Oh, 2020. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… And here we’ll focus on the worst 😉 Or, to be more fair, just on the most disappointing for us personally, for as you will see, most of the works mentioned below enjoyed quite a lot of acclaim and following.
To be true to our title, we should probably start and stop this post at COVID-19, the wellspring of our woes (though there are a few hopeful signs along the way, from the evidence of effective and efficient trust-based cooperation above the national level to the human-caused limitation of greenhouse gases emissions). But as this is predominantly a book blog, with a small but significant addition of comics, TV series and movies, we feel we need to elaborate a bit and avoid easy finger-pointing.
As in the previous summary post, we wanted to divide our choices into a few categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, Comics, TV Series; but as Non-fiction this year proved to be a major hit without any misses (YAY!), we’ll omit this category.
Ola’s Worst of 2020 in Fiction
Here the choices are easy, at least for me – though for many might seem quite controversial, as some of these books seem to have become fan favorites ;). But what can I say? By now you really shouldn’t be surprised by any of this 😛 So without further ado, here it is:
That’s the only book on this list that I wrote a review of; I felt this instant favorite of the bookish community deserved a critique, and whether I achieved the goal of making it measured and not just scathing, it’s for you to judge. So let me just quote the crux of my review here:
Nanking Massacre was a truly horrible event, an atrocity for which there can be no excuse. The world should learn more about it, so that it stops being a footnote in history books. But using it in a fantasy book as a plot device designed to further the main character’s evolution into a vessel for a demonic/demigod entity and as a rationale for her own acts of genocide seems beyond bad taste.
S.A. Chakraborty, The City of Brass (2017)
Yet another fan favorite, a tale overflowing with djinns, magical cities, flying carpets, destiny, one
spunky immensely irritating heroine (yes, her character is quite capable of overflowing basically anything with her consummate levels of stupidity and fullness of herself), a terribly boring and possibly rather distasteful romantic triangle (to be clear, I’m talking about incest or near-incest and not djinn-human relations)… What else could you want for? Did I mention it’s YA? It’s a tiny teeny fact I was not aware of before reaching for this book, so I guess I’m at least partly to blame, the contemporary YA is just decidedly NOT my cuppa.
I didn’t write a review, as I couldn’t find anything positive to say about The City of Brass, and the whole thing would be me alternating between frothing at the mouth and yawning with boredom. I believe djinns deserve a better treatment and I’m very curious about P. Djèlí Clark’s series.
John Gwynne, Malice (2012)
This book seemed to have everything going in its favor: the love of the blogging community (with the notable exception of Bookstooge, but I carefully read his reasons and concluded I should be fine ;)), the main theme (nephilim! angels! demons! fantasy alt-Medieval society! swords and sorcery! war!) Alas, to quote my Goodreads very short review,
Not for me. Maybe it’s get better later on, but at 190 pages I felt like reading an encyclopedia of most-overused fantasy tropes. The weirdly dualist religious setup didn’t help, either. Reading this book evoked in me a premonition of a horrible reading slump; I’m pretty sure that had I continued, I’d have a grandfather of all slumps on my hands – thankfully, Bradbury’s short stories came to my rescue. It wasn’t awful; just uninteresting, plodding, and very clunky. Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series seems like a clear inspiration – and it’s better than Malice in terms of character development and writing.
As I mentioned in the review, I might give it another chance – but not soon. And I’d change that lead line to one a bit more appropriate in my case: Even the avid will slumber…
Katherine Addison, The Angel of the Crows (2020)
A horrible, terrible, nauseatingly unoriginal Sherlock Holmes fanfic with angels. Need I say more?
Well, if you insist: a nearly scene-by-scene rewrite of The Study in Scarlet, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Sign of the Four (plus the author’s own sad musings on Jack the Ripper) where Sherlock Holmes is an angel, who depending on the author’s mood alternates between female and non-gendered, while Watson is a regular, most likely lesbian, female, and a hell-hound, who likes to dress as a male. Moriarty is a female too, and a vampire to boot, because why not? And all that queerness is totally irrelevant and brings nothing to the table because, firstly, you cannot improve Doyle even if you’re a great wordsmith (and this lies miles away from any wordsmithing, let me tell you), and secondly, if you want to create a believable fantastical Victorian London, you must put some effort into it beside just mashing up a bunch of old, tattered tropes.
As I wrote in a very short GR review (which I wrote for the purposes of the NetGalley agreement),
Interesting only as a case study for social anthropology research with its blanket gender reversal roles and zealous socio-political anachronism.
Ola’s Worst of 2020 in Comics
Oh, I’ve got quite a list here ;). Even though I lowered my expectations quite a bit when it comes to comics, I’m still surprised sometimes how bad they can be. I know, I know, when you need to write and draw a story every freaking month it takes lots and lots of nearly superhuman effort and a virtually unending source of creativity, so it figures that not every story can be good (if you want a glaring irrefutable proof of the slow painful suicide of certain comic books, just read Tom King’s run of Batman :P).
