Roundtable: What Brought You Joy?

We get it. 2017 has been, by and large, the year of suck. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe in, it seems like everyone we know has been dealt a terrible blow this year, and it’s been hard to see something good when every time we turn around, we’re given more and more bad news.

But the year hasn’t been all bad, has it? When the contributors of Speculative Chic were discussing what November’s Roundtable should be, a contributor suggested something in the speculative fiction realm that has brought us joy. One thing immediately came to mind: the glorious debut of Wonder Woman. In fact, so many of us loved it that I asked my contributors to select something other than Wonder Woman, because otherwise this post would be a (albeit well-deserved) love letter to the movie, which I’m pretty sure we’ve already done.

So as Editor-in-Chic, I asked everyone to dig a little deeper: what else in the speculative fiction realm has brought you joy this past year?

Here’s what they had to say.

J.L. Gribble: As a lifelong gamer (both table-top and video game), there are some ways in which the mentality of gaming has spilled over into my actual life. It’s a quiet, behind-the-scenes sort of acknowledgement that never ceases to amuse me. I often apply this to my fiction career, because writing books isn’t just about the end product, but also about the journey. Finished complete draft of first book? Time to grind those editing skills. Signed book contract? Level up! Publisher commissions series logo for your books? Achievement unlocked!

Though I have been regularly attending conventions as a panelist to promote my books over the past few years, I feel like I significantly leveled up as an author when I was invited to participate at Salt Lake Comic Con earlier this year. It’s quite a jump to go from relatively small, literary-focused conventions of maybe a few thousand people in a hotel to a massive popular culture media event in a giant convention center. And somehow, I was one of the people with a “Special Guest” badge.

My two panels went well, and I always have fun introducing myself to potential readers during my book signing slot, but honestly, all of my highlights from the event were when I just had fun being a fan. As much as I love the small literary cons, those don’t give me the opportunity to see live interviews with some of my favorite actors, such as Christopher Judge (Stargate’s Teal’c) and Catherine Tate (Doctor Who’s Donna Noble). My husband met his favorite comic artist (Ryan Ottley) and commissioned a unique art piece from him. There was cosplay karaoke! I snuggled a giant TARDIS! I got books signed by famous authors! I met the awesome hosts of a podcast I’ve been following! And to top it all off, I got to add John Barrowman to my TARDIS collection when I got my picture taken with him.

Though it feels like the past year has been filled with strife and mayhem, both politically and environmentally, and the book-writing gig is filled with frustration more often than not, I do have to look back and realize that things are looking up. Salt Lake Comic Con was a highlight of my year, both personally and professionally, and the overall experience was priceless.

You can find my full con report for Salt Lake Comic Con 2017 on my personal blog.

Erin: The Spec Fic Thing (Other Than Wonder Woman) That Brought Me Joy in 2017?  The Good Place. More like The Great Place, amirite? Seriously, though, if you’re not watching this show, then what are you doing with your life?


Believe me, I was skeptical from the start. When I first heard about the show, I thought, That’s a clever premise and all, but there’s no way that idea can sustain an entire episode. Then I watched the first episode, and I was all, That was great, but there’s no way they can keep this train running for an entire season. I was pleasantly surprised when first season ended with a bang and the show was renewed, but the finale left me wondering where they could possibly go with a second season…

I’m sure you can see where this is going. While the premise of this show seems as simple and straightforward as its title card (see above), this hilarious, brilliant, well-cast delight continues to amuse and grow with every new episode. The world, which might have seemed clearly delineated in the early episodes, has hidden depths around every corner. Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, as Eleanor and the Architect, respectively, are certainly the fulcrums on which the show turns, but the rest of cast also shines, bringing depth and nuance to what could easily be one-note characters. The MVP of the bunch is no doubt Janet, the anthropomorphized supercomputer played by D’Arcy Carden. She takes the emotionless virtual intelligence concept to the next level, developing in ways that no one, not even the characters on the show, can seem to predict.

That’s the real magic behind this awesome show: its unpredictability. Every week, the writing continues to surprise me with its relentless cleverness. I’ve even started rewatching every episode to look for all of the clues and Easter Eggs that I inevitably miss with the first viewing. Because if I’ve learned one thing about this show, it’s that everything is on the table and nothing is as simple as it seems.

I still have no idea how long this show can keep going, yet I’ve decided to stop worrying and to love the bomb. Sure, it might blow up eventually, but that’s no reason not to enjoy the ride.

Betsy: Not so long ago, if you had told me that I would be truly, deeply thankful for a video game, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. That’s not to say that I disliked video games — I have enjoyed them since the only real option available to me was Mouse Stampede — but they had never been a stabilizing point for me until recently.

Let me start closer to the beginning. Four years ago, I dipped my toe into the deep, deep waters of the MMORPG pool in the form of borrowing a character slot on a friend’s Guild Wars 2 account. This friend was unable to play as much as he wished and offered to sell me his account at a discount if I liked it. The only reason I considered it at all was because it sold at a flat rate rather than a monthly subscription fee, and it still regularly put out new game material. Since then, they’ve released two major expansions, which cost a minimal amount for existing players, but are always included in the flat rate for someone buying for the first time. Given the amount of time I’ve played the game, it’s shockingly cheap.

Already having friends who played was a huge benefit, as I could tag along with them and learn the mechanics of the game, which was bewilderingly large and open-format for someone who had largely stuck with follow-the-storyline single-player RPG-style games before that. But before long, I was hooked, and I got several game-minded girlfriends to join, too. That group of friends, all living within a 10-mile radius of each other, would log on at our home computers and chat via headset while we played as often as we went out to lunch or saw a movie or anything else we did together.

