Another ‘Ready Player One’ Review

Once upon a time, I had a subscription to Loot Crate. One of the many goodies I got over the course of that time happened to be a copy of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. I did what any effective, smart writer would do with a book written in a genre I hope to one day have published books in, which is to say that I put it on a bookshelf and failed to read it. I continued failing to read Ready Player One for a few years, methodically boxing it up and unboxing it over the course of several moves. It’s a little beaten up because of that.

The movie adaptation was approaching, and I had decided I needed to make it a priority to rad the book if I intend to see the movie. The reviews I had seen weren’t exactly favorable, but I’m big on forming my own opinion (which, sometimes thanks to the magic of the internet, I occasionally share).

There may be some spoilers ahead (because this is something of an on-the-spot, post-reading collection of thoughts).

Ready Player One offers readers yet another take on the dystopian future. The fuel shortage and economic collapse have driven many Americans to live in Stacks–towering structures comprised of trailers, RVs, and similar vehicles. Much of the world finds escape in a virtual reality paradise known as OASIS. OASIS is a lifelike simulation and the crowning achievement of James Halliday, who crammed his creation with as many references to 80s pop culture as possible. Wade Watts, the main character and point-of-view for the narrative, is a seventeen-year-old on the verge of graduating from high school. He’s a gunter as well–the term used to describe the many people who are searching to Halliday’s Easter Egg.

Wade, known as Parzival in the OASIS, is not the easiest character to cheer on. His goal of discovering Halliday’s Easter Egg is largely motivated by his desire to not let it fall into the hands of the nefarious Innovative Online Industries (which, throughout the novel, proves to be appropriately evil by futuristic super-company standards). He gets along well with his sole avatar friend Aech, a well-known entrant in PvP tournaments who is also on the Hunt. He’s also a fan of the well-known gunter/blogger Art3mis, with his fandom rapidly becoming an unhealthy infatuation over the course of the novel. I’ll get back to that.

The obvious ending occurs in that Wade/Parzival finds Halliday’s Easter Egg, earning him Halliday’s vast fortune and control of the OASIS. Nolan Sorrento and I.O.I. are thwarted. The winnings are shared between Parzival, Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto (another gunter who, over time, became Parzival’s friend).

My chief complaints are as follows, though they are nothing terribly new with regards to the book.

The world-building feels a little sluggish, trudging through the backstory of how the Hunt for Halliday’s Egg began and Wade’s less-than-favorable life with his aunt and her boyfriend. Wade’s narration makes him difficult to sympathize with at time to the point where it’s easy to sympathize with Sorrento for failing to off him. His behavior towards Art3mis, beginning with his obsession brought on by her blog posts and the version of her he builds up in his mind and ending with advances that can kindly be referred to as stalker-like behavior acts as a stomach-souring validation of an all-too-common exchange between self-proclaimed nice guys and women. Wade responds to rejection by only redoubling his efforts, resorting to the tactics pop culture has lead far too many people to believe are romantic gestures instead of, well, just plain creepy. (Seriously, squash that shit, don’t encourage it.) There are times when Wade comes across as the Standard Entitled White Dude, and those are times that made it very easy to take a break from reading.

The toxic nature of gamers and their interactions feels elevated as well, with plenty of profanity-laden exchanges and a strong lean towards what can generously be described as toxic masculinity on parade. Unfortunately, life imitates art (or art imitates life, really) in this particular case, as most gamers I know (and I can speak from personal experience as well) have been on the receiving end of people who take their virtual endeavors a little too seriously.

Wade is also improbably smart. His ability to rattle off a ridiculous volume of 80s trivia is one thing. His plotting to evade I.O.I. by gaining entry into the government’s registry of all citizens to change his identity stretches disbelief, but hey–it’s a dystopian sci-fi future so it could happen. I guess. Then he deliberately tanks his alias’s credit so he becomes indentured by I.O.I. so he can hack into their systems, steal critical data, and then escape all before changing back to his true identity as Wade Watts. As far as being relatable goes, Wade starts off as a mirror image of some of us nerdy kids before equipping a +10 Armor Set of Deus Ex Machina that comes with a +5 armor set bonus of Conveniently Knowing Everything. Because of all of this, it can be easy at times to want Wade to fail.

The near-religious approach to 80s pop culture, especially when presented in long-form word vomit (whether by way of Wade’s narration or another character boasting their knowledge) is a bit much to handle at times, and it’s easy to grow bored during those passages. The appeal of nostalgia is universal, but like anything there is too much of a good thing. No shade of rose-colored glasses is potent enough to take away the unfortunate, near-radioactive glow of a dozen too many nods to the 80s, and at times it seems as though Cline delights in strolling up to the reader, decked out in a Space Invaders t-shirt, and clubbing them over the head with Anorak’s Almanac in all of its remembrance-of-the-good-ol-days glory. Yes, having encyclopedic knowledge of the 80s was essential for anyone who hoped to have even a fraction of a chance at obtaining Halliday’s Easter Egg, but Cline turns it up to eleven so often that I could go the rest of my life without seeing another arcade game and feel perfectly content.

