If I’d watched Black Mirror: Bandersnatch before I wrote Ramble No. 68, then I would’ve put it in the list and quite possibly given an honourable mention also to Season 4 of Peaky Blinders which I also crammed in before year-end.

What to say about Black Mirror: Bandersnatch that’s not already been said? Did I like it? What do you think? Of course I did! Like Ready Player One it was aimed like some kind of nostalgia-seeking missile right at my brain.

I used to play the Fighting Fantasy series of choose your own adventure books written by the likes of Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson obsessively and don’t get me started on early computer gaming. Oh the arguments we used to have about the Spectrum and the Commodore. So when I learned that Charlie Brooker has based an episode of his excellent Black Mirror series on these things, and not only that but the ‘episode’ is actually an interactive film where you make the decisions like some screwed up version of the Black Cauldron game, I was buzzed beyond belief, and a little nervous.

Nervous, because I wasn’t sure it could be done with any finesse. Well let me assure you that it was pulled off not only with finesse but also no small measure of aplomb. Starting with a decision about what cereal to eat for breakfast and ending with decisions like jumping off a balcony after taking LSD or killing your dad with an ashtray, this was a great piece of meta story-telling. The inclusion of lots of retro nods, a Philip K Dick Ubik poster (are there really posters for sci-fi books?) and references to previous episodes were the icing on the cake.

I was so taken in by the interactivity of the film that I had to quickly go onto IMDB to check that the psychiatrist character’s name wasn’t being pulled from my account details (given my surname and her surname were Haynes). I should’ve remembered that there was a character called R. Haynes in the previous episode ‘Black Museum’. Apparently Brooker didn’t really want to do interactive content but he’s approached it in a very imaginative way fusing the viewing experience with the narrative to the point where in some versions of play you end up trying to explain what Netflix is to the main character in an age (1984) where data is loaded onto your computer via cassette tapes and UK television only had four channels.

Here’s a trailer, if you haven’t seen it do so immediately:

Season 4 of Peaky Blinders, which snuck up on us unexpectedly on Netflix, was blessed by a different director than the last season, which grated on me, and the addition of Adrien Brody as a Italian American mobster on a vendetta against the Shelby clan. Brody was brilliant and so too, once more, was Tom Hardy who made a return as the scabby-faced Jewish gang leader Alfie Solomons who seemed to get all the cool lines again.

With only six hour-long episodes to watch, Siggy and binged through it during the Christmas break and I think it helped to do so. The repetition of the trademark Reservoir Dogs-esque slow-motion walk through fire and sparks in every episode was more noticeable than usual but the story felt more tightly written and the direction less staged and soap opera feeling than the previous season.

As well as watching some great TV, I read a lot of stuff in December in a pointless attempt at reducing my unread book count before my Amazon wish list bore fruit.

I found The Children of Hurin by J. R. R. Tolkien, posthumously compiled from his numerous notes and edited by his son Christopher Tolkien, to be a far more accessible read than The Simarillion. I regretted the fact that it has been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year waiting for me to read it.

The children in question are Turin and Nienor who are cursed by Morgoth the first Dark Lord of Angband. Most of the story concerns Turin and only comes back round to covering Nienor’s fate when it reconnects in more ways than one with Turin.

There’s a viscous wingless dragon possessed by Morgoth’s evil spirit servant Glaurung who is hell-bent on destroying the children and laying waste to swathes of Middle Earth in the process. Set during the legendary time before The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings it’s the darkest Tolkien tale I have read and I couldn’t help but fantasize about how Peter Jackson might handle a big screen adaptation.

Talking of screen adaptations, Ryu Murakami’s slim Japanese psycho-sexual thriller Audition was the basis for Takashi Miike’s 1999 cult movie and the driving force for me getting hold of some of Ryu Murakami’s books. The story in the book is very similar to that of the film but in some ways not as creepy and perhaps lacking some impact as I knew what to expect.

Translated into English it tells the story of a middle-aged widower Aoyama who lives with his son and their pet dog, but is lonely as hell and wants to finally move on after the death of his wife. He hatches a plan with his friend to hold a series of auditions for a film that they know will probably never be made with the casting call characterised by some very specific criteria based on what Aoyama wants from a new partner.

Aoyama falls head-over-heels for one of the young actresses against the advice of his friend who correctly smells something fishy. On several platonic dates she wins his confidence and then things take a very dark turn during a weekend away at a spa hotel. The girl disappears from Aoyama’s life for weeks only to unexpectedly reappear and mete out a disproportionately violent revenge for his dishonesty over the existence of his son. Christ knows what she’d have done if she found out the audition was a set-up.

Finally for this post, I return to my most-read author of 2018. Night School by Lee Child is the twenty-first Jack Reacher thriller. It is a prequel set in 1996 between The Enemy and The Affair. Reacher is still in the army working with the CI,  the FBI and the Hamburg police on trying to find out who is selling what for $100million to a terrorist cell in the city.

It’s a great read especially when the story is further complicated by some local neo-Nazis who have infiltrated the police force wanting in on the action. Reacher has the fate of the world on his shoulders and the story is action-orientated all the way with very little opportunity for the kind of sightseeing and observations that peppered the London trip in Child’s nineteenth Reacher book, Personal.

Problem is, I got about ten more books for Crimbo, so I have year’s worth of paperbacks to read – so many it’s hard to even photograph them (rotated 90-degrees to fit a bit better):