2016 Round-Ups

2016 was a sad year for my consumptive ambitions. Various factors (including a far shorter commute for six months of the year) caused me to read far less than I did in 2015 – although, to be fair, that round-up had a bit of 2014 in it too.

Somewhat embarrassingly, I found that I’d only read 4 non-fiction books in the entire year – an egregious lapse in personal improvement.

In everything else, it seems like I kept up the watching and playing to 2015 rates. So much for reading as the mainstay of consumptive self-betterment.

Here are the numbers:

Fiction books read: 26

TV shows watched: 2

Non-fiction books read: 4

Films watched: 25

Video games played: 13

That amounts to 1 book every 12 days, 1 film every 15 days, and 1 video game every 28 days.

Some Highlights

Books

There is no separate fiction and non-fiction section because I didn’t read any sufficiently impactful non-fiction in 2016. Sad but true.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (5/5 stars): For years I ignored the advice of my peers and forwent this impeccable collection of short stories; each a curiously complex array of ideas and characters, unspooling plotwise like a toymaker’s wondrous creation. Well, mass media attention has helped rectify that.

What Ho! by P.G. Wodehouse (5/5 stars): After all that, it’s really about the classics. Wodehouse may write about farcical, trivial shindigs, but he is a consummate master at writing about farcical, trivial shindigs. And his prose is the standard against which the entire canon of British humour should be measured.

The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross (4.5/5 stars): The most original of Stross’ Laundry Files novels; this novel opens up a new way for the franchise and introduces a whole host of new characters that break the threatening monotony of Bob-this Bob-that. Although more of that is still welcome.

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (4.5/5 stars): A more grounded Murakami, but Murakami nonetheless. His stories are dreams – colourless yet vivid, and flit about just barely beyond the sphere of waking logic – and fade from your mind once over. Yet the memory of what it felt like persists beyond the pages of the book.

Film

The Big Short (4.5/5 stars): An angrily hilarious send-up of an industry that brought the world to its knees – aimed at both the bombastic douche-yuppies and the stolid, relatable short-selling quants, both of whom come out of the affair smelling of something distinctly less nice than roses. Ryan Gosling gets a gold star with his scene-stealing turn as the stir-crazy Jared Vennett, a walking personification of keyed-up Wall Street executive.

Spotlight (4.5/5 stars): Pretty much the opposite of The Big ShortSpotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team and how they uncovered the Catholic Church’s cover-up of horrific cases of child abuse promulgated by their priests. Sober, sensitive cinema of the highest caliber.

The Nice Guys (4.5/5 stars): The most criminally underrated action-comedy film of the year. The Nice Guys is a buddy comedy that combines a whip-smart script with high-octane action in a period package that made me laugh so hard I cried. I still think back fondly on the ankle holster joke, a sterling example of a Chekhov’s Gun set-up for comedic effect.

Your Name (4.5/5 stars): Shinkai in top form. Riddled with plot holes and anime-style narrative curlicues as it is, it still manages to establish itself as one of the most moving, exuberant, and affecting romances in anime history. Also, it’s gorgeous in that celestial, watercolored Shinkai way.

Rogue One (4.5/5 stars): When I’d thought there’d never be another good Star Wars movie, this one comes along and does everything right. While it may be a bit overstuffed with characters and a bit short on their development, it hearkens back to the Star Wars we all know and love – and adds new dimensions to them. Also, the sight of Imperial Star Destroyers facing off with bulbous Mon Calamari star cruisers is pure high-octane nostalgia.

Video Games

Her Story (4/5 stars): A short but taut and innovative game that requires listening and piecing together the pieces of a narrative puzzle in order to “win”. While not fun in the traditional ludic sense, it is still a wonderful case in point of the sheer potential of the medium to create compelling, narratively-driven experiences.

The Talos Principle: Road to Gehenna (4/5 stars): Just as great and thought-provoking as the original game, Road to Gehenna brings back the complex but satisfying puzzles, and also brings back the philosophy-laden environmental storytelling that made the original game so much more than just a puzzler.

The Witness (4.5/5 stars): The consummate puzzle game, elegant in how it teaches the player to play it, enigmatic in its entire premise. What does the island mean? What is the player doing there? And why are all the puzzles about connecting dots? The questions matter less than the experience of playing it amidst the verdant, color-splashed environs, almost like a meditative space for the questing mind.

Homeworld Remastered Collection (4/5 stars): Stately and elegiac in its storytelling, this space opera remains a classic of the genre due to the herculean efforts of Gearbox Software in remastering the two games. Dated as its AI and core mechanics might feel at times, commanding huge space fleets and employing RPS tactics to crush your enemies amidst the sweeping epic of a generations-long cosmic saga is the stuff of dreams for space opera fans.

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