Halliday is nearly impossible to sympathize with or relate to, being such a severe caricature of the stereotypical nerd that it borders onto painful, although that could arguably be because I was once that awkward, gawky, socially inept kid. That’s a cold, hard look at my past I’m not quite willing to take for the sake of a book review, folks.

Much of the story seems to surround the idea that Wade had to win because he is so similar to Halliday, which is all right but ends up leaving some of the other characters feeling like set pieces instead of active players in the scene.

The pros? Overall, the plot was enjoyable. Once the events of the Hunt are in full swing, Ready Player One frequently leaps in intensity. The Sixers and Sorrento are an omni-present threat and the fact they are willing to kill to get to the Egg lends well to wanting them to fail miserably. Wade’s character developments, though they start with baby steps, make for a satisfying ending when he determines that perhaps there’s more to reality than living in a fantasy world. The themes of finding balance between reality and virtual reality, being able to unplug from technology, and the need for real connections beyond the want of artificial ones are universal and lend themselves well to Cline’s story. Aech’s story within the overall novel (one I will not spoil) is one I was particularly happy with because it illuminates a very real set of modern problems.

Overall, I think Ready Player One is easy-reading and provides an enjoyable bit of fictional escapism while still reminding readers to not let themselves give in too much to said escapism. It has plenty of flaws–though, really, who am I to be judging when I have yet to succeed as an author–and enough strong points to make it worth recommending. Once the story gets rolling after Parzival clears the first gate, it’s easy to lose sizable chunks of time reading. The ending may be predictable enough, though its finer details aren’t all as in-your-face, but the journey to get their proves to be enjoyable enough despite Wade’s narration often leaving a bad taste in the reader’s mouth.

If it were to ever see a sequel or prequel, my hope would be that Cline builds off of the existing work he has put out and spends less time belaboring the obsessive nature of this iteration of the world. Ultimately, Ready Player One is enough to make readers think about exactly how they are spending their time and just how much living they are really doing (and, I hope, it also acts as a reminder that some behaviors aren’t romantic, just really creepy).

I’m barely curious enough to see the film adaptation, but to those of you who do I hope it’s enjoyable. Despite its flaws (let’s all take a moment to remember the paragraph-long manifesto glorifying masturbation), I did enjoy this book. It’s not the pillar of pop culture its made out to be except in the sense that it is propped up by so many references that Ernest Cline could be accused of traveling back in time and stealing an entire decade worth of stuff. All things considered, Ready Player One is worth a read.

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T’is the Season

NaNoWriMo is now well behind me, and I successfully won another year (it only cost me quite a few days of sleep-deprivation at work, but I’m honestly pleased with the bulk of the draft it yielded). Christmas is less than a week away, which would be concerning if I hadn’t managed to successfully behave like an adult and get shopping out of the way ahead of time for a change. As the end of the year rapidly approaches, whether I’m ready for it or not (and, honestly, despite how good 2017 has been on a personal level I am all about those sweet, sweet 2018 mid-term elections and several other, exciting things I’ll get to later).

This post is a sort-of recap of my year since the last posts I made, a loudly-stated-because-it’s-on-the-intenet commitment to getting off of my ass so as to work harder towards getting more things published (self-published as well), and a return to WordPress…because I renewed my damn domain name, so I may as well make use of it. (Fun story: I had to open a new tab and verify this, because I honestly could not remember if I did or not.) Onward!

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Renewal, and resolution

After multiple reminders (and a robo-call from WordPress), I renewed my domain name ownership for Misadventures in Fiction. It was something of a prolonged back-and-forth, both internally and through dialogue with a couple other people. I didn’t make this decision lightly, which sounds ridiculous since it was a decision that cost me $18 and one that doesn’t necessarily hold any real weight of its own.

But it does, or at least it does to me. I identify as a writer (a comment that may shock and astound some of you, as I have not done much writing at all in the past year). It is painful that I’ve accomplished so little. Maybe a part of it is that my ambitions don’t match the reality of what I’ve accomplished. Or perhaps I’m letting myself continue to be bogged down by the less-than-great parts of 2015 (which, as a year, has had more good than bad, but I will not miss it when it has gone). Whatever the reason may be, I haven’t been writing. And that sucks.

I’m not calling this a New Year’s resolution in the same way that I don’t believe in those things; they usually fizzle, at least for me, and end with more frustration. Instead I am choosing to say I’m going to build up my resolve to write more often. Maybe not every day, or every other day, but I need to return to writing fiction. Otherwise, what the Hell did I finish college and work so hard to write a book for?

