Monday 4 January 2010

Hot Toddy 2010: Week Ending 04/01/10

Although it pains me to begin the first proper edition of Hot Toddy with such an ignoble effort, I can't simply declare that things I despise don't meet the criteria for speculative fiction, so...

In Fiction

(1) Leading the charge at the top of the 25 bestselling books this week is Breaking Dawn, the fourth and thankfully final installment of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga. To my chagrin and indeed much of the internet's, if the Harry Potter franchise was any indication we can expect to see this author featured in Hot Toddy for a long time to come.

(5) Though Charlaine Harris is a better writer by half than the near-illiterate drivel of the Twilight novels, I don't and won't count myself among her many admirers. The latest Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead and Gone, places at #5.

(6) Stephanie Meyer's 2008 novel, The Host, has experienced something of a resurgence in recent weeks; presumably as a gift for Twilight fans who've already devoured the entire series. I'm sure they'll find a lot to like in this execrable alien love triangle, the 6th bestselling book in the UK this week. The rest of us must simply resist the temptation to tear out our unbelieving eyes.

(7) A boxed set of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series repackaged as an introduction to True Blood takes the #7 spot.

(8) In 8th place we have The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. My mum read this book, and even she didn't like it. Nonetheless, with the recent film adaptation, Niffenegger's novel is not an unexpected entry in this week's Hot Toddy.
(9) Similarly resurgent is The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, which neither myself nor my other, better half have managed to finish. To say this is a depressing read is to understate the sheer hopelessness of its strange narrative. All the same, The Speculative Scotsman will be publishing some coverage of Peter Jackson's version for the silver screen soon.

(11) And The Road makes it three for three: books, that is, propelled back to the bestseller list by film versions. Cormac McCarthy's latest, however, is a tour de force that every speculative fiction fan should have read and reread by now. Please, don't do this story a disservice by seeing the film first.

(13) Wouldn't you know it, it's Hot Toddy guest star Charlaine Harris again! Another of the True Blood books, A Touch of Dead, takes the unluckiest spot of all.

(14) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It's only just genre fiction, but this alternate history Nazi novel has been a popular page-turner here in the UK, and for once, the sales are justified. A rare keeper in a field overrun by book versions of various TV and cinema hits.

(15) I've kept my grumbling about Stephen King's Under the Dome to a minimum thus far, but be certain that this behemoth is not the return to classic form that the early publicity promised. 900 disappointing pages with pretty wraparound cover is the kindest thing I can think to say about it.

(18) The much anticipated second novel by The Time Traveler's Wife author Audrey Niffenegger makes an appearance at #18. That's all I've got for Her Fearful Symmetry. I'll give it credit for an interesting title, at least.

(23) Three months since its publication, The Angel's Game by Spanish author Carlos Ruis Zafon is still holding on in Amazon's top 25. I'll have more on Zafon's sophomore effort shortly, but suffice it to say, for the moment, that The Angel's Game certainly an easy, involving read, if not quite the equal of The Shadow of the Wind.

(25) Except for a brief interest after his collaboration with Neil Gaiman in Good Omens, I've never been a Terry Pratchett fan, but there's plenty of them around, and more power to them. Bringing up the rear for the first installment of Hot Toddy is his latest Discworld novel, Unseen Academicals.

In Film

(2) According to Amazon, the most prominent film likely to be of interest to fans of speculative fiction is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I haven't seen yet and can hardly remember reading. Is this the one where Harry tackles the obesity epidemic?

(4) At #4 on DVD and #9 in HD, we have District 9, Neil Bloemkamp's surprisingly thoughtful Summer sci-fi smash. I'm a Scotsman through and through, be sure, but a little South African heritage did wonders for my understanding of the powerful Apartheid parallels. A very cutesy baby alien is not the only reason that this is an excellent film.

(13) Doctor Who - The Complete Specials is not my cup of tea, let's leave it at that.

(14) Rearing its ugly head one last time in this edition of Hot Toddy is the Twilight DVD. Remind me, dear readers: precisely how is an ancient vampire fawning all over a teenage girl somehow acceptable?

(15) The infamous leak having had no apparent effect on the box office of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this film is laughable enough without the undisguised wire-fu of the pirated workprint. But the DVD is certainly selling. Hugh Jackman can do better.

(16) J. J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot is slipping out of the Top 25 more quickly than I'd anticipated, but that doesn't detract from its class-act casting and involving narrative. Then again, everyone who cares has seen it already.

(19) I debated whether or not The Bourne Trilogy could really be counted as speculative fiction, and though it stretches the definition somewhat, there's enough sci-fi here to earn this collection a place - the lowest place, admittedly - on this week's Hot Toddy. Great films, particularly the first and the third, but I'm glad the franchise has apparently run its course.

In Video Games

(3) Coming in so close to the top of Amazon's bestsellers in video Games on the strength of pre-orders alone, Bioware's Mass Effect 2 looks set to be a sizable Xbox 360 hit when it releases in Britain at the end of the month. With certain reservations, I loved the fiction of the first game; here's hoping the gameplay of the second has improved as much as previews have indicated.

(7) Some sites have declared that PS3 exclusive Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was the best game of 2009, and with its seamless interweaving of gameplay and animation, a great swashbuckling story that takes in Shangri-La and a decimated Nepalese people, The Speculative Scotsman would be hard pressed to argue. It might try yet.

(11) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as speculative fiction? That college campus sport of choice? With a world in which modern-day Washington DC has fallen to ruin at the hands of evil Russians, I'd certainly say so. Infinity Ward's sequel places twice in the Top 25: in 11th position on the 360 and in 14th on the weightwatcher of the year - the PS3.

(16) Borderlands has to be the sleeper hit of last year. The slim fiction involving a desert planet and a secret treasure trove is hardly worth mentioning, but on the 360, where the online community is active and interested, moreover, loot-hunting in Gearbox Software's greatest game to date has proven a popular pastime.

(17) I've been playing through Assassin's Creed 2 on my Xbox over the holidays and while I'm not as impressed by the renaissance-era Italian nonsense narrative that has won over so many critics, the cities and countrysides depicted therein are impeccable. So evocative and immersive are they that I've felt on occasion as if I'm scrambling around the landscapes of Tigana. I hear the end is very meta, too.

(20) Star Trek Online takes the 20th spot, which is a very respectable position considering that it doesn't hit until February. But be wary: innumerable other attempts have taught that pre-orders alone do not a successful MMO make.

(25) And finally, clinging to the Top 25 Video Games by a stringy thread of gristle, we have the zombie extravaganza of Left 4 Dead 2. Sadly, my experience with this one to date has left me feeling that it lacks the charm and spontaneity of Valve's landmark first iteration.

In Review

Well. There we have it. It seems that speculative fiction is high on the Amazon buyer's agenda this week, although much of it is such lowest common denominator rubbish that it threatens to overwhelm the less successful genre efforts that more accurately represent our. Here's hoping the gift-giving rush over Christmas has unbalanced this first batch of bestsellers, or else we might be in real trouble, readers.

Look out for another Hot Toddy next week at the same bat-time, same-bat place.

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