Top 10 Sci-Fi Newcomers 2011

Who broke through into the sci-fi zeitgeist this year? Steve O’Brien announces the shortlist

What’s been new and exciting in the world of science fiction and fantasy in 2011? Not much on mainstream US TV, that’s for sure. There’s been a long list of new so-so telefantasy fodder from the major US channels; no real clunkers, just a lot of shows that either felt overly familiar or blandly safe in approach: Terra Nova , Once Upon A Time , Grimm , the American Being Human , No Ordinary Family .

On US cable and in the UK things were more promising with Game Of Thrones , American Horror Story and The Fades all impressing. Hell, even MTV’s Teen Wolf was better than it had any right to be and Alphas – after a plodding start – developed into a show with a distinctly different tone to its jokey Syfy stablemates. But let’s not get onto the subject of Outcasts again.

Older shows gave us some great new characters: Jinksy in Warehouse 13 , Rudy in Misfits , Agravaine in Merlin , Matt Anderson in Primeval (though, like Danny Quinn before him, he never quite escaped the shadow of Nick Cutter… not helped by the fact that everyone else seemed to mention Nick Cutter every other line).

On the book front, former SFX scribe Guy Haley made the move from Warhammer novelisations to his own original series, the Richards and Klein Investigation series, but we clearly can’t put him in our top 10 for fear of the accusations of nepotism. But, as revealed in the coming pages, a certain South African took the SF literary world by storm. And there’s an angry robotic connection between the two.

Big screen debuts that made a splash included Steven Moffat (scriptwriter on Tintin ), Asa Butterfield (going from playing Mordred in the BBC’s Merlin to being directed by Scorsese in Hugo ) and director Nick Murphy who graduated from Primeval of all things to giving us the incredibly stylish supernatural chiller The Awakening . None of whom make our Top 10, but when you see who does, we think you’ll see why.

We’ve got to admit, we had a big argument about whether we should include any comics newcomers, and in the end we haven’t, purely because there haven’t been that many major breakthroughs in the medium this year. Rob ( SFX ’s comics guru) put in a good argument that we should include the DC 52 version of Animal Man , but despite his careful reasoning, the rest of were just going, “But hasn’t he been around for years?”

Note: For the purposes of this list, a “newcomer” is a person or thing new to sci-fi and fantasy, or alternatively, has made the big breakthrough this past year (as definitions go, it’s as broad as they come).

So who or what, then, did make the final cut? Read on…

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Rupert Wyatt

This 39-year-old Exeter-born director had already made a small splash with his prison-movie-with-a- Twilight-Zone -twist flick, The Escapist , but few were confident that a Planet Of The Apes prequel would do big bucks and wow the critics. But it’s done what even Tim Burton couldn’t do, which is kickstart a new beginning for a franchise which breathed its last 38 years ago. Wyatt made us agog again at CGI, with a stitch-perfect monkey army and in particular Andy Serkis and WETA’s photo-real Caesar.

It looks as though Fox want him so much for sequel duties that they’ve tempted him to back off from his cherished drama Londongrad about poisoned Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. Good on them. This franchise is too precious now to be frittered away in the hands of hacks.

What should he do next: We’re already salivating at the idea of Wyatt going full tilt boogie on the war between apes and humans.

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Norman Reedus

It’s difficult to picture Redneck Daryl from The Walking Dead as a part-time artist with a son with supermodel Helena Christensen, but that’s the eye-popping contrast between actor Norman Reedus and his straw-chewing alter-ego.

Daryl Dixon was never meant to be a recurring character on The Walking Dead . It was only when Reedus started to breathe life into the character that Frank Darabont and his team began to think of giving Daryl second season legs.

At first, Daryl just looked like another Bible belt meathead. Hot-tempered and scowling, he didn’t seem much better than his brutish and racist – and now one-handed – brother, Merle. But season two developed Daryl into a much more textured character, whom we learned was bullied by his older brother and had him displaying previously hidden heroic tendencies in his search for little Sophia.

What should he do next? Well, hopefully he’ll stay shooting that crossbow of his for a good while yet. And it would be good to get Merle back (and not a hallucination this time, thanks) to butt heads with his younger brother.

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Game Of Thrones

The Sopranos in Middle-earth” was the tagline scriptwriter David Benioff used when pitching Game Of Thrones to HBO. But not even the lauded cable channel – when it said yes to this ambitious (and expensive) swords and tits series – could have predicted that it would as similarly lovebombed as their benchmark gangster drama.

Adapted from George RR Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire book series, first published in 1991, HBO’s Game Of Thrones was thrillingly brilliant and brought a fringe genre to mass audiences. An epically-sprawling tale of feuding families, swords, sex, carnage, intrigue, deception and the pursuit of power, it won ratings and plaudits for its mother channel and made a star out of Peter Dinklage as the whoring and drinking Tyrion Lannister.

What should it do next? Just carry on adapting the books with the same quality. And let’s hope HBO don’t run scared of the sex and begin to de-nipple the series. It’s helping a lot of young boys out there...

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Joe Cornish

Along with his presenting partner Adam Buxton, Joe Cornish has been a bit of a hero to us at SFX Towers for the best part of two decades now. But 2011 was the year he broke big, as director of the taut, street-savvy alien invasion comedy Attack The Block , and as one of the writers on The Adventures Of Tintin .

Not many directors go from producing woolly-toy remakes of classic films to guzzling up awards for the debut feature and having their first screenwriting credit on a Steven Spielberg film. Like Simon Pegg, he’s our geeky representative in the top tier, and it seems inconceivable, given his immersion in geek culture, that he could ever do something that wouldn’t interest us.

