sort of edge to him, maybe the difference between a sword and a fish knife of something, a shaving blade. Whatever. Point was, part of the attraction had always been Jan's willingness to overlook Sander's more violence excesses." (p.108)
By the end of The Folly of the World, however - again avoiding spoilers - Jan and Sander are so changed by the choices they've made, and in such different ways, that they're almost unrecognisable. The only viable path through this novel's manifold madness is Jo, who comes into her own both above the tideline and whilst fighting its tow below. She may be the most memorable character Bullington has created to date; if The Folly of the World were more Jo's narrative than Jan or Sander's, I suspect I would have felt differently about it.

As it stands, though I applaud the author for writing a fantasy so absolutely stark - or a historical horror novel so very hellish - there's so little warmth in The Folly of the World that when Jo isn't about, or the tale itself takes a time out, one's interest and engagement invariably wanes.

Even then, from a distance, there remains much to admire: the fiction's confounding first act features Bullington's best storytelling yet, and the gripping conclusion some 300 pages later almost recalls it. Unfortunately, the Morningstar Award-nominee simply takes far too long to figure out where he's headed during The Folly of the World's distressingly disparate middle section for me to recommend the whole wholeheartedly.

...

This review was originally published, in a slightly altered form, on Tor.com.

***

The Folly of the World
by Jesse Bullington

UK and US Publication: December 2012, Orbit

Buy this book from
Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com
IndieBound / The Book Depository

Or get the Kindle edition

Recommended and Related Reading

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Book Review | Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton




St Libra is paradise for Earth's mega-rich. Until the killing begins.

In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, AD 2142, Detective Sidney Hurst attends a brutal murder scene. The victim turns out to be one of the wealthy North family clones – but none have been reported missing. Disturbingly, a North clone billionaire and his household were horrifically murdered in the exact same manner over twenty years ago, on the tropical planet of St Libra. But if the murderer is still at large, was Angela Tramelo wrongly convicted?

Tough and confident, she never waivered under interrogation – claiming she alone survived an alien attack. But with history repeating itself, the case is re-opened and a new team is sent to St Libra. They must find out whether Angela did see an alien, or whether she had other reasons for being at the scene of the crime, so long ago.

***

I don't care what people say: size matters. Equally, however, it isn't everything. If it were, Great North Road would be Peter F. Hamilton's best book since The Naked God in 1999, but it's not. It's just his biggest, and bigger does not necessarily mean better. Indeed, engrossing as it is on the whole, this sprawling space opera come dreary police procedural would have been twice as strong if it had only been half as long — a problem that's apparent from the offing.

Great North Road begins with the brutal murder of a man from this meticulous milieu's most powerful family. It is the year 2143, and Earth's oil reserves have been barren for many decades. Now, Hamilton has it, the world turns on bioil, a resource largely harvested from algaepaddies on the planet St. Libra: a beautiful but inevitably deadly bushworld connected to the hearth of humanity by one of the North's patented trans-spacial gateways.

Many hundreds strong, the Norths are a colossal company of clones, clones of clones and so on, and St. Libra is essentially their territory, thus they have a monopoly on the resource around which the entire global economy revolves, and fingers, it follows, in practically every pie — including the police. So when detective Sidney Hurst discovers the gruesome remains of an unknown North, he foresees the sheer scale of the subsequent investigation.

But first, a little future history:
"Once upon a time - a hundred and thirty-one years ago to be precise - there were three brothers. They were triplets. Born to separate mothers. Perfect clones of their incredibly wealthy father, Kane North. He named them Augustine, Bartram, and Constantine.

"Although they were excellent replicas of their brother/father - who in turn had possessed all their family's notorious drive, worship of money, and intellectual ability that all Norths inherited - they had a flaw. [...] Any woman having a child by one of the brothers produced yet another copy of the original. This was the flaw in the new dynastic order: as with all forms of replication, copies of copies inevitably saw some deterioration. Errors began to creep into the DNA as it reproduced itself. 2Norths, as the next generation were called, were almost as good as their fathers - but there were subtle deficiencies now. 3Norths were of an even lower quality. 4Norths had both physiological and psychological abnormalities. 5Norths tended not to survive very long.

"But it was the 2Norths who made up the higher echelons of the company management. 2Norths who devotedly ran things for their brother-fathers. 2Norths who had cast-iron links into the very heart of Grande Europe's political and commercial edifice. 2Norths who ruled their fiefdom of Newcastle with benign totality. 2Norths who would want to know who killed one of their brothers, and why. They'd want to know that with some considerable urgency." (pp.14-15)
And there's the rub already, because the first third of Great North Road is exactly as pedantic as our detective dreads. What follows is an unabashedly attentive account of the inquest Sid leads into this cold-blooded killing. Alas, he has no evidence to go on - excepting that unlikely lack - merely an array of competing theories, including astronomical politics, corporate conspiracy and, least plausible of all, alien intrusion. Typically, this last attracts the attention of the eagle-eyed media, particularly considering that another North was murdered in suspiciously similar circumstances on St. Libra some time ago, and the individual convicted of the original crime is still in prison.

To her credit, Angela Tramelo has always insisted on her innocence, and stuck by her strange story - that some extraterrestrial monster was responsible - so after all these years she's freed to help identify her serial-killing creature for the HDA, which is to say an autonomous, anti-alien army about to mount an exploratory expedition into the deepest, darkest reaches of St. Libra in search of said.

With that, Great North Road finally gets going, and moreover gets good. Here is where the complex plot comes into its own; where its characters can at least breathe, if only briefly. Peter F. Hamilton is Britain's most successful science fiction writer for a reason: when he's on form, his work is wonderful — accessible, inventive, evocative and boundlessly bold, as the synopsis above suggests. Sadly, getting to that stage tends to take Hamilton an age, and there's more meandering in this standalone tome than in anything he's published since the final volume of The Night's Dawn.

