Worst. Christmas. Ever. I was hit with a stomach bug late Christmas Eve and only got out of bed all day to haunt the bathroom saying, ‘oh god, oh god, oh god.’ In total, I ate four shreddies. Only member of the household to escape was my wife, and in a sense hers was the worst fate since she had to clean up after the three children, who all got it too.
But Christmas is past now, thank heavens, and New Year is upon us. 38 today, and blow me if that isn’t another year down the pan. Last year I was talking about how the building project was finally dragging to a close. I can happily report that it still hasn’t quite finished another year on. Crazy. I actually have a six year old daughter now. When the hell did that happen? And I published one more book. That makes six altogether, over 1.2 million words of fiction out there in the marketplace. So what’s been happening this year, then?
A YEAR IN BOOKSELLING – Yeah, again, I really can’t complain. Well, I could, and frequently do. But I really shouldn’t complain. Red Country came out in October in the UK, and though it only made no. 10 on the hardcover bestseller list, it was during one of the most competitive weeks of the year. It sold slightly fewer hardcovers in its first week than The Heroes had done the previous January to make no. 3, but sold considerably better on export across Europe, and also a far greater number of e-books, demonstrating the shape of things to come, no doubt, with a dwindling hardcover market and a steadily increasing e-book one. The US edition followed in November and, despite last-minute rescheduling, made the New York Times list for the first time. No. 27 but, hey, still immensely pleasing, and I love room for improvement. I’m an international Sunday and New York Times bestselling author, biatches, you can never take that away from me! The other five books continue to tick over rather nicely too, and I’ve done more travelling and conventioning than ever this year, with visits to the US, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, and Australia as well as a goodly number of British appearances. Need to scale that back a bit next year or I’ll get nothing done…
A YEAR IN BOOK WRITING – Better than last year, certainly. Wrote the last third of Red Country and edited it, obviously. Also turned in a pretty substantial short story, about 12,000 words, which should appear in due course. There’s actually another short story of some 8,000 words which I wrote not last year but the year before (end of 2010) which is still waiting for publication, more news on these when I have it. The hefty touring schedule took out most of October and November, though I’ve still managed to make a fair bit of progress on a couple of other projects the details of which shall for the time being remain secret but will in due course be revealed to shocked gasps of shock, amazement, shock, wonder and delight. Probably.
BOOKS – A pitiful amount of reading has been done this year, truly pitiful. A few more westerns early on, some viking-related stuff towards the end of the year, the pick of it probably Frans Bengtsson’s classic The Long Ships which is well worth a look. Other notable reads have all been by friends/acquaintances, so the usual disclaimers that I know these authors at least a little bit, but I thoroughly enjoyed all three. Adam Nevill’s British Fantasy Award Winning The Ritual is survival horror with the edges left on, as a set of wayward weekend walkers fall foul of something hideous and unknowable in the primordial forests of Sweden. Robert Low’s The Wolf Sea is the sequel to his excellent The Whale Road - savage, dark, authentic-feeling viking fiction. Garth Nix’s Confusion of Princes is space opera with wit, wonder, pace and focus.