It wasn’t until a year and a half ago that we formalized our in-game get-togethers. Over time, several of us have moved hundreds of miles away for jobs, half of us have kids now, two are still (or back) in school, and as we sent sporadic group text messages, we realized that all of us were really, really lonely. Friendships in new places are slow to build, and many cannot yet bear the full weight of sharing real life. Text messages and Facebook, though nice, do not fill the gap.

And so Girls’ Gaming Night was born. We meet online, in-game, via headset, every week. Depending on our collective mood, we might all join in to help progress someone’s personal storyline, or clear maps and finish challenges that require more than one player to complete. Or we might pull out our “pretty boy” characters (because if guys get to have eye candy female characters walking around all over the game, girls should be able to have buff, scantily-clad men as well) and host a dance party in the “town square” or try on different virtual outfits, or a new color scheme. Some nights, the game is forgotten completely as we talk about real life struggles and successes. Basically, we do whatever we want, and it’s glorious because these are friends who’ve known each other for nearly a decade now, and we get to keep being friends on a closer level than we ever would have been able to do before the internet, or MMORPGs, or, more specifically for us, before Guild Wars 2 gave us a virtual meeting space to stay connected. Living where I do, it’s been a sanity-saver more than once, and for that I am deeply thankful.

Kelly: The speculative fiction thing that has brought me the most joy this year is The Good Place, a TV show that I actually learned about from Speculative Chic. Although the show debuted in 2016, I watched the first season in January 2017, and it was the ideal antidote to the dreary days of winter. I’m not typically a big fan of live-action comedies. The cutesy ones centered on romantic relationships grate on my nerves, and the edgier shows feel like they’re trying too hard with their stale PG-13 sex jokes. My normal favorite shows are either any variety of Food Network’s baking championships or funny cartoons for adults like Bob’s Burgers or Rick and Morty. But The Good Place won me over with its charming cast and unique premise.

Eleanor Shellstrop, played by Kristen Bell, dies and wakes up in the good place. In this universe, no earthly religion was entirely correct about life after death, although one stoner dude got almost everything right. If you’re in the good place, an architect designs an idyllic neighborhood for you, complete with frozen yogurt shops, your dream house and even your perfect soul mate. Eleanor’s house is decorated with clowns and her soul mate is an ethics professor, Chidi (played by William Jackson Harper). But Eleanor hates clowns because she is the wrong Eleanor Shellstrop and wound up in the good place by mistake. In order to stay out of the bad place, Eleanor asks Chidi to teach her to be a better person.

The entire show hinges on Kristen Bell. I usually hate it when actresses try to be adorable (Zooey Deschanel is like fingernails down a chalkboard), but Kristen Bell must be my kryptonite because I love her. Not only is she wonderful on this show, the video that she and her husband, Dax Shepard, did of themselves dancing to Toto’s “Africa” is one of the funniest things on the Internet.

The entire cast does a great job. Ted Danson is excellent as the architect of the neighborhood. The show is refreshing because it takes unexpected turns and asks intriguing questions such as, “Is it ever too late to become a good person?” I enjoy that the show focuses more on friendship than romance. The Good Place is sweet without being saccharine. One of my favorite things about the good place is that people can’t curse, so Eleanor walks around saying things like, “What the fork?”  I’m not caught up on season two, but I’m not worried because The Good Place is a fantastic show to binge watch.

Nicole: When I first thought about this particular Roundtable question, I wasn’t sure what my answer would be. What spec thing has truly brought me joy this year? And then I realized, as odd as it seemed, the answer was this:

Rick & Morty.

It may seem odd that such a weird, crass show that some people just straight-up don’t like is the thing I ended up choosing, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I had so much fun watching a TV show. Because that’s all it was — pure, unadulterated fun. Yes, sometimes it was violent, sometimes it was vulgar, but no more so than Southpark (which I think got worse over the years, hence why I stopped watching it).

I love the show because it brings in such ridiculous premises in with random scientific theories as well as wacky, sci-fi fun. Because while most of the time I laugh out loud, it also does have some surprisingly poignant moments. I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie or TV show and went out the next day to buy it for myself. This past season has been fantastic, featuring some of my now favorite episodes ever (“The Rickshank Rickdemption” and “Rest and Ricklaxation,” followed very closely by “Pickle Rick” and “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy”). I do think it’s a smart show, and not the way some people mean in that you have to be smart to get it, but rather that it’s smartly written, with cheeky jokes, a ton of sass, and how the writers keep so many things together despite the way the characters quite literally jump all over the place.

While I am very much looking forward to where the writers intend on taking some of the more serious threads of the show (and I use the word “serious” loosely), in the end I hope the future episodes do exactly what these past 31 have done — make me laugh and entertain the hell out of me.


  • Lane Robins November 10, 2017 at 11:41 am

    The Good Place!!! I really need to catch up on the second season.

  • Merrin November 10, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    I wanted to participate in this but every time I sat in front of my computer to think about what brought me joy the only thing that kept coming up was Wonder Woman. Joy has been a difficult emotion to find this year.

  • kendrame November 10, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Is it self serving to say “Yay for Kimples”?

    • Betsy Whitt November 10, 2017 at 11:18 pm

      Well I don’t think so, but then we’re two of the Kimples, so…. 😀

  • Kelly McCarty November 10, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    I came really close to choosing Rick and Morty, but I want to use it for My Favorite Things. I also loved the same episodes Nicole did, especially “The Rickshank Rickdemption.” I think the show is better when it doesn’t try to stick to a traditional plot structure because the episodes focusing on Beth and Jerry’s marriage (other than the whirly dirly episode) were the worst ones this season.

  • Redhead November 11, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    The Good Place is sooooo gooooood!!!


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