If you can handle a whole normal novel's worth of that, though, you're likely to love this. I did, in the end — and through most of the middle, additionally. But tedium creeps into the overlong outset nearly immediately. Sid’s painstaking investigation is at a standstill almost constantly, and even on those rare occasions it seems set to move, it goes in slow motion. Therefore the advent of Angela’s markedly more momentous narrative fully a third of the way through Great North Road will be too little, too late for some readers.

But say you’re able to bear the beginning’s glacial pace. In that case, there’s a gripping thriller buried in this book, all backstabbing and interplanetary espionage. And beyond that, behold a truly superb story of survival against abominable odds as Angela and her HDA escort are abandoned in a bizarre landscape where something sickeningly familiar shadows their every step, picking people off one by one. The hunters become the hunted in this desperately tense thread, during which Hamilton summons such suspense – and paces the creepy proceedings ideally – that it’s hard to reconcile this element of the entire with the rest.

Still further on from Great North Road’s first fumblings, the unravelling of the novel’s initial mystery proves immensely satisfying come the conclusion, meanwhile most of the themes and ideas Hamilton has been developing are paid off powerfully. Character arcs are also robustly resolved, and in the intervening period, that which is perhaps most remarkable about this author’s oft-protracted prose – namely the stunning sense of wonder he conjures cumulatively – is ever present, and never less than impressive. Take the sumptuous sights of St. Libra:
“The alien jungle stretched out to the horizon in all directions, lush glaucous vegetation clinging to every hill and ravine, plants that possessed a unique vitality, clogging tributaries until they swamped, forming cliff-like sides to the deeper, faster-flowing rivers. It was relentless and all-powerful. Giant, palm-like trees stabbed upwards, towering thirty to forty metres above the main canopy like green impaling spikes waiting for the Berlin flight to make one mistake. Vines festooned the gaps caused by steep gorges. Bubble-bushes, a pink-hued scrub that grew in clusters across any sodden area, thronged the folds creasing the mountainsides, where misty streams tricked downwards. Waterfalls spewed white from rock precipices, falling for an age into deep pools. Thick tattered braids of cloud meandered along valleys and round peaks. Away to the west, the land rose in a vast massif that created an even more rugged-looking plateau country beyond. Much of it as yet unnamed — who had the time?” (p.253)
I’ll be honest: I didn’t love the length of Great North Road, specifically because of the monotony of its plodding first third, but in terms of its ambition, overall? In terms of its approachability, its worldbuilding, its ultimate impact? Simply brilliant.

An astonishing achievement given how belatedly Peter F. Hamilton's new book begins.

...

This review was originally published, in a slightly altered form, on Tor.com.

***

Great North Road
by Peter F. Hamilton

UK Publication: September 2012, Macmillan
US Publication: January 2013, Del Rey

Buy this book from


Recommended and Related Reading

Monday, 24 December 2012

We Interrupt This Broadcast | Christmas Wishes

In my introduction to Top of the Scots 2012, I talked about what a year this has been for me. What a fantastic, phenomenal, unforgettable year!

It's also been an exhausting one, loathe as I am to admit it.

To wit, I'm doing the unthinkable: I'm taking some time off.

Beginning today, I'm off work for two weeks, the better to let the kiddies enjoy their Christmas... and it occurred to me that maybe I should, too. So! I'm going to be AFK for approximately a fortnight.

Which isn't to say there won't be awesome content on The Speculative Scotsman to entertain you all in my absence. I already have a good few reviews in the queue, and I may yet appear out of the ether to blog about what Santa brought me or some such thing.

I wouldn't count on it, is all. By and large, I plan to spend my holiday cosy in the company of friends and family, and if the powers that be judge me to have been very, very good this year, I may just take the New Year in on the windswept, snow-strewn Isle of Skye. Unappealing as that must sound to some, know that there's nothing I'd love to do more — so here's hoping!

Before I go, though, let me wish you all a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year. I wouldn't be doing this thing day and night if I didn't love it, and you folks are the reason I do. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for that.

But they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so...


What more is there to say than that?

Actually, hang on — there is one thing. Remember the giveaway I blogged about before Top of the Scots 2012 kicked off? Well, we have a winner!

Congratulations to David Finley from North Carolina. You, sir, shall be hearing from me shortly.

To everyone else who entered... there's always next time, I guess. Would that I had a hundred copies of The Vorrh to give away!

With which, I'm going to go squish the gifts under my Christmas tree. :D

We'll talk again in not too long, I don't doubt, but for the time being... you all have an awesome holiday, you hear?

Friday, 21 December 2012

Top of the Scots 2012 | The Best Books: Other Awards

The Five Favourites we talked about yesterday may represent the very pinnacle of 2012's speculative fiction in my eyes, but The Best Books isn't over yet. Not even nearly!

Today, we're going to talk about some of the year's other most notable novels, beginning with a darkly fantastic double-act that only just missed out on proper slots in Top of the Scots' most coveted category.

Runners-Up


A year in which a career best from Caitlin R. Kiernan somehow doesn't make my Five Favourites says more about 2012's abundance of brilliant speculative fiction than it does about The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, which I adored in oh so many senses.
"This [...] is a book of lies, yet there is truth to it, too. The Drowning Girl: A Memoir is unquestionably CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan's most ambitious long-form fiction to date, and its successes are multifarious, its failures truly few. I will say that the twofold conclusion the esteemed author eventually arrives at feels unfortunately hastened, but this doesn't subtract dramatically from the inexorable impact of The End, and again, 'you really have no notion how delightful it will be, was, at the inevitable convergence of those two roads full sail.' Kiernan's prose is in the interim as precise and appealing as ever, if a little less aesthetically poetic by dint of Imp's disorder (or discordant order). Similarly, her capricious characters ring true from their tailbones to their tippy-toes, and however far-fetched it is in fact, there is nothing false about this fiction."
This is one of the rare reviews for other genre-oriented resources that I haven't republished on The Speculative Scotsman, but you can of course read the remainder of the article over here.

