Let’s talk about stuff I liked in 2022. No, not the best of anything. Just stuff I liked. And not necessarily stuff that was released in 2022. Just stuff I found in 2022. OK? OK. Let’s go.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns: I know a lot of folks bounced off the story/dialogue/relationship stuff—and bounced hard. But a.) the core combat is so frickin’ magnificent that it’s really easy to forgive. The idea of tactical card combat with Marvel characters sounds ridiculous; it really shouldn’t work. But oh my, it really really does. And b.) I actually enjoyed the hell out of the story/dialogue/relationship stuff. The core conceit of “superheroes at home” is really compelling to me; I think any superhero fiction is at its best when it’s looking not just at the suits but the people in them. Yeah, it can get a little goofy at times, and the game is clunky in some other significant ways. But man, it just hooked me with both pincers.
Marvel Snap: I’m not sure if I dug Midnight Suns more because of Snap, or Snap more because of Midnight Suns, or neither? Or both? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But this one really has its claws in me, too. The speed and simplicity are just perfect for quick little diversions, but there’s a real depth of strategy there once you get familiar with the game. This is probably unsurprising to fans of other CCGs; I never was one of those. But a single moment in Snap made me finally get the whole idea of deck synergy in a way that no previous game I’d tried was able to. (It was playing Odin after White Tiger at a location that had just morphed to Bar Sinister, if you’re curious. Just delightful.)
Vampire Survivors: I lived through the 16-bit era, so retro-styled games often make me roll my eyes so hard I can see myself think. But this one showed up one day on Game Pass so I decided to give it a try. And I was this close to quitting and deleting within the first five minutes. (“Where the hell is the attack button?!”) Many dozens of hours later I think it’s one of the most fiendishly addictive and subtly deep games I’ve ever played. Really cleverly done and oh no it’s on iOS now.
Into the Breach: I heard so much good stuff about this game that I bought it when it came out on Switch pretty much sight-unseen. And I…didn’t like it. It just did nothing for me. I bounced off. Fast forward to 2022 and Netflix’s push into games, which included an iPad version available free for subscribers, and I gave it another shot. And something about the touch interface made all the difference in the world. I lost track of how many times I beat it before eventually having to delete it for space reasons.
And of course I played Tunic and Elden Ring and Immortality and Atari 50 and they’re all great. Believe the hype. (And there are also a few notable games I haven’t played enough of yet to form an opinion, like A Plague Tale: Requiem and Pentiment.) But these four, man. These four got me.
Look, I do not watch a lot of TV. When I have downtime I tend to want to dive into a book instead of firing up even the most celebrated hot new series (a fact which will likely become very clear in the next section). But I did have some really great TV experiences last year. Like:
Midnight Mass: A dear friend of mine kept pushing me to watch this. He said he was convinced I’d love it, that it was practically made for me. I yeah-yeah-yeahed for months, because like I said, I just don’t really prioritize TV? And when some dumbshit website put a significant spoiler in a FRICKIN’ HEADLINE, I yeah-yeah-yeahed even harder. Then I ended up with a free weekend, when my wife and daughter were out of town, and decided to finally put it on and oh my sacred heart what an unbelievably great series. The writing, the performances, the cinematography—my god. Just unbelievable. I’d never seen any of Flanagan’s other stuff but now? I’ll watch anything the dude makes. I don’t think the show gave me nightmares per se but for weeks I’d wake up in the middle of the night and the first thing I’d think of was that scene. With Joe. You know the one. Oh, and the weekend that I ended up binging the whole series? It just occurred to me it was Easter weekend. I started the series on Good Friday. Might need to make it part of the yearly celebration now.
Severance: Yep. Yes. Uh-huh. It’s a real good show, Brent. They had better explain the frickin’ [redacted] though. My heart can’t take another Lost-scale disappointment. I re-upped Apple TV+ almost exclusively for the next season. Enough said, I think.
Sandman: Having pretty strongly disliked American Gods in spite of an absolute adoration for the book, I was skeptical of this one. I shouldn’t have been. It’s a spectacular, moving, gorgeous experience, and I’m so very happy it’s getting a second season. Now, maybe my appreciation stems in part from the fact that for this one I didn’t have anything other than the most cursory experience with the franchise. I’ll let you know once the series is done and I finally read the comics.
