An obligatory capper to a year for the crapper

Modeling Vincent Villafranca's "Shellmet" at the World Fantasy Awards in San Jose.

Modeling Vincent Villafranca's "Shellmet" at the World Fantasy Awards in San Jose.

2009 sucked. I had to abandon a job I once enjoyed, I saw friends lose theirs as a result of an economic meltdown spurred by corporate greed, and the world situation became increasingly dire, in no small part because of our country’s ill-advised overseas adventures.

But I’m going to keep things on a positive note and list some of the things that made the year bearable. Yes, there were some.

  • Science fiction/fantasy/horror flicks that didn’t suck: Between District 9, Moon, Drag Me to Hell, Star Trek , Watchmen, Coraline, The Road and a few others, I’m hard pressed to think of a recent year where there have been this many smart and entertaining genre films. And I haven’t even seen Avatar yet.
  • My first World Fantasy Convention:Overpriced bar aside, it was a splendid time. It was great to catch up with some old friends, meet new ones and soak in the craziness of that many SF/F/H pros, fans and freaks collected in one place. And I finally get to explore the wacked out Winchester Mystery House. (Check out the pics, courtesy of new bud and sculptor extraordinaire Vincent Villafranca.)
  • Grad school: Yeah, it’s been a time suck and an occasional pain in the ass, but also it’s been a blast to get back into the classroom. I had forgotten how much fun it was to be immersed in academia. What can I say? I’m a dork.

    Touring the Winchester House with John and Traci Picacio.

    Touring the Winchester House with John and Traci Picacio.

  • Joe Abercrombie making fantasy grim again:I burned through two of the Brit author’s books — The Blade Itself (first book of his The First Law Trilogy) and Best Served Cold — and I must say his gritty, blood-soaked tales of betrayal, revenge and torture are a perfect antidote for the namby-pamby volumes of overwrought commercial high fantasy currently wasting space on bookstore shelves. Good thing I still have the rest of the trilogy to go.
  • Jeffrey Ford for making fantasy fantastic again:I just can’t say enough about Jeffrey Ford. The Drowned Life, his most-recent short story collection, and the novel The Shadow Year — part thriller, part memoir and part magical realism — contained some of the best and most imaginitive prose I laid my eyes on this year.
  • Kij Johnson’s monkeys:Kij Johnson’s “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” is the best short story I’ve read in ages. It’s the tale of a woman who buys a travelling monkey show then tries to figure out the secret behind the primates’ nightly disappearing act. But, as with other great short stories, it’s about more than that. Namely learning to work through grief and loss. Thanks, Kij, I needed that.
  • Staying on track with the writing: Despite a lot of distractions, I still managed to keep cranking out the prose. Not as many sales in the second half of the year as I’d hoped, but I’m sure things will pick up. I just need to stay focused and keep the words flowing.
  • Missions Unknown: As you may know, I’m 1/3 of another blog, Missions Unknown, which tracks SF/F/H in San Antonio. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see just how vibrant the scene here has become and to discover how many other creators of fantastic art there are in the Alamo City. No, we’re not New York, London or Seattle, but I’m happy to see the level of creativity going on here.
  • Audible applies the Netflix model to downloading audio books. And it’s helped keep me sane for my workday commute from downtown San Antonio to my office outside Loop 1604.

Here’s wishing for a better 2010.

Will “Drag Me to Hell” drag Hollywood horror back from the brink?

dragmeRead an interesting piece in London’s The Independent over the weekend. The author theorizes that the critical and boxoffice success of Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” could prompt Hollywood to break free of its lame cycle of horror remakes and torture porn. We can only hope.

I enjoyed “Drag Me to Hell,” and while it’s not high art, it was nice to see Raimi return to his fun brand of slapstick horror. The film works because Raimi understands that effective horror — even in a movie as gleefully lowbrow as this one — needs to have a psychological component to back up the grossouts and jump scares. It needs well-drawn characters an audience cares about. Otherwise the pain inflicted on them means nothing.

Will “Drag Me to Hell” help ignite a Hollywood horror renaissance? Hard to say, but I’m rooting for it. I have no desire to sit through another “Saw” installment.