Friday, 27 December 2013

2013 in Review: Looking Back

My week-long "2013 in Review" series of posts ends today, with a look back at the year. But first, a quick rundown for those just joining in. On Monday, I revealed my favorite books for the year. On Tuesday, it was favorite songs. On Wednesday, favorite albums. And yesterday, I short listed my favorite movies. Today, I'll be touching upon just a few of the things that shaped 2013.



2013 marked the arrival of a new generation of video game consoles, even though the first entrant into this brave new world, the Nintendo Wii-U, was released all the way back in November, 2012. I don't own any of these consoles, yet, but I see myself getting a PS4 sometime in the not-too-distant future. I've all but lost my faith in Microsoft, following their announcement (and eventual reversal) of the Xbox One's DRM and always-on policies.


2013 was also the year that the world lost one of its last true legends. Madiba, as he was known back home in South Africa, was a man that stood for many things. He stood for freedom. He stood for equality. But most importantly, he stood for reconciliation. His actions would help bring down the walls of racial segregation brought about by apartheid. He will forever be remembered as a beacon of hope for generations to come.


Much like I did at the start of last year, I started this year with a bunch of writerly goals. To summarize, I planned on writing a new book entitled Proxies. I also planned on having a greater online presence in the various social media channels, amongst other things. Well, as things presently stand, I am yet to finish the book, nor has my online presence grown by any measurable standard. To the contrary, I think it has taken a hit.

So what happened then?

Looking back, at the time I set those goals, I didn't envision that I would be taking a desk job shortly thereafter. Prior to now, I've only ever taken freelance gigs. I did a two-month stint as a IT instructor once, and that was it. So needless to say, I never envisioned just how much time this desk job would be taking away from my writing. Do I regret any of it? No. Not really. It was a logical next step in this road called life. I'll just have to find a way to make things work. More on that next year.

Thanks for visiting, and see you again on the other side.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

2013 in Review: Favorites Movies

Warm Bodies



There's nothing like the smell of zombie love in the morning. And as repulsive as that might sound, that's the concept behind this zombie romance movie adaptation. It's a concept that was briefly explored in the 2008 remake of Day of the Dead (quite possibly the worst zombie movie of all time). But what keeps it fresh here is the performance of British actor Nicholas Hoult as the lovestruck zombie, R.

Pacific Rim



Who says you can't do an intelligent movie about giant robots beating the sh*t out of giant monsters? Definitely not Guillermo Del Toro. The director behind Pan's Labyrinth (one of the most visually stunning movies in existence) adds another visual masterpiece to his résumé. Pacific Rim not only puts the Transformers movies to shame, it also raises the bar for all subsequent Kaiju (that's Japanese for giant monster) movies to come, like the upcoming remake of Godzilla due next year.

Man of Steel



Zack Synder's reboot of the Superman franchise failed to strike a chord with most critics this year. But what it lacks in thought provocation, it more than makes up for in raw, visceral, superhero action. Put simply, Man of Steel packs more action (and of course punches) than last year's The Avengers, even though it lacks that movie's overall charm and appeal. Still, we need to consider that this is just the beginning of something bigger. So as far as beginnings go, I'd love to see what comes next.

Gravity



As a kid, I spent unhealthy amounts of time gazing up at the stars, fantasizing about becoming an astronaut someday. I wonder if I would have felt the same way if I had seen Gravity back then. The first facet of this movie that struck my fancy (after I'd learnt it was in the works) was its two cast members. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock play two astronauts trying to survive the aftermath of a mission gone wrong. And while I wouldn't want to trade places with either of them, watching their struggle for survival is an experience I don't mind going through over and over again.

World War Z



Rounding out my list of favorites this year is yet another zombie movie adaptation. But unlike Warm Bodies, which felt a bit dumbed down in order for it to appeal to its primarily teenage audience, World War Z didn't feel dumbed down at all. It was also one of the biggest blockbuster movies this past year, a fact that pretty much ensures we'll be getting a sequel sometime in the near future.

And the winner is...

