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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Not dead, just busy

Some people wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat and certain they are forgetting something important in their daily routine. I don’t exactly experience that, but I do recall, from time to time, I have been neglecting Misadventures In Writing. Again.

Admittedly, that’s a bit stupid of me since I do pay for the domain name and all, but…Right. Moving along.

I’ve been busy lately. There are a few factors to this, ranging from my new job (hooray!), being in a great relationship (hooray!), and some personal crises (the opposite of hooray), but I’m happy to report I’ve been finding time for writing. Not as much as I should be, but I’m still managing to get some writing done on most days. I’d call that a success.

In that regards, I’d like to direct attention to my latest Misadventure: my project on Inkshares, which is also the current novel I’m working on (and the product of the world-building I posted here). The novel’s working title is Dissonance in Harmony, and it’s receiving a fair bit of praise.

The project can be seen here. Now, this is where I need help. In order for a project on Inkshares to see publication, it needs to meet, at the very least, a light publishing goal of 250 pre-orders. That’s any pre-orders a project receives, including eReader-only ones. All support–sharing the link to my project, following along, or pre-ordering in any way–is greatly appreciated.

What I really like about Inkshares is that it allows me to post chapters as I like. It sweetens the deal a bit, I think, to have a chance to read some of what you might be supporting. The first four chapters are available for perusal; if you like what you see, please consider a pre-order?

On that note: it’s Easter, and dinner is almost ready. Om nom nom.

Phil’s Official Writing Challenge Guidelines

I would have titled this “How to Write In Ways That Will Make You Feel Like Your Soul is Dying”, but I realized that might be a hair melodramatic. Special thanks go to my college pal Andrew Webb for texting me last night with the following texts, as he was inadvertently responsible for this topic.

Phil, I have done a terrible job with writing since I stared working full time, how do you do it?”

I responded by saying I force myself to find time every day to write, even if it’s just a little. If I get stuck working on one thing, I focus on something else. Above all else, it’s important to find time for writing. That resulted in this response:

Do you force yourself to a genre or anything goes including journaling?

My phone had conveniently been switched to Do Not Disturb mode by that point, however, because I had to be awake at 6a.m. and those texts first arrived after 12:30 last night. Feeling somewhat guilty for not answering, and finding this to be a good blogging opportunity, I decided to give a long-form answer in the form of a proper writing challenge anyone can hold themselves to (for the sake of self-destruction, really). Keep in mind that I may be a subject matter expert of sorts, but I am by no means a be-all, end-all source of wisdom on writing and so this is mostly just issuing a challenge to help writing in the same way I’ve been keeping up with my writing. Feel free to adjust it in ways, and let me know what works best for you in the comments below. It can be a sort of note-comparing among creative folks who also like finding their limits and then using those limits to inflict torment upon themselves. I’m joking, mostly.

Also, I really should note how much of a gigantic ego-boost it is to have people asking me advice on writing. Holy shit, folks, that is awesome. Right. Moving on… Continue reading

The great vacation book catch-up

I made a delicious dinner of pulled pork sandwiches, but now I’m ready to hibernate and I couldn’t think of a topic for tonight. I glanced up from my laptop screen for only a moment and discovered, duh, I have the answer right in front of me. I’m referring to the well-stocked, largely-neglected bookshelves in my living room.

My habit of buying new books before I finish reading all of the ones I have isn’t exactly a secret. It’s actually the opposite, given how often I’ve mentioned it on multiple occasions. However, I have a vacation coming up soon. Once I survive–no, dominate–these next six days of work I will have at least a little time to sit back, relax, and get some reading done. I plan on getting back to working on stories and my novel, too, so that’s rather important, but this is more about reading. I’ve got three books I’d like to finish before returning to work, and so here they are (and why I’m reading them out of my options) in no particular order. Continue reading

A carefully considered replacement post

Happy Tuesday (said no one ever). I’m still in the middle of a day long headache-a-thon, which is really fun because it’s fulfilling my life-long dream of feeling like someone is playing the drums on the inside of my skull. That’s the power of positivity, people (says the guy who tried to cure a monstrous headache with a two-hour nap that failed miserably).

On the plus side, there’s a new episode of Face Off tonight, and I’m already quite emotionally invested in this season. It’s also Taco Tuesday, a statement which translates to me going to Taco Bell and buying a big order of spicy regret (it’s a guilty pleasure I just can’t quit, people, and also I love Baja Blast too much). Lastly, I worked up the nerve to write my first fan letter! I put words to paper in what I hope is the least crazy way possible to thank Amy Poehler for writing Yes Please, which isn’t a book so much as a reasonably-priced treasure chest filled with wonderful things. Also, since I’m taking forever to write this: there was an episode of Gravity Falls waiting on the DVR, which made tonight even better.