To make up for the absences aforementioned, I've discussed my feelings for Kiernan's latest and greatest in more detail in my contributions to both of the other year's best articles I'm a part of. I'll say no more, except to point you towards tor.com and Strange Horizons, where the review excerpted above originally appeared.


Meanwhile, Forge of Darkness - the beginning of The Kharkanas Saga - single-handedly rekindled my interest in The Malazan Book of the Fallen, which I had made I don't know how many attempts to get into in the past.

From my review, which was so long I had to split it in two:
"For a new beginning from a phenomenal fantasy author, Forge of Darkness is surprisingly difficult to wholeheartedly recommend to readers unfamiliar with the series it aims to lay the foundation for. But cast your minds back. Recall that I was such a one, once upon a time. And know now that this twisted fairytale has a happy ending, because I plum loved this book, such that I expect to be first in line for the following volume. 
"Indeed, all I can think is that in the interim between Forge of Darkness and Fall of Light, however long that lasts, I have at least nine more Malazan novels to help keep my mind off the acute pain of anticipation."
True to my word, I've been busy with the series since the time of that writing: rereading Gardens of the Moon in the rare moments I haven't had some dastardly deadline to attend to, as well as beginning Deadhouse Gates again.

There's no stopping me now! :)

Biggest Disappointments


To go from two of 2012's most novel narratives to one of its least encouraging is quite the comedown, but you mustn't misunderstand: The Twelve wasn't a bad book at all. In fact there were elements of it I enjoyed awfully. I appreciated what little forward progress there was, and the action scenes, though few and far between, were exemplary:
"[Great] set-up for the summer blockbuster this book could easily be, if Ridley Scott would only exercise his option. The Massacre of the Field is memorably horrendous, as is the bombastic attack on the Oil Road, and the explosive final showdown unfolds in exquisite slow motion. 
"Unlike The Passage, which made so much of so little - and so very well - The Twelve is at its best in the throes of such spectacle, and if in the periods between these superb set-pieces it seems shallow, and somewhat self-indulgent, rest assured that soon enough, there will be blood. And when it comes, you'll see why this sequel is still worth reading. 
"In the beginning, The Twelve builds brilliantly, and the end - which is both 'a beginning and an ending, standing adjacent but apart' - is excellent. Regrettably, the intermediary episodes are substantially less successful, and to make matters worse they represent the length of any normal novel."
You can read my review of The Twelve in its entirety here. On the whole, however, I came away from the middle volume of Cronin's apocalyptic trilogy quite crestfallen, simply because The Passage was so fantastic. Indeed, way back when, I deemed it one of The Best Books of 2010... whereas The Twelve didn't even figure into my excruciating deliberations over this year's Five Favourites.

Before we move on, let me stress again that The Twelve isn't terrible: it's simply a disappointing successor to a truly tremendous text.

Honourable Mentions


I don't know what it is about the work of Guy Gavriel Kay, but I always read his books whilst on holiday. The better to give them the space and time they deserve, I guess.

The tradition began with Tigana, which I devoured between Christmas meals in 2009. Bang on a year on I read Under Heaven, and earlier in 2012, during my month in America, I went back to the well with A Song For Arbonne.

I dare say my first Kay's still my foremost favourite, but A Song For Arbonne came incredibly close to equalling it. There are truly few books I wouldn't change if I had my way; this is one of that negligible number. Hard to believe it's nearly 20 years old!

The Half-Made World is a rather more recent favourite. I've had a copy since its publication in 2010, and it appealed to me immediately. Sadly, it took two years and a single sequel - The Rise of Ransom City - before I put aside time enough to do it justice.

I'm so glad I did.

I'm going to need a little longer to get my thoughts on Gilman's novel in order, but to make up for my earlier negligence, I plan to review both volumes of this damn fine duology on The Speculative Scotsman shortly. For the moment, know that if I'd gone ahead and read The Half-Made World when it was remotely recent, it would have featured in the very first Top of the Scots in a far more major way than it has here.


I came late to The Macht Saga too. Luckily, I got on board with this awesome author just in time to make a right song and dance about the trilogy finishing in February. I reviewed all three volumes before publishing a love letter to the complete series, from which I've lifted this:
"Kearney, in my admittedly limited experience, is getting better and better. Going from strength to strength, as they say. And I wish more people were reading his work to realise it. If you ask me, the best of his fiction stands shoulder to shoulder - in its own way - with a who's-who of my favourite fantasists, including the likes of Steven Erikson, George R. R. Martin, Guy Gavriel Kay and, at a stretch, R. Scott Bakker.

"But I don't think he sells as well as any of them, and therein's the thing. I have no actual information here - this is just speculation, loosely informed by a smattering of press releases and the buzz around his books versus the buzz around new releases by the other authors above - but the received wisdom seems to be that he's little league, as opposed to being one of the big hitters. And that's a damned travesty."
Yet here we are in the Honourable Mentions section. Why is that, you ask? Well, whilst The Kings of Morning saw off The Macht Saga in fine form, The Ten Thousand is yet the best of the books — and that's two whole years old!

In any case, I'd rather recognise the entire than any one of its parts. If you haven't already had the pleasure, readers, read The Macht Saga! I simply can't imagine a single situation in which you'd end up regretting it.