But even taking the above into account, some comics are worse than I at my most lenient and pessimistic could predict. Here’s the chosen few:
Benjamin Percy, Otto Schmidt, Juan Ferreyra, Green Arrow: The Death and Life of Oliver Queen (2017)
Green Arrow’s reboot is three things: meaningless, redundant, dumbed-down. The art clearly indicates that the age of the target reader group had been taken down a notch or two – and the storyline confirms it. I was never a big fan of Green Arrow, I’m of an opinion that Robin Hood deserves a better treatment than this weird modernized DC version, but even the DC’s Green Arrow had his good moments. Here – nothing of the good remains.
Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegoski, Bernie Wrightson, Pat Lee, Marvel Knights The Punisher: Purgatory (1998)
Those of you who know my comic book/popculture tastes know that I am partial to Marvel’s extremely violent antihero; his story has surprisingly deep foundations, from Greek myths to war trauma, and I’m always intrigued how his portrayal reveals certain aspects of American culture. But Punisher suffers incessantly, if not from the villains, then from his own creators. This story is a particularly illuminating example of the latter, in which Frank Castle, endowed with angelic powers, needs to fight not only with Hell’s most wicked servants but also with some mutant lethal abominations – or not? The story is painfully predictable, and the art is actually even worse; looks exactly like something dragged screaming from the dark ages of comics of the late nineties. I’ll be frank, Frank: you’d be much better off erasing this particular story from human memory.
Guillaume Dorison, Jean-Baptiste Hostache, Assassin’s Creed: Conspiracies (2018)
Truly terrible art, utterly redundant and truly unbelievably idiotic story – in short, a total waste of time. But if you want to see how not to draw or write comics, this is a perfect choice.
Simon Oliver’s run of Hellblazer (2017)
Constatine meets Sartre: Hell is other people, especially Simon Oliver. What did poor Hellblazer do to Oliver is anyone’s guess. But what Oliver did to John Constantine is a crime for all to see. I’d go as far as to say that Oliver outright castrated Delano’s troubled anti/hero, rendering him impotent, painfully boring and somehow incredibly stupid at the same time. I dragged myself through the first two issues and had to stop. If you want to really meet John Constantine, start with Delano’s original run: not all comics are good, but at least all of them have a dose of creativity, originality, and ambition.
Piotrek’s Worst of 2020 in Fiction
Well, there was nothing awful among my 2020 reads… with the possible exception of Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever, a book I disliked so much it mobilized me to write a review after a long break 😉 But I’m not discouraged, I’m going to read more space operas in 2021, and I’m going to finish Gladstone’s Craft Sequence one day.
I’ve read several Warhammer books this year, and they were generally decent fun. It was mostly Warhammer Fantasy, but also the first Commisar Cain novel that I really enjoyed. One thing was a disappointment though, and it should not be a surprise that it was a book inspired by a Warhammer RPG campaign I played twenty years ago – or so I thought, actually its title was the only connection. Richard Lee Byers’ The Enemy Within was just so boring and trope-ish, it did feel like a poor novelisation of a RPG campaign. In comparison with the other books I’ve read in 2020 – a waste of time.
The final part of my Bottom Three Reads of 2020 is a Polish novel, accessible to wider audiences in a form of HBO TV series. Blinded by the Lights was written by Jakub Żulczyk and its adaptation gathered some of our best actors. I haven’t seen it, because I read the book first – and lost what enthusiasm I had earlier. It seems interesting, being a story of a cocaine dealer in a dynamic, unforgiving capital of a country devastated by predatory capitalism. It was… too full of existential musings of the protagonist, a rather typical anti-hero at once evil and sentimental. The show might be better, simply because they probably had to cut most of the monologues.
Piotrek’s Worst of 2020 in TV Series
As far as the visual media goes, I managed to only watch stuff that was at least good. I’m careful with my time. There was one thing so bad it made me angry, especially as it destroyed really good source material – material already adapted into computer games. But Witcher TV shows sucks, and is way worse than the books and games alike.
So… I’m likely to carefully choose my distractions in 2021, because this approach seems to work :)!
Ola: I second that opinion, unfortunately. Being very picky in choosing my TV series this year paid off and my only real disappointment of 2020 was Netflix’s The Witcher. I still hope they’ll improve with the next season, but that hope is rather feeble and might not survive the clash with reality ;).
So, here it is. Our biggest disappointments of 2020 might yet turn into your favorites, so hopefully this post will serve in more than the one capacity of letting us spit and hiss and sharpen our claws ;). Though that was a bit of fun, too! 😀