A quick end-of-year retrospective, with selected media I consumed (and enjoyed) throughout this strange year. This is not limited to things that were published this year. During lockdowns and whatnot, I read and played more, but watched less movies/TV.
Quite a good run this year, also helped by the move from anobii to goodreads, which is just nicer and where people are more active. Roughly in order:
- Martin Eden, Jack London. So powerful.
- Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes.
- A che punto è la notte, Fruttero & Lucentini. Can’t go wrong with the masters of giallo.
- Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini, Giorgio Bassani.
- The Human Stain, Philip Roth. Feels extremely current.
- Ringworld, Larry Niven.
- Dissipatio H.G., Guido Morselli.
- Odore di chiuso / Il borghese Pellegrino, Marco Malvaldi. Two small giallo stories, set in the early 1900, with a guest star: Pellegrino Artusi.
- Exhalation: Stories, Ted Chiang. This is obviously great stuff, but I had already read (almost?) all of them.
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson.
- The Testaments, Margaret Atwood. It’s fine.. but not sure it was needed.
- Terminus radioso, Antoine Volodine. Political magical realism.
- The Fifth Season / The Obelisk Gate / The Stone Sky, N. K. Jemisin. It’s good but not great. The plot feels a bit too stretched out. I tend to lose interest where characters become too powerful and stakes are too high.
- Instantiation, Greg Egan.
- The End of the Road, John Barth.
- Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, Stanisław Lem.
- Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks.
Loved the first 6/7 books, greatly enjoyed the first dozen. About the rest, I was really disappointed by Banks and Barth. And unfortunately I can’t really find anything new by Egan that I really love. His 90s short stories were 💣.
- From Hell, Alan Moore.
- Scott Pilgrim the Complete Series, Bryan Lee O’Malley.
- Momenti straordinari con applausi finti, Gipi.
- Clyde Fans, Seth.
- Ghost World, Daniel Clowes.
Non-fiction but not work related:
- How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveller, Ryan North. It feels a bit like reading an encyclopedia. But a fun one.
- How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, Randall Munroe.
- Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made, David Halberstam. Had that on my shelf forever. Super boring.
- Outer Wilds.
- Persona 5 Royal
- The Last of Us Part 2.
- The Pathless.
- God of War.
Townscaper is a minimal city builder, as simple as it can get: you can only left click, to add an element, or right click, to delete one. What element is actually built (a road? a garden? a roof? a stairway?) depends entirely on the local configuration of the surrounding elements. In the end, you are actually exploring the enormous combinatorial space of possible 3d configurations. Delightful.
Outer Wilds is awesome. You’re a tiny space explorer in a fragile, inadequate wooden spaceship, stuck in a 20 minute-time loop. You need to gather enough clues and to git good at moving around your galaxy so you can solve the riddle that can save you before it’s too late.
What works great: the feeling of mystery and the wonder at each discovery; the wonderful, mysterious, scary galaxy you need to explore; the space physics! Flying is so fun! Landing on a planet, seeing it fill the horizon, is incredible! Making progress is rewarding!
Unfortunately, it has its flaws. Man, looking at the supernova go boom is awesome. Hearing the ominous 2-minutes music: perfectly Pavlovian. But sometimes the gameplay feels a bit tedious. The countdown is unforgiving: repeatedly being interruped during your explorations can get rather annoying. I know, that’s kind of the point – but still.
Persona 5 Royal. Guilty pleasure if ever there was one. But I admit I really enjoyed the whole Japanese-ness of it all. And catchy music. Man, I wasted a lot of time on this! But I’m getting too old for J-RPGs.
The Last of Us Part 2 is a tough one. Sometimes I think it’s a masterpiece, sometimes I’m much more cynical and dismiss it. Perhaps the truth is in the middle. The first one was much more coherent. The environment is wonderful, but for the majority of the game, it really feels like a dejà-vu. The gameplay was hit or miss: level design is top notch, but they could have trimmed a few missions, especially Ellie’s. Some of the plot verged on the nonsensical – it’s all so dreadful that it’s sooo close to going all the way around and becoming ridiculous. And yet, to me it didn’t: on the contrary, it packed a big punch, surprisingly. At the very end, I was emotionally drained: when it’s your turn to hit, I left the controller sitting, hoping I didn’t need to… but choice is an illusion.
The Pathless You wander in an open world full of empty ruins and remains of a violent past. Environmental enigmas and a bunch of big boss fights: impossible to avoid thinking of “Shadow of the Colossus”. But it has its very own personality (and less of a challenge). Exploring and running/gliding around is extremely satisfying. Made with love and care.
Superliminal A well balanced puzzle game that exploits quirky mechanics that can only work in a game. Between “Portal” and “Stanley Parable”.
God of War. Not my kind of game, but it’s well done.
Movies and shows
I’m not sure I watched a 2020 movie.. for sure not in a theater. A few TV shows:
- Tales from the Loop. Atmospheric and introspective sci-fi inspired by the art of Simon Stålenhag.
- Truth Seekers
- The Last Dance
- The Crown (season 4)
- Wizards: Tales of Arcadia. Final installment from Guillermo Del Toro. Nice, as expected, but it felt a little bit compressed (only 10 episodes, could have been a longer season).
Same old: The Lowe Post and The Mismatch on NBA; Exponent for tech news commentary.
New entries (in Italian): Joypad on videogames; N by Nicolò Melli (Italian basketball player) on the NBA bubble.