Glaring Oversights


If you've been following The Speculative Scotsman for any length of time, it won't come as news to you that China Mieville and K. J. Parker are two of my very favourite writers. You'll remember that I recommended The Hammer over every other new novel published in 2011, and perhaps that Kraken featured in Top of the Scots the year previous. Furthermore, you'll can't but be aware that I'm quick to post anything remotely resembling news about either author.

I habitually look forward to their latest with the greatest anticipation.

So why the hell haven't I read their newest books?

Well, I've been busy... but that's hardly the half of it.

If I'm honest, I think I have a problem, because the selfsame thing happened with Under Heaven in 2010: like Railsea and Sharps, it was a new release from a frequently fĂȘted fictioneer that I all but refused to read until after the fact.

What's the use in gilding the lily? I'm a hoarder, but not of the normal denomination: I hoard stories, essentially. I hoard reading experiences that I'm as good as guaranteed to treasure... and in a sense, I sort of want them for myself.

That said, there's another reason for Sharps' absence from my reading this year. I'd been recommending my partner get on the K. J. Parker train for ages, and my copy of Sharps latest arrived at just the right time: Katie was between books, and good to give it a go.

Within a couple of weeks,  while I wrapped up a few literary loose ends, she'd read it from cover to cover, and was ready to surrender an opinion. Readers... I regret to report she didn't dig it.

This took the wind out of my sails somewhat.

I'm pretty sure I'll be reading Railsea sometime soon - hopefully somewhere warm, with coffee and chocolates, over the holidays - but it might take me some time to come back to Sharps.

Final Thoughts

You ask me, 2012 has been a fantastic year for genre fiction. One of the very best in my recollection. For fantasy and science fiction. For horror and alt-history. For the weird and the wonderful.

I had no trouble finding Five Favourites from amongst the many, many contenders... to the point that I seriously considered doing a top ten instead. What stayed my hand was the thought that if I doubled my numbers once, there'd be nothing to stop me from multiplying them again, and again — and what meaning would these awards have then?

Still, my restraint has left me with a list as long as my arm of books I'd recommend to discerning speculative fiction fans in a second. Like Jack Glass and JagannathRed Country and The Corpse-Rat King;  Some Kind of Fairy Tale and The City's Son.

I could go on and on... sadly Top of the Scots cannot.

I can't pretend to have read everything, either; not even everything that's been recommended to me. Other notable oversights include The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, The White Forest by Adam McOmber, This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz.

I'm hoping to spend some time with each of these in 2013, but let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet.  There's still a week of 2012 left, and if it's anything like the last 51, it's bound to be brilliant.

Now then. Our Christmas intermission approaches. I'll be back on Monday to wish you all well, and reward one reader with a particularly gorgeous gift, but with The Best Games and The Best Books behind us, I'm calling time on Top of the Scots for the time being.

Do stay tuned for The Best Movies and The Best of the Rest in early January!

For the moment, let's reflect on 2012.

It's been a hell of a year, hasn't it?

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Top of the Scots 2012 | The Best Books: Five Favourites

Books are why I blog.

There. I've said it.

Sure, I review the occasional video game. I also talk about comics from time to time. And I've been known to post about movies, too... though rather less so lately. But at the end of the day, make no mistake: books are to blame for The Speculative Scotsman.

The Best Books, then, is the crown jewel of Top of the Scots. And it begins... now!

Five Favourites

5. Alif the Unseen
by G. Willow Wilson



As I discussed in my introduction to Top of the Scots 2012, for various reasons I've found time to be in short supply this year, and in light of my limited resources, I've had to make some terribly difficult decisions. One of these was whether or not to read Alif the Unseen.

I'll be honest: I very nearly didn't. I'd had an e-ARC of the US version sitting on my Kindle for some months before a physical copy of the beautiful British edition found its way to me. What finally elicited my interest, coupled with my passing familiarity with G. Willow Wilson from the comics she'd written, was the glowing Neil Gaiman quote on the UK cover. 

Though my reasoning for reading Alif the Unseen may have been both shallow and arbitrary, to my unbridled delight, the book itself was anything but. Here's a particularly suggestive excerpt from the review I wrote in August:
"The Alif is both more and less than a word. It is the first letter of Sura Al Baqara in The Quran; it is the first line of code ever written; it is a state of mind, a suggestion, a symbol that our hero becomes - inasmuch as it becomes him - over the course of this remarkable fantasy narrative. Alif 'had spent so much time cloaked behind his screen name, a mere letter of the alphabet, that he no longer thought of himself as anything but an alif — a straight line, a wall. His given name fell flat in his ears now. The act of concealment had become more powerful that what it concealed.' (p.3) 
"Alif the Unseen, too, conceals a great deal. The initial simplicity of the Aladdin-esque romance with which it begins belies the book's more challenging aspects. Seductive as it is, this early section seems fleeting when set against the heady concoction of faith, torture and politics that fuels its unforgettable finale. Indeed, these ends are so at odds that one can only imagine the inevitable clash, yet instead, Wilson shapes a careful, character-driven commingling — a thing both beautiful and terrible to behold."
Dear readers: if you haven't already experienced Alif the UnseenI urge you to do so at the first available opportunity. It's fantasy at its most magical.

And if I can't convince you, maybe this interview with the author will.


4. The Brides of Rollrock Island
by Margo Lanagan



From the delightful, as above, to the devastating, so below. Unlike Alif the Unseen, which took me entirely by surprise, I'd been anticipating The Brides of Rollrock Island for some time — ever since the twisted fairytale Margo Lanagan told in Tender Morsels in 2008. That latter will never leave me, and if this tragic selkie story is not necessarily its better, than it is its equal, at least.