Next up may well be the long-gestating Ant-Man that he’s co-written for director Edgar Wright. And hopefully more 6Music DJ-ing. And please, don’t give up the woolly-toy films.

What should he do next? Stay in the UK, Joe. As much as we love Edgar Wright, we prefer his films with a British accent.

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Rudy Wade

Misfits had its share of doubters that it could weather the departure of lead cutie Nathan Young. But that was before Joseph Gilgun was able to strut his stuff as new misfit Rudy Wade.

We already knew Gilgun had form from Shane Meadows’ sublime This Is England , but nothing prepared us for how great Rudy would be and what a shot in the arm he was for the three-year-old series.

Splitting himself into two means that Rudy can be either so gross and thuddingly sexual that he’d shame the Inbetweeners boys or so sweet that you could take him home and show him off to Grandma. Even if he might burst into tears if you she forgot his name.

“You’d think that it’d be a total ball-ache,” Gilgun told The Guardian recently. “What with being new and stuff and Rob doing such a good job. And it has been frightening, of course it has. But I’m right bloody proud of myself.”

What should he do next? There was must be some Crude Rudy/Emotional Rudy slashfic already out there. And if there isn’t, the series has got to go there... Hasn’t it?

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Joel Courtney

When your first ever acting job is playing the lead in a Steven Spielberg/JJ Abrams movie at only 14 years old, well, that shows some balls. Joel Courtney came from nowhere to wow audiences and critics with his assured performance in Abrams’ achingly Spielbergian alien invasion drama Super 8 .

Courtney played the teenage Joe Lamb, chief amateur filmmaker in the small town of Lillian, Ohio, in the year 1979. And what a revelation he was. He and 11-year-old Elle Fanning created a burgeoning romance that steered clear of ickiness and had the meaningful hum of an adult relationship.

Next up for Courtney is supernatural chiller The Healer , where he plays a teen who encounter otherworldly forces on a camping trip with his dad.

What should he do next? Let’s hope Courtney’s career is more Michael Cera than Henry Thomas.

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Lauren Beukes

Nobody bar the other nominees seemed to be disappointed when the strikingly glamorous Lauren Beukes walked away with the coveted Arthur C Clarke Award this year with her second novel Zoo City . Okay as it’s her second novel you could claim she's not a newcomer, but Zoo City was the book that really placed her on the world stage.

Like her first book Moxyland (released in 2008), Zoo City was set in an alternate version of her home country of South Africa and was a noirish mystery tale where the inhabitants of Johannesburg have been “animalled” and have various creatures attached to their backs. Even the hard-to-please William Gibson called it “very, very good” and Beukes won over the Clarke Awards audience over by turning up with a fake sloth over her shoulders, in tribute to her lead character, Zinzi. On stage she apologised that she had no speech to hand because her brother had nicked it and explained, fists clenched, that it simply said, “Curse you McDonald!”

What should she do next? Adapt the script for the movie version of Zoo City . The contract with the South African studio making the movie gives her first refusal, and we reckon she should take it.

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Tom Hiddleston

There was a lot riding on Tom Hiddleston being the Big Bad in Marvel’s tent-pole Thor earlier this year, but that’s nothing compared to the weight on his shoulders for doing the same thing in The Avengers in four and a bit months time.

That’s some vote of confidence in the 30-year-old English posh boy (he was schooled at Eton and studied Classics at Cambridge before enrolling with RADA) who began his film career ten years before as “phone operator” in 2001’s Conspiracy .

When Dave Golder interviewed Hiddleston for this website in April, it became one of the most popular videos we’ve ever done. By far. “This guy is the type of person that just makes me want to get violently sexual,” was typical of the comments we received from women going gooey for the slight, well-spoken, cheekily-grinning thesp. His Loki pretty much upstaged Chris Hemsworth Thor, which was no mean feat as Hemsworth's Thor was pretty spot on, too.

What should he do next? More Loki we hope, in Thor 2 and The Avengers 2 . And judging from the reaction of our female readers, a flash of six-pack wouldn’t go amiss.

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The Fades

BBC Three may be a wretched channel most of the time, but in amongst the teen reality trash and Russell Howard are two of the best SF dramas currently on TV. Joining Being Human on BBC Three’s Pride List this year was The Fades , Jack Thorne’s gory supernatural thriller looked great and treated its subject with admirable seriousness, rooting its fantastical concepts in a grit-strewn reality that was even more dirtied than Misfits ’ world.

It’s undoubtedly the darkest SF show on British television, with a body count that would make even Conan the Barbarian wince. And in Paul, the series has found a bona fide star in Iain de Caestecker, whose nerdy cool reminds us that the geek really has replaced the muscled hero now.

What should it do next? Hopefully get commissioned for a second series, though sadly no news yet. Hopefully the DVD sales will be so good, that’ll make the Beeb’s minds up.

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Ksenia Solo

Though Lost Girl premiered in September 2010, it was really 2011 that solidified Ksenia Solo as the real star of that show.

As spunky, street-hustling thief Kenzi, Solo’s bizarre collection of facial expressions and droll delivery, coupled with her zingy chemistry with Anna Silk’s Bo, have already delivered her a Gemini Award nomination.

Her striking, feline looks help a lot too, and she’s now as much a goth pin-up as Kristen Stewart. At a tender 24, there’s still a chance Hollywood could pick her up, though quite how she’s eluded them so far is a mystery. But their loss is Lost Girl ’s win. And long may it continue.

What should she do next? A racy photoshoot with GQ wouldn’t go amiss. And trust us, men and women would buy that...