Jeopardy!: I’m not kidding about this. While temporarily re-subscribed to Hulu Live TV to watch the next entry, I happened to catch an episode live and remembered how much I’ve always loved this show. And when I discovered that it airs on CBS here, which means I can stream it every night on Paramount+, it instantly became appointment viewing. I’m not a huge trivia geek but I do know a little bit about a lot of things, which means I can feel like I’m holding my own in an imaginary matchup against most of the contestants who are actually, you know, on the show. But also, holy crap is Ken Jennings a great host! It was such a pleasant surprise to see how well he’s taken on the unenviable task of following Trebek. He’s as personable as Trebek was, just ever so slightly more cheeky, and very, very quick. (And speaking of Paramount+: To my absolute astonishment, it’s something we actually use very regularly. So that was another nice surprise in 2022.)
The Cleveland Guardians: I am not a huge baseball geek either, but I try to catch games when I can. Last year, our newly rebranded team made a real run at a spot in the World Series, and they were fun as hell to watch. Considering they were the youngest team in baseball that season, they’ve got me optimistic for a really spectacular season this year.
Curling: I am so happy when the Winter Olympics roll around again, because that means I get to watch as much curling as I can handle. I have an unironic love for this sport. I watched nearly every match last year. I adore it.
Wayward (Chuck Wendig): The weakest Wendig books I’ve read (and I’ve read them all except the Star Wars novels) are better than like 90 percent of what else is out there. And this is most assuredly not one of his weaker books. It is, in fact, a heart-wrenching (and occasionally gut-wrenching) followup to his masterpiece Wanderers, and while it may not quite—not quite—live up to its predecessor in every way, it’s just wonderful in its own right. This one follows the aftermath of a global pandemic, so as with the first book (which came out just before the fan started spinning up on our current shitshow) there’s a lot of resonance here. Which is to say, it’s not exactly escapist fiction? But it is nevertheless fantastic. The fact that he could figure out where to go from Wanderers at all is halfway to a miracle. The fact that he did such an amazing job of it is most of the rest of the way.
The Broken Room (Peter Clines): Clines may be the best science fiction/horror author you’ve never heard of. His book 14 got me hunting down everything he’s ever written, and I recommend it unreservedly to anyone who likes creepy otherworldly horror like Silent Hill or the whole Lovecraftian thing. So when this one hit it was an instant buy. And while 14 is still my favorite of his, this is a very, very close second. Picture, like, a buddy-cop thriller, but one cop is an insanely capable government operative in the Jason Bourne mold, and the other cop is a preteen girl with supernatural powers…and the first cop’s former partner’s ghost living in her head. Also lots of horror and weirdness and violence and man do I love this book. I’ve seen it described as “Jack Reacher meets Stranger Things” and while I have no direct experience with Jack Reacher that sounds pretty accurate. I think Clines admitted to plans for a sequel, which can’t come soon enough.
Project Hail Mary (Andy Weir): After loving The Martian, I was really excited for another book from Andy Weir. And then Artemis came out. I have no memory of that book. I read it! But I have no memory of it. I just read the summary on Amazon and I still have no memory of it. It is not a good book, is what I’m saying. So I was ready to write Weir off as a one-hit wonder. Hey, it happens, and that doesn’t change anything about the excellence of The Martian. So it was an absolute delight to read Project Hail Mary. The biggest criticism I can think of is that it’s perhaps a bit too similar to The Martian, and as criticisms go that’s…not exactly strong. It’s another fun-as-hell spacey romp with smart characters and Actual Science. If you liked The Martian (and especially if you were then as disappointed by Artemis as I was), you’ll love this book.
The Ash McKenna Series (Rob Hart): A fun twist on the hard-boiled detective genre, where the main character’s journey is just as important as the mysteries he solves—probably more so, actually. I plowed through all five of these in, like, a week.
Gideon the Ninth (Tamsyn Muir): Goth princess and her assassin frenemy go on adventures and discover lots of death stuff. OK, it’s a lot more than that, but it’s a fun and thought-provoking book and well worth reading if you like your fantasy a little weird and snarky. There are two more in this series, including one that released in 2022, but I didn’t like either of those nearly as much. Still, I can definitely recommend them—especially if you’re a fan of Gene Wolfe and like to have to figure everything out on your own.
The Craft Sequence (Max Gladstone): Smart and often funny fantasy where the main magic system is based on economics. It totally works, trust me. There are more in the series now than just these five, but this is a real great place to start.