It's breathtakingly beautiful, too. From my review:
"There is a peculiar poetry to Lanagan's prose: a power - all her own - over those who push through the opaque prologue, and with my every word I would urge you to do exactly that. [...] There's nothing not to love about The Brides of Rollrock Island. It's a wistful book, but wondrous. It will break your heart, and remake it. 
"Surrender yourself, then, to Margo Langan's mesmerising new novel. Allow it to surround you like a shimmering second skin... finer, fuller, and freer, finally, than the first."
Like several of my other selections, The Brides of Rollrock Island isn't easy reading, but what it lacks in accessibility, it more than makes up for in meaning. Which just goes to show that sometimes, literature's greatest rewards are not given, but taken — earned, even.

You'll have to work for this next one as well.

3. Angelmaker
by Nick Harkaway



I don't know what I was expecting when I read Angelmaker back in March. More of the glorious, gabbling madness of The Gone-Away World, perhaps? But more likely something lesser.

I didn't for a minute think Nick Harkaway's new book would blow me away in the manner it managed to. As I wrote in my review:
"The Gone-Away World was 'a bubbling cosmic stew of a book, written with such exuberant imagination that you are left breathless by its sheer ingenuity,' but for all its wonders, Nick Harkaway’s extraordinary debut was not without its issues in addition — foremost amongst them its madcap, almost abstract construction, which too often left one wondering what in The Gone-Away World was going on, even as it was going, going, gone.
"Angelmaker, however, is a book far better put than its predecessor. A markedly more crafted artefact. Though the author’s roving eye remains intact, and those subjects its alights upon feel as delightful and insightful as ever, Harkaway has honed this incomparable trick of his to a filigree so fine that it appears nearly invisible; a filament of woven gold - impossible, yet a fact for all that - which runs through Angelmaker from the fanciful first to the beloved last."
Back in March, Angelmaker seemed to me a clear contender for the year's best books; and here, nearly a year later, its impact is essentially undiminished. I can't think of a single 2012 reading experience I've had more fun with than than I did this one — I've selected the other books on this greatest hits list for other reasons.

Smart, funny and fantastic, Angelmaker is all I could have asked for. But be warned: like The Gone-Away World before it, it won't be for everyone. Why, just the other day The Book Smugglers took exception to Nick Harkaway's apparent inanity... and Ana's complaints were anything but baseless.

But beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder, and obviously this beholder adored Angelmaker.

2. The Vorrh
by Brian Catling




I have hummed and I have hahed about nothing else in Top of the Scots 2012 more than where to place Brian Catling's incredible debut.

Though there's no question in my mind that The Vorrh is a fundamentally fantastic genre novel - amongst the year's best, easily - at the same time it's the most recent release to feature in my Five Favourites by a number of months, and I don't doubt that its primacy in my mind plays some part in its apparent potency.

The long and short of it is that The Vorrh has yet to stand the test of time, whereas the others featured in my list have, and I felt it was important to take age into account this year. Nevertheless, know that it was this close to taking home the trophy.

Here are a few reasons why, excerpted from the review I republished here on The Speculative Scotsman before Top of the Scots kicked off:
"The Vorrh is quite a complex novel, and not always easy to follow, what with its unnamed narrators and its array of peripheral perspectives, but though the going gets tough, the tough makes for good going soon enough. I’d go so far as to say great. [...] And if its story seems iffy initially, rest assured that things become clearer beyond the book’s fulsome first third, by which point I warrant you’ll be comprehensively caught in the inexorable vortex of The Vorrh
"When even the warts of a novel are winning, it’s hard to misunderstand that you have something special on your hands, and The Vorrh is absolutely that. Equal parts dark fantasy and surrealist dream, it is inescapably dense, and unrelentingly intense. Shelve it shoulder to shoulder with 2012’s other most notable novels, then consider carefully which stands lacking in comparison."
And there's still time for you to win a copy of the strictly limited signed and numbered edition of The Vorrh I announced late last week.

If not The Vorrh, then, what's our winner?


1. 2312
by Kim Stanley Robinson




Surprised to see me plump for a science fiction novel as the best book of 2012?

Well you shouldn't be! I basically game the game away in May, in the last paragraphs of my original review:
"The tension in the structure of 2312, between the little and the large, reflects the relationship between the planet-cracking happenings and the seemingly insignificant events that Robinson is interested in for the bulk of the book. The reader is routinely shuttled between stunning set-pieces, like the sunwalk with which the whole thing begins, or the destruction of Terminator - Swan's sweet home if she has one - and quiet, composed, character-oriented moments, such as the prolonged underground walkabout our scattershot protagonist shares with Wahram, or the stop-overs she takes on various terraria. 
"You will come to look upon all these moments equally. In astonishment, in awe, at both the small, and the immense. Such is Robinson's success in terms of the sense-of-wonder 2312 evokes, like a sky full of stars exploding one after the other, over and over again. 
"Given all its ideas, not to speak of the myriad intricacies of each of these, I dare say 2312 is a substantially more accessible novel than it has any right to be. The author's decision to delineate his science from his fiction pays dividends in that respect, as it allows each scene to breathe, and more often than not to blossom. Furthermore, Robinson presents many of most complex concepts with a winning amount of whimsy. As recipes, among other things. 
"There's fun in 2312, then. Fun, and unbelievable wonder; love, profundity and a lot of legitimately gripping drama. Also some startling ideas. I had not dared to dream that Kim Stanley Robinson could even equal Red Mars, but in time, 2312 could take the cake. That and biscuit-based relativity aside, it's a magnificent sweet treat in its own right. Robinson is as intelligent and compelling as ever he has been - at least in my experience - but herein he has tempered his the science of his fiction smartly, and sensitively. The result, simply put, is stunning. 
"Never mind the usual genre divisions: 2312 is easily one of the year's best books, period."
The year's very best book, as it happens, in retrospect at least as much as in the moment.