TV and FILM – I finally saw the first season of Game of Thrones, and thought they’d made an excellent fist of it, I must say. I’m really delighted to finally see a gritty fantasy (THE gritty fantasy, some would say) so convincingly brought to screen, especially the small screen, as that seems to be where a lot of the exciting work is happening these days. That exciting work for me this year has included the bleak and brilliant Breaking Bad season 3, the bleak and beautiful Mad Men season 5, the bleak and insightful In Treatment season 2, as well as a vintage season of Strictly Come Dancing. But I’m not sure the best thing I saw all year wasn’t the excellent Danish/Swedish thriller The Bridge, even better than The Killing, second season of which didn’t quite reach the heights of the first. On the larger screen there were a clutch of interesting SFnal releases. Prometheus I found a baffling mess. The remake of Total Recall was pants. The Hobbit was far from awful but also far from the heights of Lord of the Rings and could have shed a good half hour of self-important bloat. In the increasingly congested superhero arena the new rebooted Spiderman reboot started well for me then middled badly and ended worse and probably the franchise needs another new rebooted reboot now, I shouldn’t wonder. Iron Man 2 was pretty good, partly because of Sam Rockwell’s ace performance. Avengers Assemble gave me mixed feelings, though. The Dark Knight Rises wilted a little under the weight of its own unrealism and fell well short of its predecessor. Pick of the SF for me was probably the stripped-down, tough and hungry Dredd, which hit squarely what it aimed at, and the interesting Looper, which had big ambitions it perhaps fell slightly short of. A lot of people liked Skyfall but I found it very disappointing – a hodge-podge of bond-ish moments without much plot or coherent thread through the middle. Having seemed to offer so much this latest Bond incarnation feels like it’s falling back on all the cliches, now, with only deliciously nasty Javier Bardem offering much zip opposite an oddly uninvolved and uninvolving Daniel Craig. Perhaps my favourite film of the year was the stylish yet brutal, silent yet explosive Drive. Hmm. Bryan Cranston has been in two of my favourite things this year. And one of my least favourite…
GAMES – 2012 promised much but there have been perhaps a few minor disappointments. Stuff like Darksiders II and Kingdoms of Amalur passed hours but left little long-lasting impression. Dragon’s Dogma was charming but sorta … odd. I personally doubt that extremely violent games make you violent, but Max Payne 3 proved that they can certainly make you bored. Dishonored looked like a real humdinger, and in many ways it is, with superb styling, original setting, and looks to die for but, I dunno, after putting a few hours in I haven’t felt hugely compelled to go back to it. Instead I started playing Assassin’s Creed 3 which, again, looks like a real humdinger, with a huge world, some nimble plotting and loads of diverse content but, I dunno, there’s a LOT of running around, the resource management system is stunningly clunky and over-complicated and, lovingly rendered though its American War of Independence setting is, it lacks the pop and variety of Renaissance Italy. Plus there seems something, I dunno, rather hamfisted and wilfully stupid in its treatment of the historical subject matter that either was done better or just didn’t bother me in the more distant historical material of the previous games. So what was good? Well, X-Com ticked most of the boxes with a good deal more depth and content than you’ll usually get on a Playstation and that’s my number 3 for the year, with a two way tie for number 1 between two very different beasties. The ending of Mass-Effect 3 went down a storm with the gaming public. A shitstorm, that is, unparalleled in its ferocity. I was a little bemused by the reaction. The series just didn’t have a heavy central theme that could produce a barnstorming conclusion like Red Dead Redemption, so I got pretty much what I expected – half an hour of incoherent hand-wavy nonsense. But that by no means spoiled my enjoyment of what, up until that moment, had been a brilliant game. Lacking the depth, edge, and subtlety of Mass-Effect 2, maybe, but with the game system, cutscenes and arcade elements better than ever before. I don’t think there’s a better fusion of action, roleplaying and sheer filmic storytelling to be had in a computer game. Yeah, crappy end, real crappy, but even so. And sharing the laurel wreath, a late entry in the form of Borderlands 2, building on everything that made the first one such an unexpected treat and upping the ante in terms of looks, settings, humour, ludicrous quantity of guns, and delivering one of video gaming’s classic villains in Handsome Jack. It’s just an awful lot of fun.
BEST REVIEWS – Quite a few nice ones for Red Country, if I say so myself. Allow me to pick out a couple of highlights. Publishers weekly said, “Terrific fight scenes, compelling characters, and sardonic, vivid prose show Abercrombie at the top of his game.” Jared at Pornokitsch thought, “Abercrombie is fast supplanting George R.R. Martin as the standard by which all contemporary epic fantasy should be measured.” Phew, I don’t know about that, Jared, but thanks all the same. The Guardian said, “Abercrombie writes fantasy like no one else: Red Country is a marvellous follow-up to his highly praised The Heroes.” The Independent had it, “This is not the epic fantasy of your fathers … Red Country reads like neither a Western nor a fantasy novel, but something new, fresh and exciting.” But I’ll give the last word to Niall Alexander writing for Tor.com, when he says: “Red Country is vile at times, and plain ugly most all others, but mark my words: from source to termination, you won’t be able to look away… because by the dead, this book is brilliant … the work of Joe Abercrombie is as blackly fantastic as it’s ever been, and markedly more approachable than before.” Zing.
BEST WORST REVIEW – I’m a little surprised, actually. There was, of course, the usual crop of amazon one-starrings, Goodreads-lashings, accusations of overratings and offhand chat-room pastings, but nothing really stands out as did Leo Grin’s existential broadside of last year. Ah well. Perhaps next year someone will really tear me a new one on the internet. We can hope…
Happy new year, readers!