This post was supposed to be about something else, actually, but then I decided that idea would better serve me as a short story…which means I had to switch gears. The fan-letter thing got me thinking, too. Here’s a fun story about fan-mail.

Once upon a time, I binge-read a bunch of books by Kurt Vonnegut. Breakfast of Champions was the gateway to Cat’s CradleSirens of Titan, and A Man Without a Country (I’ve not finished that one yet). I feel like I’ve read more by Vonnegut, but I also confess that his prose, while delightful and entertaining, had the ability to put me into a particularly dark and gloomy mindset. Probably because there was more than a measure of uncomfortable truth to everything he wrote.

One night, in a moment of bravery, I decided I would write Kurt Vonnegut a fan-letter to tell him how much I loved his writing and how I hoped to one day be as wonderful and beloved a writer as he is. The anxiety was very real; I could feel my heart yo-yoing between my chest and my throat. The cursor in Microsoft Word remained lonely, a blank page staring back at me in mockery of the fool’s errand I had embarked on. Instead, perhaps, I thought I would look up the address I would need to send this hopeless letter off to. A quick Google search later gave me multiple options, all viable, and some suggestions and criticisms about fan letters.

There also happened to be a shitload of articles about the life of Kurt Vonnegut, citing how he had passed away earlier that very day. I stared at the screen, a mix of heartbroken and shocked. In hindsight, my knee-jerk reaction was probably entirely appropriate. “Are you fucking kidding me?” I asked my computer, fully expecting a response.

I have since interacted with two of my favorite authors on Twitter (on multiple occasions, actually), and that’s been fun. There’s something about interacting with the people who inspire me that is probably far more thrilling than it should be.

Who do you folks idolize so much that you’ve sent them fan-mail/tweets/whatever? Any luck with responses? Was it terrifying, thrilling, or both?

There should have been more to this post, but I have the most vicious goddamned headache I’ve experienced in a while so I’m going to throw in the towel for the night. Apologies there.

 

Writing hangovers, and other tragedies

I spent much of today with a strong understanding as to why some animals hibernate. I mean, sleep is pretty fantastic, even though there are plenty of things I could be doing instead of sleeping (like tweeting, obviously). What I’m trying to say is that I’m still very tired from my marathon-writing event to complete Cordelia’s, and so this post is going to be a bit of a mixed bag. There’s also some frustration regarding the lack of new ideas now that one of the short stories is written. Time and patience will hopefully fix that much, even if my patience is a bit iffy at best.

Writing Hangovers

It’s been a while since I’ve really felt a full-on writing hangover. Probably not since I finished working on Joshua Harkin and the Novel-Length Title around this time last year (it was actually in March, but close enough). My brain is semi-willing and eager to make writing happen, but it also wants about a month worth of naps. That being said, I’m still getting a lot of very kind, positive, and helpful feedback for A Princess, A Lich, and Some Murders that has me feeling very motivated. Friday is already set aside as an Authonomy and writing catch-up day, so hopefully that goes as planned.

Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show

God damn it. This, coupled with the end of The Colbert Report, effectively prevents me from ever achieving my dream of being interviewed by Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert (I have delusions of grandeur, but even my delusions are smart enough to know I’ll never be interviewed by Stephen Colbert at his new show…whatever that thing’s called). More importantly, this marks the end of an era in fake-but-not-fake TV news. Jon Stewart helped bring something better to television, and though I’ve not always been the most dedicated viewer I will still miss his wit and wisdom on Comedy Central. That said, I am willing to keep it 100 on The Nightly Show, even if my opinions on major issues are only slightly less worthless than all of Fox News on its best days.

Book Addictions

It’s not exactly a secret that I buy books faster than I can read them. Christmas did me no favors there, as I received quite a few books as gifts. Naturally, my moratorium on buying new books ended almost as soon as it began (I have, however, been very good about not buying new video games; so sorry, Majora’s Mask remake). Today’s purchase is Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I considered getting Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman, but I’m sad to say I’ve never been as disinterested in a book by one of my favorite authors as I found myself with this particular title. Apologies to In Some Other World, Maybe, which is still a read-in-progress that I owe a proper review.

Red Velvet Oreos

I’m sorry, but these things are just awful. Bring back the non-trademarked crispy treat Oreos, please, and my inner (and outer) fat kid will forgive this failure.

Time Management

I am terrible at managing my time well. I’m prone to naps, distractions, more naps, more distractions, and so on. My workplace obligations extend well past when I leave the office for the day, so there are surprises here and there of the work-related variety (Worth mentioning: I welcome those surprises as challenges, and am happy enough to have a job that it’s not really an issue except in regards to eating time). Some days I spend too much time focused on writing and not enough on editing. Or too much time on social media and not enough on writing. The combinations of frustration seem to be endless.

What tragedies, minor or major, do you folks find yourself facing this week?

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.