Greg Beatty: Sadly, what came to mind first were the worst SF-related aspects of 2005: the deaths and losses. Good-bye, Robert Sheckley. Good-bye, Scotty. Good-bye, Andre Norton. Good-bye, Will Eisner. Good-bye, Frank Kelly Freas. Good-bye, SCI FICTION. Jesus, what a year of losses! I'm sad now.
Martin Lewis: I think the most heartening development in science fiction this year was the widespread acclaim that greeted Shane Carruth's Primer. This shoestring time travel drama was described by Nick Lowe, film reviewer nonpareil, as "post-cinematic cinema: a film that nobody stands a chance of fathoming on cinema viewings alone." It is a gloriously disorientating experience that leaves your brain whirring as you emerge blinking into daylight. The further into the film we go the more competing realities are superimposed on top of each other. Seemingly unimportant details early on in the film are later imbued with great significance. Even the film's voiceover narration, traditionally there to explain and clarify, is simply another layer. Winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and receiving admiring notices from all quarters it flies the flag for intelligent visual SF.
Geneva Melzack: In 2005 low-budget film Primer not only won the award for Best Feature at the SCI-FI LONDON film festival, it also managed to get itself a general cinema release in the UK. Written, directed, edited, scored by, and starring independent film-maker Shane Carruth, Primer is a highly original and fiendishly clever tale of two garage inventors who accidentally stumble across the technology needed to build a time machine. Primer's success is in its naturalistic dialogue and intricate plotting. It is exciting to see just how much can be done with science fiction cinema using sheer wit and imagination instead of big budget special effects. I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to see it twice in 2005, but Primer is definitely one of those films that invites multiple viewings, so I look forward to more re-watchings in future.
Ian McHugh: Just one favourite SFnal thing? For a year? Surely you jest. Here's four highs:
- Mothers & Other Monsters by Maureen F McHugh—exquisite writing and understated storytelling. Very, very intelligent, character-focused SF that leaves you feeling like you were dropped in the middle of other people's lives for a little while.
- Accelerando by Charles Stross—30 seconds ahead of the future curve, gonzo, brilliant, and erratic. The Neuromancer of the noughties?
- The Grinding House by Kaaron Warren—One of the most intelligent dark fantasy collections you'll find. Please don't be put off, fellas, when I say this contains some powerful feminist literature.
- The Stone Ship by Peter Raftos—A beautifully told Gilliamesque fantasy that deserves far wider attention than it's received.
(And a low: The cancellation of SCI FICTION.)
Neil Anderson: Serenity, the cinematic continuation of Joss Whedon's Firefly television series, stands out as perhaps the best new piece of science fiction of 2005. The prologue serves as a wonderful demonstration of the many layers on which Serenity works. The film begins with a shot of Earth from space and spaceships launching from it, as a voiceover narration begins. Then the scene shifts to an open-air classroom, where it turns out that the opening narration is really a history lesson being given by the teacher. But as attention focuses on the teacher's interactions with a young girl, the setting changes yet again, to a secret laboratory where scientists are performing experiments on the now-grown-up girl. We see her brother implement a daring rescue, only to have the picture freeze and zoom out, revealing a security hologram of the whole incident as it is watched by a government agent. And this whole sequence happens before the opening credits. Complex, endearing, and full of witty dialogue, Serenity satisfies rabid Firefly fans and those who have never seen the show alike.
Dan Hartland: Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go was elegant; No Present Like Time by Steph Swainston was inventive and timely; Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 looked wonderful. But all of them lacked something, either incision or verve or ingenuity. I did my best to think of something other than Serenity that had all of those things—anyone who knows me could have guessed Joss Whedon’s film would be my 2005 choice.
Yeah, well. They were right.
If Vellum didn’t live up to the hype, if Black Juice didn’t quite have the plots, then Serenity had it all: characterisation, humour, excitement, emotion, structure, and message. It took the SF blockbuster and gave us something unexpected: soul. If its plot was a little weak, if the seams of its CGI showed in places, if not all the characters seemed necessary, Serenity still gave the audience a thrilling ride, zippy dialogue, and much food for further thought.
