Tag Archive: Best of 2020


A Heart Divided

Review by C.J. Bunce

How often do you read a series that makes it to four volumes and each entry gets progressively better?  That’s exactly what awaits you in Gigi Chang, Anna Holmwood, and Shelly Bryant’s landmark English translation of Jin Yong′s Legends of the Condor Heroes novels.  This series, originally a serialized novel written and first published by Yong aka Louis Cha between 1957 and 1959, is in fact the worldwide best selling novel of all time, with a billion copies in print.  A 38 volume manhua comic was issued in 1998, and countless film and TV adaptations followed, including my favorite in 2017 (reviewed here).  In the spirit of Homer, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Akira Kurosawa, and George Lucas, the series is among the world’s greatest fantasy novels and you should think of the fourth and final installment, A Heart Divided, as the Return of the King of the series.  Only it’s better than Tolkien’s finale–incredible subplots, powerful historical fantasy, dozens of major, important key characters, who, because of the stunning translation and Jin’s literary characterizations, will be easy for Western audiences to keep track of.  It doesn’t fall into the trap of many major fantasy series: losing the steam built up in the earlier installments.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of the 1978-1990 television series All Creatures Great and Small may think it’s… unthinkable… to remake such a solid adaptation of James Herriot’s landmark series of books.  And yet here we are in 2020 with a brilliantly good, cleverly funny adaptation worthy of the source material and every bit as good as the earlier successful series.  The first season is currently airing on PBS Masterpiece, and also available for streaming online.  The autobiographical stories follow the exploits of a young veterinarian, James Herriot, in 1940s Yorkshire as he gets his footing in a rural office in a tiny town where the people are more difficult than his challenges treating the local animal life.  This is one of the greatest examples of uplifting, heart-warming drama and British humor and–possibly a surprise to those outside of England–a study in a wide range of dialects and personalities in a single village.  The small cast is perfect, and it features some actors you’re likely to be familiar with from other genre shows.  Even better, the new All Creatures Great and Small, UK Channel 5’s highest-rated drama ever, has been confirmed for a second season.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It had a promising first and third season, twists and turns, clever story arcs, and a contender for the most faithful adaptation of a comic book series from the past decade.  The creators of the fourth and final season of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina gave 2020 a much-needed batch of two complete seasons, and we already gave the third season kudos in the 2020 Best of TV review here at borg.  Kiernan Shipka proved to be one of TV’s best young actors, embodying a character that is next in line after Buffy Summers, Veronica Mars, and Liv Moore as young genre heroines who led series you can count on the first time and after re-watches.  Already a contender for one of the best TV series of this century, and one of Netflix’s most creative efforts, how did the final season fare for our heroine Sabrina Spellman?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the hour-long second “season” of Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian–Making of Season 2, executive producer/director Jon Favreau says he hoped to bring all the kinds of Star Wars fans together for a special moment, and he seems to have done that in this year’s superb second season of The Mandalorian, although it’s difficult to compare Disney Gallery‘s eight-episode first season of behind the scenes glimpses to the single, albeit packed, episode fans got from Disney+ this year, released on Christmas Day.  As far as making all the groups of fans happy, expect that fans of the last episode’s special climactic scene won’t get to see a “making of” feature on that component yet.

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Our borg Best of 2020 list continues today with the Best Books of 2020.  If you missed them, check out our reviews of the Best Movies of 2020 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2020 here, and the Best in TV 2020 here.  Our list continues tomorrow with the Best Comics and Games of 2020.  And we wrap-up the year with our additions to the borg Hall of Fame later this month.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t publish reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going!

Best Sci-Fi, Best Thriller Novel Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson (Tor Books).  It’s a far-out science fiction novel with all the right notes of a good supernatural fantasy.  And it has an easy pace and an impending, looming darkness waiting ahead that will keep you planted firmly in your seat until you get to the last page.

Best Tie-In NovelBloodshot novelization by Gavin Smith (Titan Books).  A great update to the genre that began with Martin Caidin’s Cyborg, Smith creates an exciting, vivid novelization of the comic book character adapted to the big screen.  Honorable mention: Firefly: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).

