Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.
Favourite Video Game Played in 2017
I played Horizon Zero Dawn on my flatmate’s PS4, and when she moved out, I bought a PS4 and a TV just so that I could play it again.
As Aloy, a cynical, outcast wanderer who wants to discover the secrets of her origin and stumbles into saving humanity, I travelled through a beautifully-realised post-apocalypse world and used a bow and arrow to shoot the heck out of bandits, warmongers, and huge, hostile machines. I also stabbed them with a spear sometimes. A fascinating story, incredible setting, and marvellous character work, well worth the (oh my god) 156 hours I spent on it this year.
Favourite Roleplaying Game Played in 2017
When I sit down to do some collaborative storytelling with dice, I usually end up being the Mom Party Member. “Maybe you shouldn’t stab that guy,” I say. “Don’t jump off that cliff. Check for traps!”
So when I was invited to play 7th Sea, a game that deliberately encourages dramatic, fast-paced storytelling and rewards characters leaping into situations armed with a valiant battle zinger, I resolved there would be no more Sensible Karen.
Instead, I’m playing Yseult Carter, who thinks nothing of breaking into a mansion and smashing everything she can find to create a distraction for a prison break, running across market stalls to warn of an assassination attempt, or doing heroic battle with a fire demon on the roof ridge of a burnt-out house. Sure, she’s not very perceptive, and she couldn’t beat a six-year-old in a game of hide-and-seek, but she’s having a lot of fun, and so am I.
Favourite New Skill Learned in 2017
This year I taught myself to knit using YouTube videos, ran a 5k for the first time (sweaty, painful), and got back on a bike for the first time in a decade (sweaty, less painful). Making my own scarf, just sliiightly too thick to wrap easily around my neck, was a lot of fun. Equally satisfying was the panting stumble across the finish line. Zooming past backed-up traffic is positively delightful.
But my favourite new skill this year was learning how to run a Kickstarter for my first self-published novel, The Empress of Timbra. With my co-writer and BFF Robyn, I did a bunch of research, asked for guidance from experienced crowdfunders, and planned and executed a strong campaign. The result was a Kickstarter that raised 202% of the target amount, and funding for all the fun extras (appendices! character portraits! maps!) my nerdy heart could desire.
Favourite New Recipe Made in 2017
This French Toast Breakfast Casserole. (My personal preference is for a cooking blog to just get to the recipe and not write an illustrated novella beforehand about the sweet slow rivers of childhood’s golden days or whatever. Alas, this blog does not meet that preference. But the casserole is good.)
Things I love: lazy mornings, sweet breakfasts. Things I’m not that keen on: standing by a hot stove flipping bread around first thing in the morning.
This one, I can make the night before. Then I throw it in the oven and read on the couch until it’s done. Add strawberries, yoghurt, and maple syrup. Perfect!
Favourite TV Show Watched in 2017
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend continues to make me chortle and whisper “nooooo” at the screen in equal measure, The Good Place set its premise on fire and keeps making hilarious things from the ashes, and The Defenders was very flawed, but I didn’t care because Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Misty Knight were on my screen again.
But my favourite show of 2017 was GLOW, the very-lightly-based-on-reality Netflix show that follows the formation of the 80s cable TV show, Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling (“There should be more ladies kissing,” I said, more than once, and discovered afterwards that YEAH, had it been more realistic, that’s exactly what would have happened.)
Sad and unrealistic lack of women-loving-women aside: The makeup! The moves! The complex relationships! The Pat Benatar! The engagement with (and – ugh – occasional unreflective replication of) racist and misogynist stereotypes! To me, this was a great example of the genuinely interesting work that so often happens when you put a lot of women in a room and let them go at it, and I mean that both in a narrative and meta-narrative sense. A sometimes great and sometimes terrible show about people, especially women, doing great and terrible things, GLOW intrigued me so much that I binged it twice.
Favourite Book(s) Read in 2017
Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a clever and heartbreaking exploration of the stories girls choose and the monsters that make us. I found Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness as galvanising as it was terrifying, with her exceptional observational skill and skilful turn of phrase evident in every line.
And N. K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky broke me. This third book in the Broken Earth trilogy – which I read in Christchurch, a city marked by seismic trauma – ending by pulling every brilliant idea it had explored into a tight, shattering culmination of theme, character and story. This is a book where I cried at the devastating use of second person. It’s magnificent.