The John Dies at the End Series (Jason Pargin, originally as David Wong): Starting with a caveat here: While the first book is good, it’s also very dated in a lot of ways. (Like, it mistakes “offensive” for “edgy” a lot.) The sequels just keep getting better, though: JDATE is followed by This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It and What the Hell Did I Just Read, and while I haven’t yet had a chance to dive into the newest one—If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe—it’s on my Kindle and I’m really looking forward to it. Just insane contemporary horror with an extremely twisted aesthetic and some memorable, awful, and memorably awful characters.
The Violence (Delilah S. Dawson): Another pandemic novel, one so tightly written and compulsively readable that I devoured it in something like two days and then immediately turned to:
The Shadow Series (also Delilah S. Dawson, as Lila Bowen): Gothic Western fantasy with a trans male lead. Fascinating and delightful. The first book is called Wake of Vultures. All four are great.
2022 was a depressingly sparse year for new music for me, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning these three fantastic releases:
Strange Mornings in the Garden (The Loyal Seas): Tanya Donnelly from Belly and Brian Sullivan of Dylan in the Movies (who, to be clear, I’d never heard of until just this moment) joined up to make this lovely collaboration. It’s a grownup summer album that hit at just the right time for me to fall deeply in love with it. The way their voices blend is just magical.
The Revisionist EP (Jawbox): This is two dramatic re-imaginings of tunes from Jawbox’s first album, Grippe, plus a Wire cover. The fact that one of those re-imaginings is of “Consolation Prize”—which on odd-numbered days is my absolute favorite track from that album—and yet I still actually like this one anyway is a testament to the magnificence of this band. I’m so very happy they’re touring and recording again and oh MAN do I hope they do some all-new tunes sometime soon.
Holidays 2022 (Belly): Yes, two of my three recommendations have Tanya Donnelly in them. Fight me. These two new, piano-focused versions of “Red” and “Seal My Fate” from 1995’s King are warm and haunting and gorgeous and I NEED MORE BELLY PLEASE.
Beats Fit Pro: When they first came out, I absolutely jumped on a pair of AirPods Pro. My wife had a set of the OG AirPods and I liked the functionality, but active noise cancelation had become an absolute must for me. So when the Pros hit, it seemed like the perfect set for me. And I hated them. HAAAAAAaaaated them. I thought they sounded like crap, the ANC was next to worthless, and no matter what I did they refused to fit. (In their defense, the first two issues may have been caused by the third—but I simply could. not. make. them. fit.)
But now that I had a taste for it I really wanted to find a set of earbuds with good ANC to use while mowing our once-spacious lawn. I tried a few cheaper models, the best of which was an Aukey set for $60 (no longer available as far as I can tell) that actually had amazing sound and pretty decent ANC—except that it would only cancel higher-frequency noise, so it had almost no effect on the lawnmower. I ended up with a pair of Sony WF-1000XM3s which had great sound and at the time the best ANC available on earbuds (or at least earbuds outside of the absolute top of the range, I dunno). But those are bulky, the touch controls are stupidly finicky, and the app used to control them is a mess.
Then this year I happened to stumble across a review of the Beats Fit Pro. I knew Beats was now owned by Apple, but it didn’t occur to me that they might have the same seamless functionality as AirPods. But they do. And they fit. And they sound fantastic. And they have actual physical buttons. And the ANC is unreal. And they stay in snugly. And I love them so much. (And they’re regularly discounted fairly significantly—often well below the dramatically inferior AirPods Pro.) Now, a big caveat here is that I have not tried the newest generation of AirPods Pro. But I honestly can’t imagine they’re significantly better, if at all. These things are so great that I am always astonished how little I hear about them. I know Beats have a bad rap (HA HA SEE WHAT I DID THERE) among audiophiles but these are the real deal.
Razer Kishi: This is a controller built to straddle your phone and you can miss me with your outrage, Backbone fans. Review after review mentioned how the Kishi feels like an Xbox controller and the Backbone feels like the Switch Joycons and my giant hands made their own decision. I’m very happy they did; it genuinely does just feel like a regular controller and oh no Vampire Survivors is on iOS now.
