Friday, January 19, 2024

Non-game media I enjoyed in 2023

I did more than play games in my free time last year. I also spent a lot of time reading books and watching movies.

In fact, I think I devoted more time to reading in 2023 than I did to playing games. The books -- and movies -- highlighted below were my favorites.

A Wrinkle in Time
I devoured books growing up, but Madeleine L'Engle's YA sci-fi classic somehow never made it onto my radar. Oh, well, better a few decades late than never, right? And, really, I still found it pretty special to experience as an adult. At its heart, A Wrinkle in Time is a good-versus-evil tale, but it feels anything but ordinary thanks to how masterfully L'Engle introduces and develops the story's setting and characters. To put in perspective how much I enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time, I quickly bought the rest of the books in the related "Time Quintet" series after finishing it, and I've already read three of them.

I fell in love with British author John Wyndham while reading another of his novels, The Day of the Triffids from 1951. Chocky isn't as dramatic as that apocalyptic classic, but it's just as compelling. I especially appreciated the subtlety of its story -- which is quite the accomplishment when you consider Chocky is about a 12-year-old boy who's imaginary friend is actually an extraterrestrial scout looking for planets to assist -- or colonize.

Delicious in Dungeon (Volume 1)
The manga every nerd is talking about now thanks to its just-released and much-heralded anime adaptation. I picked up this first volume partway through last year after numerous friends and acquaintances recommended it. It didn't disappoint. I especially appreciated its quirky cast and the strange creatures they discovered -- and ultimately devoured -- in the dungeon of this manga's title. My only complaint is that it left me desperately wanting to learn more about the ragtag group's underground exploits.

From Beyond
I've been drawn to horror movies since I was a kid. I didn't watch too many of them until I was quite a bit older, though. As such, I missed seeing most of the classics -- and not-so-classics -- that came out during my youth. A few years ago, I decided to play catch-up. This 1986 flick was one of the few I watched in 2023, but I think it would've stood out even if I'd managed more. The story is unique -- a pair of scientists build a device that lets them see and interact with deadly creatures from another dimension -- and the cast is surprisingly adept. Long story short, I'd watch From Beyond again, which is something I can't say of all the horror flicks I've watched recently. 

This 1989 effort from Dan Simmons has been a real highlight of my multi-year endeavor to read some of the classic sci-fi novels that have heretofore avoided my radar. It reads like a futuristic reimagining of The Canterbury Tales, though Hyperion follows six pilgrims rather than 24. I likely would've found the cliffhanger ending disappointing had I not bought the follow-up as soon as the story clicked with me (spoiler: it didn't take long), but I did, so no complaints from me. On the contrary, Hyperion is now firmly ensconced on my list of books to reread ASAP.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Don't laugh (or jeer), but I didn't even know this 1988 film, now considered a cult classic, existed until I stumbled across it last fall. It didn't scare me or gross me out like I expected it to, but I got a kick out of it all the same. The titular "klowns" are equal parts creepy and goofy and elevate the rather ho-hum story to something surprisingly compelling. Honestly, I'll probably revisit Killer Klowns from Outer Space several times in the future thanks to the impressive practical effects alone.

Laid-Back Camp
(Volumes 8-13)
I read six volumes of Laid-Back Camp last year and loved each one. Truth be told, I often have a hard time telling these camping- and cooking-obsessed girls apart, aside from spirited Nadeshiko and serious Rin, but it doesn't cause me to enjoy their far-flung adventures any less. The way artist and writer Afro weaves together the girls' stories, their seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of both camping and cooking, and Japan's plethora of sheltering spots is as impressive as it is pleasing.

The Wind from Nowhere
I gained access to this J.G. Ballard novel when I bought a book that included it as well as one of the author's best-known works, The Drowned World. Of the two, I far preferred The Wind from Nowhere, which follows a trio of men who try their best to survive an unexplained global increase (five miles per hour per day) in wind speeds. It's not perfect, partially explaining why Ballard eventually disowned it, but it tells a unique apocalyptic story that keeps you solidly in its grasp until the very last page.

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