There are many more best book selections to go…

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Today we move from the big screen to the small screen with the Best TV Series of 2020.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2020 here and the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2020 here.  We watch a lot of television, and probably love a good series even more than a great movie.  We preview hundreds of series, but outside big franchise content you want to know about, we only review what we recommend–the best genre content we’re watching.  The theory?  If we like it, we think you may like it.  The best shows have a compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, and all kinds of well-executed genre elements that satisfy and leave viewers feeling inspired.  Even better if we see richly detailed sets and costumes.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg SeriesAltered Carbon (Netflix).  Showing life in a world well past the merger of the organic and inorganic via stacks placed in human individuals’ vertebrae in the back of the neck, the second season of the series further revealed the dark side of being able to live forever.  What parts of life have the most value in a cybernetic world?  What crimes emerge when body and mind can be separated and re-shuffled?  Honorable mention: Star Trek: Picard (CBD All Access)–revisiting Star Trek’s old nemeses The Borg and introducing the cyborg-like nonbiological humanoids called Synths, the same term used in the BBC’s Humans.

Best TV Borg, Best TV VillainDarth Maul (played by Sam Witwer and Ray Park), Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Disney+).  The athletic performer Ray Park provided the best-ever lightsaber duel scenes in his co-starring performance in The Phantom Menace.  Watching the animated series this year it was clear Darth Maul wasn’t just another animated character.  Add another great duel to the books–Park’s motion capture abilities live on and continue to set the bar for Star Wars action sequences, and Witwer voices a character we never want to see go away again.  Honorable mention for Best TV Villain: Grand Moff Gideon, Giancarlo Esposito, The Mandalorian (Disney+).

Best Sci-fi TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Western TV SeriesThe Mandalorian (Disney+).  Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which continues to be compared to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back more than anything with the Star Wars label on it since.  The Western motif is still alive, not all that hidden here in space fantasy garb.  And we won’t get started on the impact of The Child (aka Baby Yoda) now called Grogu, on the genre-loving world and beyond.  Credit Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for a series that only gets better with each episode, despite their short lengths.  Honorable mention for Best Sci-Fi TV Series: Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Many movies showcase gangland violence in the action genre, but very few in the way of writer-director Timo Tjahjanto.  His 2018 blood and guts masterpiece The Night Comes for Us is the kind of movie for audiences looking for the satisfaction you get from a big rollercoaster, the kind they provided in action films in the 1970s and 1980s starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, and Bruce Lee.  It’s so heavy on violence you might get the feeling someone found a spare makeup department with extra buckets of fake blood in between horror movie projects.  Yet among the visual spectacle (you may duck a few times in your living room not to get splattered) Tjahjanto knows how to build a story and characters into one heckuva fun payoff.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It really is the ultimate holiday gift for your favorite Star Wars fan.  The nostalgia in the ideas for the Disney+ series The Mandalorian, as illustrated and explained in The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian, is exactly what fans were hoping for in their next Star Wars experience, probably dating all the way back to the anticipation of the release of Return of the Jedi back in 1983.  There’s a reason for the universal praise for the series, and why it’s one of the best television series of the past ten years, if not one of the best Westerns ever.  Jon Favreau, Doug Chiang, & Co. figured out how to please a diverse fandom.  By including the concept artwork in the end credits for each episode, they took us back to the Ralph McQuarrie paintings that inspired the first Star Wars film.  But those images are only the beginning.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Even if you couldn’t muddle through the first six seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which aired from 2008 through 2014, fans of the Disney+ series The Mandalorian now have one reason to take a look back at the animated series.  Earlier this year executive producer and creator Dave Filoni presented a fill-in-the-blanks, seventh and final season of The Clone Wars for Disney+.  Last week on The Mandalorian, Katee Sackhoff (Longmire, Battlestar Galactica) reprised the character Bo-Katan, a Mandalorian she voiced in 2012 and 2013 on the series, with a reference to fan-favorite spin-off character Ahsoka Tano, voiced by Ashley Eckstein in the animated series, and soon to be played by Rosario Dawson (Marvel’s Luke Cage, Men in Black II) in The Mandalorian.  If you want to see some interesting connections between the past in the Star Wars movies–the prequels, the animated series Star Wars Rebels, and more–and the current happenings on The Mandalorian, it’s time to revisit the 2020 season of The Clone Wars.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you play D&D, love video or board games, if you consider yourself a gamer or you like to compete at all for fun, drop everything and watch The Queen’s Gambit right now, streaming on Netflix.  Chess may not be your game, but it doesn’t matter.  The writer of The Hustler created a heckuva story and character in orphan prodigy Beth Harmon, and the 1960s tale perfectly translates to 2020.  Harmon is a quick-witted, fast-thinking, intense young girl, taking the driver’s seat, she becomes a smart young woman in a parallel type of world to The Hustler’s pool hall, where she competes and wins against Bobby Darin-era boys and middle-aged men in tweeds.  Adapted by one of the best screen writers around, Scott Frank, writer of the movies Logan, The Wolverine, Minority Report, Malice, Dead Again, and the similar-themed Little Man Tate, and also director of the series–don’t skip this because a series about chess may sound boring to you.

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