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway: In February we spent a long weekend at Disney World to celebrate my parents-in-law’s 75th birthdays. It was a lovely time. It hadn’t been that long since we’d been there, but it had been decades since I’d been to Hollywood Studios and I was SO EXCITED to visit Galaxy’s Edge and especially ride Rise of the Resistance. And that is all amazing. But go ahead and revoke my geek card because Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is the ride that must not be missed if you’re at Hollywood Studios. The tech here is unreal; the ride is long and surprising; it’s just a fantastic experience all around, and it made me super-excited for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at EPCOT (another “trackless dark ride”—and brand new last year). But when our reservation time rolled around, it was closed for maintenance. Something to look forward to next time I suppose.
Hocking Hills for Thanksgiving: We ended up trying something new for Thanksgiving this year, heading to the Hocking Hills region in the southeast quadrant of Ohio—basically north Appalachia. The place is loaded with secluded cabins, lovely scenery, and beautiful parks with caves and waterfalls. It’s a lovely place to go to relax, just far enough from Cleveland to feel like a real vacation but close enough for a quick getaway. This year, it being Thanksgiving, we met my in-laws there, so we got a larger and nicer cabin than we normally would—and we barely left. It was just a delightful, relaxing, long weekend with good food and family, pool tournaments and holiday movies. A real highlight of the year for me.
Billy Summers (Stephen King): I truly love a great deal of Stephen King’s work. I think his massive success causes people to overlook what an absolutely beautiful, poetic writer he can be. He does horror so well because he can make you feel it so well. Yeah, he’s terrible at endings, but when he’s at his best his work is just magnificent. Billy Summers is the opposite of King at his best.
This entire book is essentially about two people: Billy and Alice. Billy is former military sniper who’s became a reluctant hitman and aspiring author. Alice is a 21 year old woman who was violently, graphically sexually abused. That’s it. That’s her backstory. I kept waiting for King to deliver any kind of justification for introducing her like this—any kind of reason beyond mere shock value. It never came. The book is gross. Avoid it.
The Ol’ GE-Home Depot Tag Team Experience: One day our dishwasher stopped working. We liked the dishwasher. So we bought a newer, slightly nicer version of pretty much the same thing. But we made one fatal mistake: We bought it from Home Depot. When it arrived, the installers hauled out the old one and prepped to put in the new one. But when they opened the box, they discovered it was crushed. Crumpled. And to be clear, I’m not talking about the box—the box was fine. This was the dishwasher itself. Now, this was clearly not Home Depot’s doing, but rather GE’s. It sucked, but hey, things happen, and we’d only be without a dishwasher for another three or four days until they could send over a new one. When that one came, the installers came in, checked that the area was still prepped, and then unloaded the machine from the truck.
Then they called me outside.
This time the dishwasher itself wasn’t crushed—but the drain hose was. Feeling increasingly nervous about this purchase, I called GE to overnight a new hose. To their credit, they did. And to Home Depot’s credit, they sent out a team of installers quickly once the hose arrived.
Trouble was, this third team of installers had, quite clearly, NEVER INSTALLED A DISHWASHER BEFORE. So I got to hear the head guy call his boss three times—THREE TIMES—for advice on how to mount a dishwasher under granite countertops. Which means I got to hear his boss tell him THREE TIMES what to do. Which means it was VERY VERY OBVIOUS that he didn’t do it right. The first time we opened the door after they left, the entire thing tipped forward. Not great!
…But it ended up being moot, because this unit had a broken heating coil. Now, remember, while this was the third installation attempt, this was only the second machine—and it had obviously been packaged badly. So we were willing to give GE one more chance to get us a working machine. A week later, a new team of installers brought it in.
And refused to install it.
They claimed that they’re “not allowed” to install machines that are hard-wired electrically—only if they plug in. This was…a surprising revelation. They insisted. They left. I called Home Depot. I sat on hold. I spoke to a very very nice woman who did her absolute best to get this taken care of. But apparently, it is their policy not to install appliances that don’t plug in to a regular outlet. And the first three installers were…I dunno, visitors from another dimension? Regardless, our options were to REWIRE OUR HOUSE….or pay a different company to install it. My wife finally said, “Fuck it, let’s try to do it ourselves.” And we did. And it worked. And it was secure. And after three weeks of hand-washing we finally had a working dishwasher once again.
Long story short: OH GOD DON’T BUY APPLIANCES FROM HOME DEPOT.
Elon Musk: lol what a tool