Gravity



Alfonso Cuarón has done it again. He has left us with another science fiction masterpiece. Gravity would go down in history as one of the genres finest. Everything from the visuals, to the score, to the acting, to the cinematography, oozes with perfection. No other movie, over this past year, has triumphed on so many fronts. And with the awards season already underway, it would be interesting to see just how many nominations and awards Gravity would rack up.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

2013 in Review: Favorite Albums

First off, Merry Christmas, everyone. 'Tis the season to be jolly, after all. Secondly, this year (like the two before it) was a good year for music. It is becoming increasingly harder to limit my list of favorites to ten finalists. So on that very note, here are just a few of my favorite albums for 2013.

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories



It's been eight years since the release of Daft Punk's Human After All. Between then and now, fans have been blessed with a second live album (Alive 2007), not to mention a commercially-successful soundtrack album (Tron: Legacy). But what we truly needed was what we finally got this year, a worthy successor to their second studio album, Discovery. Highlights include Within, Instant Crush and Doin' It Right.

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience



Justin Timberlake is another artist that has been out of the music game for a while, despite making a few guest appearances following his 2006 record, FutureSex/LoveSounds. He'd spent most of the last seven years focusing on his acting career, even appearing in the critically-acclaimed 2010 movie, The Social Network. So you should understand why the first part of his 20/20 Experience album went on to become the highest selling album of the year, moving over 900,000 units in its first week alone. Highlights include Pusher Love Girl, Suit & Tie and Strawberry Bubblegum.

Disclosure - Settle



This time last year, I remember proclaiming that Zedd's Clarity was "the most impressive debut by an EDM artist I've heard." Little did I know that I would have to retract that statement so soon. Settle is not just one of the most impressive debuts, but also one of the finest EDM albums in recent memory. The UK duo of brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence have created a sound that harkens back to the days of Artful Dodger, when 2-step garage was all the rage on that side of the pond. Highlights include Latch, Defeated No More and January.


Avicii - True



True is yet another impressive debut by an EDM artist. So if you haven't guessed it already, 2013 was a great year for EDM. I've had nothing but love for Avicii ever since he collaborated with David Guetta for the song, Sunshine, a song that earned the pair a Grammy nomination for the effort. So, of course, expectations were high for True. But rather than conform to genre expectations, Avicii decided to craft a record that pushes that genre forward in new and interesting ways. Highlights include Wake Me Up, Hey Brother and Dear Boy.


Britney Spears - Britney Jean



It is no secret that I am a longtime fan of Britney Spears. Only a few of the pop artists who graced the world stages way back in 1998 can be seen today (Another of which also made my list of favorites this year. Can you guess who?) With her latest effort, Britney Jean (as her friends and family call her) decided to come out with something more personal and introspective, without losing any of the earworm goodness her music is known for. Highlights include Work B*tch, It Should Be Easy and Chillin' With You


Kanye West - Yeezus



Imagine an album so edgy, not to mention full of itself, that they didn't even bother to release it with any kind of printed cover. Yeezus is that album, and only someone like Kanye West could convince a major label to get behind that idea. Described by many as one of the most shocking hip-hop releases till date, Mr. West has cooked up something even darker than 2011's My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy. Highlights include Black Skinhead, New Slaves and Guilt Trip.


Icona Pop - This is... Icona Pop



The Swedish duo, Icona Pop, rose to fame with the help of their hit single, I Love It. They've since followed that success with an EP (Iconic) and a full-length album (Icona Pop). But the album, This is... Icona Pop, marks their international debut. And what a debut that is, with 11 standout tracks, each begging to be left on constant repeat. Highlights include I Love It, We Got the World and Ready for the Weekend.


Empire of the Sun - Ice on the Dune




The Australian duo of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore make up the group, Empire of the Sun. Ice on the Dune is their sophomore album, a follow up to 2008's Walking on a Dream. The album opens with an orchestral arrangement, and from that moment onward, you are rewarded with what ultimately amounts to one relentlessly fun pop album. Highlights include Old Flavours, Awakening and Disarm.