Hearty congratulations to the creator of a sense of wonder like no other: Kim Stanley Robinson, I salute you!

***

And that's that. My favourite books of 2012, bar none.

Is it just me, or has this been an especially spectacular for speculative fiction?

But The Best Books isn't over yet! Stay tuned to The Speculative Scotsman for tomorrow's Other Awards, wherein we'll see which novels narrowly missed my final five.

In the meantime, I'd be obliged if you chimed in with your own opinions. What was the best book you read since the last time we did this thing? And what, I wonder, was the worst?

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Top of the Scots 2012 | The Best Games: Other Awards

Yesterday, I selected my Five Favourite video games of 2012.

Spoiler alert: season one of The Walking Dead won!

Today, it's time to look at a couple of the other most memorable experiences I had with a controller in my clutches. We're going to pick up right where we left off, beginning with two games that only narrowly missed out on slots at the top.

Runners-Up


Here are two worlds I lost myself in for more hours than I could count. Two games, differently anticipated admittedly - I expected more from Assassin's Creed III, and almost nothing of Sleeping Dogs - which I played and played and played, equally even. Not a single collectible escaped my character in either case. Not a single side mission or miscellaneous objective was left where it very probably belonged.

What can I say? I plum love an awesome open world, and in Sleeping Dogs' Hong Kong, and Assassin's Creed III's revolutionary-era America, I found two to rule them all: two created spaces so different from Liberty City and the like that any excuse to explore them was a worthy one, even if this often amounted to a bounty of busywork.

You often hear it said that the sum of something is better than its parts. I'd turn that hoary old story on its head as regards my runners-up to The Best Games of 2012: both Assassin's Creed III and Sleeping Dogs were fundamentally flawed products which boasted parts far more fun than their sum.

Honourable Mentions


Oh, Rayman Origins. We had such fun together, didn't we?
"Don't think I'm some rabid Rayman fan. If anything, I'm the exact opposite; before now, one of my guiltiest gaming secrets was that I'd never played a Rayman game. Not even a Raving Rabbids. Well I'll tell you this for free: I'll be playing the next one now. 
"The first thing that strikes you about Rayman Origins is its dreamy appearance. Particularly considering that it began life as a downloadable Wii-Ware affair, it's a gorgeous game, lavishly lit, perfectly rendered and smoothly animated. The seemingly simplistic appeal of sidescrollers like this and Mario and all the other console mascots is such that they don't need to be beautiful. The fact that Rayman Origins is so artful and aesthetically fetching is just the icing on the cake. 
"But cake has rarely tasted so great, and I don't mind saying I've tasted some great cakes in my time. The actual platforming mechanics are easy to pick up yet demanding to master, and you do a lot more than run and jump in Rayman Origins. You also swim, wall-run, float, slide and shoot; indeed, eight of the ten worlds you speed through unlocks a new ability, which the subsequent levels teach you to use. All of which means that things are rarely as straightforward as they appear. For a minute it might look like all you need to do is run to the right, but then you have to hop onto a handy mosquito and the bullet hell begins. For serious."
You can read the rest of my Rayman Origins review in this edition of The Monday Miscellany.

For now I'll only add that it was with great regret that the other half and I heard Rayman Legends would be a bloody Wii U exclusive. Hopefully that doesn't last - few exclusive do these days - because I'd hate to be obliged to buy Nintendo's new home console. I played all of about eight games on my Wii in the whole time I had it, and I've staunchly resolved not to make the same mistake again.

Bet I'm not the only either, either. It's awful, but I'd be over the moon if Nintendo shifted its focus to software, like Sega did back in the day. But they just keep on keeping on!


From fun to fear, by way of a 2010 indie effort which scared me in a way no other game has to date. Not even The Walking Dead!
"Amnesia: The Dark Descent is without a doubt the scariest game I have ever played.
"This honour used to belong to the second Silent Hill, but Frictional Games' latest and greatest makes that touchstone of terror look like clowning around by comparison.
"You are Daniel, and that's all you know at the start of this unforgettable six to eight hour experience. When you awaken in the dark somewhere in the underbelly of Brennenburg Castle, for some reason, you have amnesia. What else to do but follow the strange trail of bleeding red petals that leads from your position into the indefinable distance? 
"This is easier said than done. Most of the castle's heavy oak doors are shut tight, meanwhile many of its corridors have collapsed, so for the moment there's only one way to go... but it's so incredibly dark that you can hardly see one foot to put in front of the other. Almost immediately, Daniel's fear begins to get the better of him, and we are with him every tentative step of the way: after all, almost anything could be biding its time in the next room, and lacking illumination, we wouldn't know till it was too late. 
"To make matters worse, it becomes clear that there is someone, or something, hot on our heels. A shadow of some sort. An embodiment of the darkness which seems to mean Daniel harm..."
I reviewed Amnesia: The Dark Descent in full right here on The Speculative Scotsman, and though there's no sense in repeating myself, this once I will: play this game, guys. The last act is trash, but before that, nothing in the industry - perhaps nothing in any industry - can compete with Amnesia in terms of unfettered terror.

The early 2013 sequel, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, can't come soon enough for some.

Biggest Disappointments


I spend an interminable amount of time thinking about which books and movies and games and so on deserve spots in Top of  the Scots. I'm particularly finicky about my Five Favourites, but this year - as you'll see - they've come reasonably easily to me.

Comparatively, this particular category has been a challenge, because to discuss disappointment is to talk about one's expectations as opposed to the quality of a given game per se.

Thus, my first answer will be no-one else's, I expect. After all, who else had high hopes for Silent Hill 8?