Abigail Nussbaum: I have two favorite SF-related things for 2005, and I like them all the better for being paired. The first is Joss Whedon's Serenity, which not only proved that it is possible to make a space-set SF movie with brains and heart, but once again demonstrated the awesome power of SF fandom to bring beloved universes back from the brink of extinction. In spite of the film's disappointing box-office take, the very fact of its existence is something to celebrate and take note of. The second is Geoff Ryman's novel Air, or: Have Not Have, a brilliant reminder that it is possible to write SF that is smart, self-aware, well-written, beautifully characterized, politically conscious, and subtle. With no scientists, no Westerners, no explosions, and very little futuristic technology, Air says more about the shape of the future than any other SF novel I've read in years.
Alex Saltman: It seemed like SF at times. Scientists reported late in 2004 that the remains of a three-foot-tall woman had been found on an island in Indonesia, the first-found member of a new species called Homo floresiensis, which may have died out just a few centuries ago. The bones themselves were from 13,000 years ago or more, but legends of the Ebu Gogo—small people who lived in caves—persisted in the local population into the 19th century. The remains were found near small stone tools and hearths, indicating a high level of intelligence, a conclusion also supported by a recent skull reconstruction that hints that H. floresiensis had an abnormally large temporal lobe. Other bones nearby suggest that they hunted dwarf elephants and giant rats, among other creatures. The verdict is still out on some properties of our new little friends, but in a time when little of the globe has been left unexplored, it's nice to remember that the world is always stranger than we think.
Donna Royston: From the very first sentence, John C. Wright’s Orphans of Chaos seizes the reader’s attention and tantalizes. The scene is set at a boarding school, attended by only five teenage students who have been raised at the school, have no memory of parents or family, and are ignorant of who they are and why they are there. They do know that something is not right: they are given injections that seem to affect their memories and perhaps have other unknown effects. Frustrated by their apparent captivity and their lack of self-knowledge, they are stealthily undertaking to gain their identities and freedom. Orphans of Chaos is hugely entertaining, but that is not its only virtue. The characters are well drawn, sympathetic, and intriguing. Wright builds the mystery of who—and what—the students are with great skill; guesses and hints keep the reader following the scent irresistibly. Enjoy!
Laura Blackwell: In 1972, the sixteen-year-old narrator of Elizabeth Kostova's haunting novel The Historian discovers a medieval book, mostly blank, that shows only a woodcut of a dragon and the word "Drakulya." Her father believes—as did Professor Rossi, his graduate adviser and recipient of a similar tome—that these books hint that Vlad Tepes, Dracula, still lives after five centuries. Stories lie within stories, meticulously painted and nested like Russian dolls. The unnamed protagonist searches not for the famous vampire, but for her father's secrets; conversations and letters detail her father's pursuit of the now-missing Professor Rossi thoughout Cold-War Europe; Rossi's correspondence recounts his research of the Dracula legend. But the deeper they delve, the closer they get to Dracula—and the closer he gets to them. Literary in style, breathlessly plotted, free of both romantic illogic and earnest explanations of vampirism, The Historian stands as one of the strongest vampire novels of our time.
Lynda Rucker: An antidote to the once-intriguing Lost (see how to go from smart and exciting to ponderous and pretentious in one short season), Invasion is a straight-ahead, decidedly unpretentious, roller-coaster of a B-movie for the small screen. Focusing on two families living through the aftermath of a devastating hurricane in a small Florida town on the edge of the Everglades, this show is not ashamed of what it is—an alien invasion story, though it owes debts in particular to Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers—unlike that other ABC Wednesday night show, which seems embarrassed about and stingy with the genre content that initially drew us in. With Invasion, there’s no sense of holding back; instead it’s a gleeful piling on of mysterious ops, blogging alien-hunters, pod people, conspiracy, murder, mutilation, and a very creepy William Fichtner—pulpy science fiction horror at its finest and most fun.