Lady Gaga - ARTPOP



If you're someone like Lady Gaga, who keeps raising the bar with each subsequent release, the pressure to deliver each and every time must be unimaginable. Except she keeps on churning out great music, making it look almost effortless. But don't be fooled. What we have here is a woman in her prime. And ARTPOP is the perfect vehicle for that woman's singing and songwriting prowess. Highlights include G.U.Y., Do What U Want and Mary Jane Holland.

Various Artists - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire




The one thing I miss the Twilight movies for are their associated soundtrack albums, a trend that has been retained for Liongate's current series, The Hunger Games. Very rarely can you judge the quality of an album by merely looking at the tracklist. But ever since I saw the list of artists contributing to the The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack, I could just tell it was going to be one solid record. Highlights include Atlas (by Coldplay), Elastic Heart (by Sia & The Weeknd) and Lean (by The National).


And the winner is...

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories



Random Access Memories is not only the best Daft Punk record till date, but also my favorite album for the year. It is electronic dance music at its finest, even though it doesn't remotely sound like what we've come to expect from the genre. Daft Punk haven't exactly reinvented that sound, just torn down the walls that distinguish it from its contemporaries. The most noticeable shift for the duo is the inclusion of live instrumentation. But their trademark use of vocoded vocals remains on display throughout. The album dabbles between quite a few electronic and non-electronic genres, but somehow still winds up sounding like a sonic whole.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

2013 in Review: Favorite Songs

Capital Cities - Safe and Sound


Even though Capital Cities' Safe and Sound has been around since sometime in 2011, it really didn't start making waves until earlier this year. The duo quickly followed its new-found success with the release of their debut album, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, an album that was largely panned by critics.

Nicki Willaims - Glowing


South African born singer-songwriter Nicki Williams did her country proud with this dance club anthem. This was after several songwriting credits, and a debut single with a title I wouldn't exactly call radio-friendly.

Daft Punk - Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell Williams)


Get Lucky was the song that gave Daft Punk the mainstream success they've always deserved, coming so close to reigning supreme on top of the Billboard Hot 100. But it was prevented from reaching that summit by another song I have chosen not to mention, nor include in my round up of favorites (Take that, Robin Thicke).

Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop



That shock-provoking MTV VMA performance aside, 2013 was the year that Miley Cyrus finally proved to the world that she had outgrown her Hannah Montana persona. And what better vehicle for that transition into womanhood, than the Mike Will produced club banger, We Can't Stop?

Daft Punk - Instant Crush (feat. Julian Casablanca)


While nowhere near as mainstream (not to mention ubiquitous) as the French duos other song on this list, Instant Crush has a similar level of appeal, from the vocoded crooning of The Strokes frontman, Julian Casablanca, to the synthesizers and beat change that signal the arrival of the chorus.


DJ Kent - On Top of the World (feat. Liquideep)


South Africa is represented once again on my 2013 list of favorites, and this time it's through the pairing of DJ Kent and the duo, Liquideep. On Top of the World perfectly captures that feeling you get when you're with that special someone.


And the winner is...

Daft Punk - Instant Crush (feat. Julian Casablanca)


There is a point in every book/song/album, when you can instantly tell whether or not the entire body of work is truly great or praiseworthy. For me, the first time I listened to Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, that moment came during Instant Crush, when Julian Casablanca stops singing and the instrumentals slowly fade with the final chorus of the song. It was one of those moments so rare in music today, where you're torn between pressing repeat, or waiting to hear which other sonic pleasures might be waiting for you right around the corner.

Monday, 23 December 2013

2013 in Review: Favorite Books

It's that time of the year again. And no, I'm not just talking about the season to be jolly. I am referring of course to my week-long year in review series of posts. And much like I did last year, I'll be starting this year's series by highlighting my favorite books for the year.