From my review:
"Silent Hill has to be one of my all-time favourite franchises, but with each passing year it's become increasingly clear that my position is practically indefensible. 
"I don't think anyone would dispute that the series started strong. Resident Evil might have popularised the survival horror genre, but let's face facts: it was crude, and unconscionably camp. Occasionally shocking, is how I'd politely describe it, rather than scary, or legitimately horrific. Silent Hill, however, hit on a much more meaningful formula.
"Silent Hill: Downpour gets off to a credible start, but all too soon everything was promising about it recedes into the middle distance, and thereafter the ever-present ether. Most players don't finish games, so I suppose it makes sense for Vatra to have frontloaded the latest in the Silent Hill series with the best of their ideas. At this late stage, though, it seems cruel and unusual to tease the type of people likely to give Downpour a go - which is to say me, and folks like me, who finish everything on principle - with an hour of reasonably good game, only to call it quits with nine tenths of the whole as yet ahead. 
"A disappointment, then. Not broken, but boring, and undeniably bland. No surprises there. And what, I wonder, is Silent Hill worth without the element of surprise on side?"
Downpour was the game that finally made me realise that Silent Hill is essentially dead to me, and that -  given my feelings for the series in years previous - is why it's one of my Biggest Disappointments of 2012.

I have another, however.


Famously, Fez was in the works for an egregious period of years, and I'd been desperate to play it since its debut at the 2008 Indie Games Festival. So you can imagine my state of mind when I sat down with Phil Fish's much ballyhooed-about baby fully four years later, only to realise I just wasn't enjoying it.

Fez is a lot of things, obviously: gorgeous, intelligent, literary and ambitious. But the actual experience of playing it is either so simplistic as to liquidise one's intellect, or so incredibly cerebral that it'll make you feel a  fool. Unable to find a happy medium between the two, I came away from Fez fatally deflated.

I've soured even further on Fez in the months since its release, given Phil Fish's bad behaviour. He may be the most obnoxious figure in the industry, and there's stiff competition in that category.

But onwards and upwards, eh?

Glaring Oversights


Despite my feelings for Fez, I can absolutely get behind good arthouse gaming. In fact, given the exceptional response it's gotten - as well as my fondness for Flower, thatgamecompany's previous masterpiece - I full well expect to adore Journey from tip to toe whenever I find the time to play it.

I know it's not a long game. What, two hours tops? And I don't doubt that I could get two hours together. But would I be at my most receptive before bed, or if I were to squeeze in the experience between sessions of something else? I think not, and I want to give Journey room to move; to breathe, like fine wine — not that I'm any kind of connoisseur.

Luckily, with the holidays so nearly here, I should have the chance to do exactly that within the next few weeks, so stay tuned to The Speculative Scotsman for more, because I'll very probably blog about whether or not Journey lives up to my great expectations. Here's hoping!

Final Thoughts

Hard to believe that I've managed to put together not one but two fairly lengthy lists about my most memorable experiences in gaming this year without even alluding to Mass Effect 3Dear Esther, or any of the others that have gone unmentioned in this vast category.

Well done, 2012!

I'm so glad that the industry did itself proud this year, because with the Wii U already out, and news of new consoles from both Microsoft and Sony as good as guaranteed next E3, 2013 is apt to be lacking. I've been gaming since age 8, and in my experience, transitional years are rarely worth writing home about.

There's hope, of course. Hope buoyed by a surprising number of exciting new releases still to come before the great change. Off the top of my head, there's Bioshock: Infinite to look forward to; the latest Tomb Raider reboot; a second Dark Souls; the sequel to Metro 2033; and so many more they deserve their own post rather than this postscript.

That'll have to wait, I'm afraid... because Top of the Scots has hardly started! Tomorrow, we'll be looking at The Best Books of 2012, and more from the speculative fiction front will follow on Friday.

Between now and then, though, I have a couple of questions to ask you fine folks.

What were your favourite video games of 2012? And what are you most looking forward to playing in 2013?

Let's talk it out in the comments! :)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Top of the Scots 2012 | The Best Games: Five Favourites

I've never been shy about my belief that video games are as valid a form of art and entertainment as books and movies. They may not necessarily be there yet, but the promised land is on the horizon, and I see it more clearly this year than I ever have in the past.

That's because this year's best game, in my book, moved me in a way no experience in either film or literature has before.

Those of you who've played it probably know what I'm talking about already - and oh, how I envy those of you who haven't! - so before I give any more of the game away, let's get this show on the road.


Five Favourites

5. FTL: Faster Than Light
developed by Subset Games


FTL: Faster Than Light is a difficult game to describe, but brace yourselves — I'm going to give it a shot anyway.

Let's say it's a... rogue-like space sim... combining real-time and turn-based elements... resource management and battle tactics... randomly-generated enemies and environments... complete with upgrade paths and impossible rewards.

FTL certainly isn't going to be for everyone. Initially, I didn't think I would like it, either, but after completely failing to figure out what it was about for a couple of excruciating hours, I sat down for one final session, determined to either get to grips with it or move on with my life.

That was when it clicked.

My "final" session lasted for four hours. I played FTL again the next night, and the next, and so on, until I got to the last battle against the last boss, which - abominably - I lost.

Call me a glutton for punishment, but months on, I keep coming back for more. FTL must be the most moreish game I've played in 2012. It's probably for the best that the two-man team who developed it haven't yet ported their pet project to Android and iOS devices, because if they had, I might never have been heard from again.


4. Dishonored
developed by Arkane Studios


When I blogged about Dishonored a couple of days before it hit home consoles, it was primarily to applaud Arkane Studios for going against the grain so late in the generation by bringing an original IP to market. Their boldness has already reaped rewards: if recent reports are right, Dishonored's developers have a new franchise on their hands — and that's fantastic.