Lesley Hall: This is perhaps not strictly science fiction, but it does, perhaps, count as alternate universe, plus being a highly effective pastiche of Edwardian fantastical adventure. The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes (which has also appeared under the title Sherlock Holmes: the missing years) is a Conan Doyle/Kipling crossover, with a touch of the Rider Haggards (or even the James Hiltons) in the Tibet sections of the narrative, and even a nod to the occult romance genre of the era. The action takes place just after the Reichenbach Falls incident, with a certain 'Sigerson' arriving in Bombay. The story is narrated by Hurree Chunder Mookerjee of the 'Ethnological Survey' (i.e. covert intelligence department) of the Government of India, the Bengali Babu from Kim. Norbu achieves a tour-de-force of maintaining the 'babu-English' tone without overdoing it and becoming merely irritating, and without any slackening of narrative tension. This was a wonderful discovery.
Mahesh Raj Mohan: I'd waited five damn years to read A Feast for Crows. The moment I saw it at Powells (the City of Books here in Portland), I snapped it up with sweaty, clutching hands. I'd felt trepidation about Martin's choice to hew the book in half, and I'd been alarmed that it had taken so long for the poor guy to write it ... but the wait was worth it. Martin reverses the fortunes of his characters again and again in a way that resembles real life. And by letting the character's actions speak for themselves, he doesn't insult his audience's intelligence. That's not to say that it's a perfect work; there are moments where Martin flirts with Jordanesque cliffhangers, but that's just a minor quibble. It's a rocking, poignant, and elegant book, certainly my favorite 2005 release. I eagerly await A Dance With Dragons.
Kelly Christopher Shaw: Chan-Wook Park's 2004 revenge-melodrama Oldboy (South Korea, 2004; U.S. release, 2005) is not a traditional science fiction, fantasy, or horror film, though its story contains elements of all three genres: advanced technology, surreal dreamscapes, mysterious captivity, and an outrageous villain ripped from the pages of a comic book. Propelled by Park's energetic, near-operatic directing, which assaults the viewer with stylistic visuals and unabashed emotion, Oldboy marked the one time in 2005 that I was left intoxicated by the possibilities of cinema. Oh Dae-su is a self-destructive Seoul businessman who is abruptly abducted and imprisoned for 15 years and then released without explanation. His story, which is one of epic transformation and revelation, evolves from Kafkaesque nightmare, to pulp fiction revenge tale, to Shakespearian high-tragedy. As filtered through the brazen, unrestrained sensibilities of Park—subtlety be damned!—Oldboy runs the emotional gamut. It manages to be both deeply moving and profoundly unnerving. More importantly, it manages to be haunting, unforgettable, and my favorite film of 2005.
J.M. Comeau: Certainly, for me, the most significant event of 2005 was the return of Doctor Who. The original series was cancelled in 1989 after a 26-year run, but fan support kept its memory alive until Russel T. Davies ressurrected (regenerated?) the venerable sci-fi classic 16 years later. Gone were the funny costumes and wild hair of the original. The new Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, sported a black leather trenchcoat, a working-class accent, and the shortest hair ever seen on a Time Lord. His companion Rose, played by Billie Piper, brought along a whole family, and did far more than ask questions and scream. The format of the show was changed to hour-long stories, with an overarching metaplot. Old villians were brought out, alongside new. Having been a fan of the original series, I wasn't sure what to expect. The 1996 Fox TV movie left me cold, and even Star Trek: The Next Generation never captured my love the way the original had. Would such a radical reimagining of my childhood favorite still capture my heart? I am glad to say that, "Yes, Virginia, there is a new Doctor."
Mattia Valente: 2005 has been a great year for SF. It’s the year I started caring about TV shows again (after a post-Whedon lull), a year I discovered some great new (and some old-but-new-to-me) authors and stories (honorable mentions: Magic for Beginners, River of Gods), the year my first review was published by someone other than myself. Ultimately, though, my Favorite SF Thing of 2005 was Interaction, the 2005 Worldcon. It wasn’t my first convention. I’ve done the media con thing; fun, but unfulfilling. Twinkie-like. Interaction was different. It featured panels where authors, editors, critics, readers—in short, fans of all stripes and 'credentials'—passionately discussed topics ranging from the fantastical to the mundane, from SF to science to art to religion to politics to everything navigating the slipstream twix’t them all. Above all, it was a place to meet friends, old and new, and share in something we all care about: SF.
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