I didn't read nearly enough books this year, at least not enough that were released during the year in question. So I'll be highlighting just three favorites from the small pool of books I did manage to read. Without further ado, those three favorites are:

Inferno (by Dan Brown)


Of the three books I am highlighting this year, Inferno (or Robert Langdon, #4) was easily my most anticipated. So you can imagine my disappointment when the finished product didn't quite live up to my expectations. The biggest issues I had with this book were its long-winded narrative and its adherence to the formula already set by the previous books in the series. Nonetheless, Inferno still had its moments, not to mention enough thrills and plot twists to be considered a worthy addition to the mega, bestselling series. But as things presently stand, Angels and Demons (Robert Langdon, #1) still holds the title of my favorite book in the series.

The Cuckoo's Calling (by Robert Galbraith)



The Cuckoo's Calling was easily one of the most critically-acclaimed novels by a debut author this past year. Except it wasn't written by a first-time author. The internet was set abuzz in the month of July when it was revealed that Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for none other than J.K. Rowling, an announcement that effectively saved the book from obscurity, turning it into an instant bestseller. The book itself is J.K. Rowling true and true, with her trademark rich characterization and well-written dialogue on display throughout. And much like she did with The Casual Vacancy the year before, she manages to prove once again that her writing can thrive beyond the boundaries of the Harry Potter universe.

Allegiant (by Veronica Roth)



Allegiant is the third and final book in the Divergent series, a trilogy of science fiction/dystopian books for young adults. And much like The Cuckoo's Calling did earlier in the year, the book managed to generate quite the buzz, albeit between the members of its fan-base, due in part to its somewhat surprising end to the series. I was one of the few who actually found the book's conclusion satisfactory enough. And I would refrain from saying anything more about that ending, so that I don't ruin it for others yet to experience the story. But it would be interesting to find out what people beyond the book's fan-base think, especially with the first book's movie adaptation just months away now.

And the winner is...

The Cuckoo's Calling (by Robert Galbraith)



From the moment I'd learnt that J.K. Rowling had released another book (and that we were all three months late to the party), I had made reading The Cuckoo's Calling my topmost priority. And from the get-go, I could just tell that the book was going to be the start of something special. The Cuckoo's Calling is a detective story, a genre I don't dabble into too often. But you don't really need to enjoy reading such books, for you to appreciate this one. The best part is it has been confirmed to be the first book of a new series of Detective stories, all of which are to feature the book's main character, Cormoran Strike. Whether or not this new series has any hope of becoming anywhere near as popular as Harry Potter is a matter up for debate. But I personally can't wait to get my hands on book #2.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Morning Star (A Prelude to Guardians & The Lost Paradise)


It's been a while since I made any new book announcements, mainly because I haven't been writing and publishing nearly as much as I should be. And it was roughly this time last year that I first unveiled The Morning Star, as a free ebook awarded to anyone that signed up for my mailing list. Now, that ebook is available to the world at large:

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H7J05HA
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H7J05HA

Hopefully, they'll be more releases to follow sometime in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

IWSG: NaNo Fail :(


It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for another round of Insecure Writer's Support Group posts. The IWSG was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, sci-fi writer and blogger extraordinaire. You should definitely pay his blog a visit, if you haven't already. For more information about the group itself, you can also visit www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com

Right. In case you haven't guessed it already from the title of my post, I took the bull by the horns this past November... and I was trampled silly. So I guess my insecurity for the month centers around my failure to win my first ever NaNo. But things are so hectic at work right now, that I haven't even had time to ponder over it.

In retrospect, writing 50,000 words in one month, whilst grinding it out at my day job, was a bit over ambitious and optimistic. I work Mondays through Saturdays effectively, but I figured if I was able to write full turbo every Sunday in November, maybe, just maybe, I'd be able to win the challenge. Well, now I know better.

I haven't even tallied my actual total for the month. That's how hectic things are. I almost even forgot that today was the first Wednesday of the month. Now I am hastily typing this post, stealing looks over my shoulder and hoping that my boss doesn't come strolling my way. The bane of being a slave to the corporate world.

But like I said in a previous post, NaNo isn't all about winning. It's about getting that much closer to having a complete novel. So I am going to cherish the words I did manage to get down this past month. All 20,000 or so of them. And why not!? After all, they were good words (well, mostly). Plus it sure beats kicking myself over the words I didn't write. :)