Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Thing With Too Many Words

Hello, readers.

At the end of every year, Strange Horizons asks their reviewers to submit a year-in-review roundup--a paragraph or so concerning their thoughts on the year in speculativeness.

Since I have written reviews for them in 2010, they asked me to write one of these things and so I did, but it ended up being much too long and far too preoccupied with umbrellas.

I cut it to an appropriate (and umbrella-less) size, though, and you can read that version, along with everyone else's roundup, at Strange Horizons. There are many things listed in people's lists that are worth discovering and arguing about. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, for example, continues to receive much love, and there were some who felt the new season of Doctor Who was not awesome. (Note: Sometimes I was one of those some and very often in 2010 I ended up arguing with myself, and sometimes losing, about the even more manic than usual pace of the Whoverse.)

For those who would like to read the version of my roundup with many too many words about umbrellas, here you go.

I am writing this in my apartment in Seoul, South Korea. It is snowing. People here carry umbrellas on days like this—usually brightly colored ones. Sometimes checkered or polka-dotted ones. This used to seem strange to me, but that was at the beginning of the year, in February, when I had just arrived in Seoul and hardly anything had happened. Lost hadn’t ended. Doctor Who hadn’t rebooted (again). Zombies weren’t outperforming Mad Men. North Korea hadn’t decided to start blowing stuff up (again). It was a simpler time. 

2010, for me, will be remembered in large part as the year I moved to Korea and made new friends, learned of the magic of sweet potato lattes, and became acquainted with han—the Korean concept for a lonely kind of sadness mixed with enraged helplessness. It will also, though, be remembered as a year in pop-culture in which there were many goodbyes, a few hellos, and a surprising amount of dead things which refused to stay dead.

We said goodbye to Lost, which, for all its ghosts and magic and science and tendency to trip over its own ambition in pursuit of cheesy, spectacular melodrama, ended up being about what it was always about, a group of people—who they were, who they are, and who they might have been. Also, that final shot of Jack, perfect.

We said hello to the new, new, new, new, new, new, new, new, new, new version of Doctor Who (that’s 10 new’s if counting tires you). Steven Moffat took over for Russell T. Davies as show-runner, and Matt Smith replaced the much-loved David Tennant as The Doctor. In Moffat’s episodes from previous seasons (“Blink,” for example), he showed himself to be a brilliant writer of giddy, child-like horror, and much of that scary wonder popped up this season, so I was happy and excited about what the future holds for Amy Pond and this, the eleventh, Doctor.

2010 was also another banner year for the undead.  We had, among other things, Zombie Economics, Zombies vs. Unicorns, The Walking Dead adapted for AMC by Frank Darabont, and also, of course, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I haven’t read Zombie Economics or Zombies vs. Unicorns, but I plan on reading the one with magic horses. The Walking Dead, I thought, succeeded in understanding that the title referred not to the zombies, but to a group of people struggling within the confines of horror to remember what it means to be alive and human. And, as for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it managed to resurrect—with both brains and heart—the collective 8-bit unconscious of an entire generation, while simultaneously demonstrating that generation’s remarkable capacity for distraction, interconnectedness, and general kick-assnesses. As such it was derided as insular and self-indulgent by some, and possibly the best movie ever about anything, by others. I lean towards the second camp, but then I once played The Ocarina of Time with my sister, more or less non-stop, for an entire day or possibly weekend. It’s hard to remember, really. We were young and time was different then.

Finally, and most recently, 2010 gave us the beginning of the end of Harry Potter with The Deathly Hallows, Part I, a film which continued that series’ unblemished record of being impeccably filmed and acted, and yet, somehow, never quite capable of capturing the depth of narrative and wit present in Rowling’s books. It was still, though, appropriately scary and exciting and tragic. The Korean girl beside me gasped and wowed and cried at the proper places—as did I. There was a moment in the film when, after Ron has run away and Harry and Hermione’s quest has become stuck in a tent in the middle of nowhere, Harry takes Hermione hand and they dance to a Nick Cave song playing on an old radio. They are hesitant at first, unsure of themselves and their feelings and Ron’s absence—not to mention the terror waiting beyond their tent. In the dance, though, they forget and they smile and they spin. It’s a new kind of magic for them and this series—one only learned, generally speaking, by growing up.

It’s weird to think that next year we’ll have to say goodbye to the boy who lived for a second time.

But that’s time for you. It’s wibbly and wobbly and wimey. Things begin. Things end. The scary magic of it all never really goes away.

In 2010, the apocalypse seemed a bit closer than usual. Violent protests across Europe, tea parties in America, failing economies, assassinated nuclear scientists, fears of pandemics and world-devouring black holes, not to mention leaked secrets, continued and threatened war, and the announcement that The Phantom Menace will return in 3D. Yesterday, Seoul held a practice evacuation. Sirens wailed. Fighter jets zoomed overhead. No one paid it much mind, really. There was a moment, though, before I googled the situation, when I imagined this city disappearing—all of its sadness and rage and umbrellas lost. I was afraid. I felt old.

Thankfully, if the stories of 2010 teach us anything, they teach us that the end of the world happens all the time—whether it’s zombies, aliens, dictators, smoke monsters, or he-who-must-not-be-named— and if we can just keep calm, aim for the head, believe in the power of love and sacrifice, procure a sonic-screwdriver of some kind, and, for god’s sake, remember to remove from around our necks the evil locket of evil that we know makes us evil, then maybe, just maybe, we might make it through next year without being devoured, blown up, or transformed into a bitter, hopeless, nega-version of ourselves.

It’s possible. Most things are.

So long, 2010. Hello, future.

Good luck, everybody.

Chris Kammerud
Seoul, South Korea
December 17th, 2010, a day that it snowed.

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