Appropriately, given its daring, Dishonored cast players as a rebel out to revenge an entire empire:
"Set in the fictional plague-ridden and industrial city of Dunwall, Dishonored follows Corvo Attano, the Empress' legendary bodyguard. He is framed for her murder and forced to become an assassin to seek revenge on those who conspired against him. Corvo is aided in his quest by the Loyalists, a resistance group fighting to reclaim the Empire, and The Outsider, a powerful being who imbues Corvo with magical abilities."
I loved the design of Dishonored, Dunwall made for a wonderful world, and the stealth-based gameplay blew me away.

Not so much the narrative, sadly. Though I had hopes of something resembling Half-Life or Bioshock - what can I say? I'm easily led - what I got, in the end, was a muddle, if not a complete mess. A stunning setting poorly used; an incredible cast of voice actors, including Brad Dourif and Susan Sarandon, none of who got to do much of anything.

I'd have said as much and more in a review... if I'd written one. The only reason I didn't was because despite playing Dishonored to death, I felt like I'd only seen a fraction of all that it had to offer. See, I didn't kill a single person. I didn't once use a deadly weapon. So few games allow you play in such a way that I simply couldn't resist.

What more could you want from a stealth game than that?

Well, since you ask...

3. Mark of the Ninja
developed by Klei Interactive


I'll be the first to admit that Dishonored did it for me, mostly. Mark of the Ninja, then, is the year's clearest illustration that less can be so much more!

For one thing, I couldn't have cared less about the story. Suffice it to say it almost certainly involved a ninja, who may or may not have had a magical tattoo. Utter nonsense, in other words.

But Mark of the Ninja didn't need narrative. Nor did it rest its laurels on lavish graphics or triple-A presentation. It did one thing so incredibly well that everything else it had to offer was just gravy, at the end of the day: it reduced the fundamentals of stealth - which have ever been the bane of gaming - to something pure, precise and more potent than... ever?

You know, I think so.

All stealth games to be 2D going forward! :)

Well, perhaps that's pushing it - see Dishonored, for all its faults - but Mark of the Ninja is a marvellous game all the same, and downloadable for a truly tiny price given the many hours of entertainment it offers. I intend to go back to it over the holidays, to 100% the levels I failed to first time round.

2. X-Com: Enemy Unknown
developed by Firaxis Games


Speaking of games I plan to go back to, I'm already thinking about playing through the entirety of XCOM: Enemy Unknown a second time on a harder difficultly — and I only finally finished it last week!
"Set in the near future, and following the invasion of Earth, XCOM: Enemy Unknown puts the player in control of an elite multinational military organization called the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit, which is tasked with defending the Earth against the alien onslaught. In the field, you command the unit's troops in a series of turn-based tactical missions; meanwhile, you must direct the research and development of new technologies from recovered from fallen aliens and captured prisoners and expand XCOM's base of operations, all whilst managing your finances and monitoring any alien activity."
If that sounds complicated... that's because it is. But here we have half the fun of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. There are so many systems to get to grips with, and so little time! By the time you do have a handle on things, Earth is well on its way to hell in a hand-basket. The sense of tension and jeopardy which defines the experience of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is simply dizzying; I spent 30 hours slowly losing control of all I'd worked towards, only to muster my forces just enough to take back the planet at the last.

Victory has rarely felt sweeter to me.

And defeat has hardly ever been harder. But death is just something you'll have to accept in the second best game of 2012. You will lose some of the soldiers you've shepherded from Recruit to Colonel, and it's tragic. All that time and money and experiential investment... gone. Never mind all that gear you've researched!

But for all that, loss in XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not half as heart-breaking as the feelings you'll experience in what is far and away favourite game of the year.

1. The Walking Dead: Season One
developed by Telltale Games


Who'd have thunk it, huh?

Allow me to answer my own question: no-one would have, is who. Not a year or so ago.

Let's not beat around the bush here: Telltale Games' last few new series were ill omens at best - Jurassic Park in particular was a mess - but the developers of The Walking Dead certainly got their shit together for this borrowed property.

Considering the source material, it's a wonder to me how respectfully The Walking Dead has been treated in all mediums. I haven't yet read The Road To Woodbury, but the first book in Jay Bonansinga's prose series was surprisingly strong.

Meanwhile the TV series has gone from strength to strength. The recent killing off of some of its central characters has been breathtaking, and the sheer sense of momentum behind the first half of its current run has impressed me no end, especially after the relative tedium of the second season.

But not all adaptations are equal, even when the others are stunning. Certainly not in this case. Because the original tale Telltale Games have spun out of the pages of Robert Kirkman's comic book so absorbed me, and so touched me, ultimately, that I'd proclaim its greatness over even my favourite book of 2012.

Seriously.

Contrarians may differ on point of principle - I wouldn't be surprised to see XCOM: Enemy Unknown take the top spot in a few places whose names I dare not name (well, alright: my money's on Giant Bomb and maybe Eurogamer too.) - but by and large, expect The Walking Dead to sweep the industry's awards.

And why is that? Well, Bioshock will always have a special place in my heart, but never in the history of video games has a story been better told than The Walking Dead's. Never have characters seemed so real to me as Lee and Clementine did. 

In short, Season One of Telltale Games' take on The Walking Dead made me cry. No other video game has ever managed that. Precious few books or movies do these days, if I'm honest.

Props to the Idle Thumbs for coming good on the countdown to tears. Dudes: you did it!

I you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry. Just do yourself a favour and play The Walking Dead already. You can buy a collection of the whole first season now for next to nothing, and it might just be worth more than all the others I've talked about today put together.

***

And there we have it. My game of the year... plus a couple of others I loved. :)

So what do you think? Do you agree with my choices, or am I way off base?

Remember to stay tuned for more on the best and worst video games of 2012 tomorrow!