Plus, I mean, $18 could buy a lot of other things and so I feel like I need to make damn sure my investment proves worthwhile.

Meanwhile, I have all sorts of boring adult shit to do tomorrow. I also have a Christmas gift I need to finish up. I’m glad I got these thoughts out, if only for my own purposes, and hopefully I will see a gradual return to writing, creating, and finding my way back to approaching the creative process with a sense of wonder despite whatever background noise there may be. Time, of course, and my capacity to follow through on what I want, will be the deciding factors.

Another open letter to Mike Pence

Dear Mike,

Can I call you Mike, or are you more of a Michael? Doesn’t matter, now that I think about it. The important part is that I can see you, sir, are a visionary who is acting on behalf of the greater good of the people. Yes, indeed. While everyone else on the Internet is crying about how you most assuredly created a hostile, bigot-infested paradise where the state of Indiana once existed, I can’t help but say you deserve a pat on the back and maybe dessert before dinner. It’s important to put strong, personal beliefs before the overall financial, social, and cultural well-being of a state, and your actions really tell the world “I’m ready to take one step forward, followed immediately by a long road trip, a short flight, and a rocket trip to the moon backwards.” Don’t let those naysayers and whiners get you down, even if you happen to bear a striking physical resemblance to Lord Voldemort.

Praise aside, I can’t help but feel you should take things a few steps further. Continue to be the governor Indiana needs, but not necessarily the one that it wants. First and foremost, businesses should also ban rainbows, high fashion, and anything else associated with, well, less savory culture. These images can easily be replaced with far tamer ones, such as depictions of the sinners of the world being washed away by the Great Flood or perhaps the majesty of Revelation. Nothing quite goes with a trip to the barber shop like images of Jesus descending from Heaven and replacing all of those pesky non-believers’ blood with rivers of fire and snake venom.

The numbers six and thirteen, as well as any permutations, spellings, and similarities to said numbers should no longer be acknowledged, as they are symbolic of the devil. The letter B should no longer be capitalized, as it is a clever means by which to conceal an unlucky number 13. For better help in eliminating unlucky numbers, it may be wise to consult your nearest hotel chain as they have long-since removed all thirteenth floors from their establishments to prevent such mishaps as ghost infestations, spontaneous elevator failures, and other wacky hijinks.

Similarly, all goats should be made to wear costumes resembling other, far less Satanic animals. Goats that do not comply with this should be immediately incinerated, and their remains scattered along the Ohio border. This will prevent any possibility of the Dark Lord rising up, possessing his iconic beast, and wreaking havoc upon local business establishments while also encouraging creative family fun in the form of decorating the family goat. Based on my limited time passing through the great state of Indiana, I can only assume most every family has a family goat. I didn’t see any indication to the contrary, after all, which seems to be the same logic that fuels your decision in passing the religious freedom bill. Black cats and other possible witch familiars should also be sent away, as should their owners. A good, old-fashioned witch burning would be ideal, but those are generally frowned upon by the federal government and so you’ll probably have to make a few concessions there.

I know it must be very stressful for you, Mike, to see all of the businesses and big-name celebrities who are slinging hurtful names like “bigot” and “backwards-thinking fuckstick” at you, especially since those sentiments have no basis in reality. Besides, what do those people know? I mean the ones who help funnel revenue and tourism into the great state of Indiana, of course. Who needs them and their money? Plenty of other people will travel to Indiana for such great memories as using a turnpike restroom on the way to a vacation in some other state, or perhaps getting into a major traffic accident in one of the dozens of construction areas along the many wonderful highways. They’ll, at they very least, spend money at tolls, and if you really want to make use of those tourists in place of the ones who just don’t quite see things your way you could set up exit tolls. Make people regret leaving Indiana in the same way many people already regret living there.

My advice, in closing, to you is this: nobody doesn’t know what’s best for the well-being of Indiana quite the way you do, so to Hell with anyone who disagrees with you; I mean that literally, of course, as they will no doubt spend eternity in a sea of fire and regret. Should their shouting of bigotry and discrimination prove too loud, you can always turn to your favorite book in the Bible, tear a few pages out, stuff them in your ears, and go back to the important things like figuring out just how God managed to play such a great practical joke on all of those scientists who insist the Earth is a day older than six thousand years.

Warm regards from Pennsylvania (where a similar visionary to yourself only recently did wonders for our higher education system),

Phil

Sanity-Recovery Saturday

Just when you all thought you were safe from my horrible love of alliterative titles, here we are. This is typically what Saturday posts should look like for Hundred Days of Self-Imposed Suffering 2.0, but I got caught up in my earlier post and so this became secondary. It works out because writing that post was surprisingly relaxing, which is sort of the point of Saturdays.

Except the ones I also happen to work. Those aren’t redeemable.

Sundays are for reflecting on how much of a fiasco I managed to turn the previous week into, and so I’m choosing to prepare for the next week by relaxing on Saturday. A little writing, a little reading, some TV, and maybe some meditation. That last one hasn’t happened in a while. My sanity needs to be repaired occasionally, if not for me then for the folks who read this mess. I’d rather not end up letting a blog post loose on the world that could look like my version of any celebrity’s very public mental breakdown. Nobody needs that.

Today has consisted of the following distractions:

  •  Reading more of In Some Other World, Maybe, which is quickly turning into one of my best whim purchases I’ve made at Barnes & Noble in a long while (a review is doomed to happen eventually, once I finish the book).
  • Making adjustments to Unnamed Novel-Project based on suggestions provided by the ever-helpful, ever-brilliant Lindsey, who is one of the beta-readers who helped fuel my madness as I wrote what was Joshua’s Nightmares at the time before it evolved into Joshua Harkin and the Novel-Length Book Title.
  • I spent time with two of my adorable
  • I treated Brianne and myself to McDonald’s. Don’t judge, damn it. It’s garbage-food, but sometimes I can enjoy garbage-food without too much self-loathing and gastrointestinal distress to follow.
  • I watched two stand-up comedy specials. Aziz Ansari and Patton Oswalt. If the walls of a house absorbed the words thrown around near them, my living room would be saturated with expletives and Hobbit-related self-deprecation. Let’s add Nick Offerman to that collection, as now I’m watching him on Netflix as well.
  • Apparently I’m going to a bar for some sort of concert-thing tonight.
  • Regardless of if I drink at said bar, I see a glass of scotch in my future. Single-malt, eighteen-year-old Glenlivet. It’s the most expensive bottle of liquor that I barely paid for that I own, and frankly I think one of the main ingredients is refined unicorn tears.
  • More writing to follow, because I need to make up for being a hilarious failure with progress this past week.

And now I’m going to return to writing because I’ve reached a point where I don’t feel like the writing process with this story is similar to trying to sprint through a bog with giant weights chained to my limbs. Have a delightful Saturday, folks.

Post-Thanksgiving, post-hiatus…er, post

It certainly feels like it’s been ages since my last post, which makes sense since I dropped off of the planet (from a blogging and social media standpoint, at least) after the hundred days of blogging finished up. Thanksgiving reminded me of the many things I have to be thankful for, and Black Friday reminded me that people are absolutely, completely, and irredeemably insane at times (but not all of them, so at least there’s that). I somehow, to the surprise of quite a few people, lived through another trip around the sun. I’m now a year closer to thirty, which feels a bit odd to say because my childhood goal-mapping said by this point I would either be a sagely old man dispensing wisdom or an all-powerful overlord of all creation, but I appear to be neither. Maybe that’s for later in the year. Continue reading

Do good and well

Okay, so this is a bit odd of me since I’ve not managed two posts in one day in a while. Accept it as it is and move along. This is a little something that just popped into my brain and it demanded attention, despite my needing sleep, and so here it goes.

I am very picky about language use and proper grammar, a statement that borders onto the comedic as I am prone to a number of errors and I nearly spelled grammar as “grammer” somehow. I’d like to blame it on a mistaken keystroke, but the real culprit is how tired I am and how frayed the important strands and strings and thingums and doodads of my brain have gotten in the past weeks. There are tiny, near-invisible creatures repairing those, however, so fret not. Back to the point, though.

At no point have I ever been particularly fond of acronyms. Deliberate misspellings and adding letters to words that don’t belong (the letter z has a long criminal history here) is irksome at best. There’s one grammar no-no that, for some reason, seems to have become more tolerable for me lately. It’s the pesky response of doing good instead of doing well when someone is asked how they are doing, and my mother is to blame for that being the case.

When I’m asked how I’m doing, I typically respond with a reflexive variation of saying I’m well (except when I say I’m feeling shitty or not doing well, the latter of which still a sort of echo of the point I’m aiming for here). I don’t do it to sound like a snobby grammarian (as I am far from one, despite what some behaviors may indicate at times). It just happens to be the way I speak. That being said, I grew up being told to have a good sleep instead of sleep well, that various people are doing good instead of well, and so on. It’s something that gets the brain a-ticking after time, or perhaps after great deals of stress and sleep deprivation have me wanting to drive my thoughts elsewhere. Or whatever.

I like to think someone who says they are well also have the intention of doing good and people who are doing good are also well. Perhaps this is a touch of optimism in place of dealing with a clear error in speech. Maybe it’s just accepting that language is weird and constantly evolving. I for one like the idea of simultaneously doing good and well without making jokes about putting on a cape and whooshing about.