Wandering thoughts

Disclaimer: this post is about to go down a few rabbit holes that involve the endless stream of nonsense I live with running through my head like the news ticker at the bottom of most cable news networks. Shit’s about to get weird. Turn back, or forever regret pressing onward.

At the age of 30, which is apparently just old enough for people slightly younger than me to now make me feel older than I should feel just yet, I have come to terms with the fact that the inside of my head is a much louder place than I am always comfortable with it being. My inner monologue is often actually a rather argumentative dialogue, and as of late it has been particularly distracting. It likes to remind me that the plausibility of becoming an accomplished, published author isn’t very high. That I am disappointing people who should, under no circumstances, be disappointed. Sometimes it likes to tell me I’m fat, but also suggest I eat an entire bag of popcorn with extra butter and then chase it with some ice cream, because reasonably I should balance hot and cold foods. Continue reading

Advertisements

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.

Winding down for my break that’s not a break

Yesterday was a great start to the week, and I only have tomorrow and Thursday before I take my hiatus from being tethered to the internet. (Because that’s something I complain about so often, obviously.)

As I get closer to this self-imposed hiatus from my various distractions (Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Tumblr, and so on), the more apprehensive I am about the possibility of failure. I’ve pointed out that I’m allowing Messenger and Instagram to avoid cutting myself off from the world beyond Altoona, and I will be using the internet for e-mail, searching for publications accepting submissions, and to help with writing, but I can’t help but worry I’ll manage to slip up. One month, though months seem to fly, is a rather long time when that time isn’t being flushed down the digital toilet.

It occurred to me this morning, however, that there’s no real point in worrying too much about it. Not using Facebook gives me time to focus on writing, reading, and actually enjoying my video games. (I mean, I’m spending money on them and not actually making use of them. That seems a bit counter-intuitive.) Without having to worry about coming up with a topic for each day for my blog, I’ll have more attention to devote to writing the short stories that are rattling around in my brain, the novel(s) I’ve put off for how long, and so on and so on. Strangely enough, I’m gradually discovering that worrying about everything isn’t really a viable solution. That is by no means me admitting that I’m going to up and stop worrying; I’ve got far too many energetic, highly active neuroses for that. What I am saying is that this break is exactly that: a break to wind down and focus on other things that matter.

Well, that and enjoy several amazing events throughout May. Why fret when I can finally work on getting more of my work published, more of my games conquered, unpack and clean up more of the apartment, and generally feel less high-strung?

Continuing to strike a balance

Vacation time has weird, magical properties. It begins slowly, passing like standard time. Suddenly, before you know it, the week’s over and it’s time to go back to work. I realize, of course, I’m getting ahead of myself. Tomorrow’s Thursday, which means I have three more days of this week. Possibly one next week, but I can’t remember my own schedule (This is somewhat embarrassing, I should note, as I make the schedule. Womp womp.) at the moment. I’ll be heading back to good ol’ Altoona in the morning, which means I’ll be getting to cleaning and unpacking and whatnot. Alternatively, I still have plenty of time to squeeze in a little more rest and relaxation.

Tonight’s title is a bit inaccurate, as I’m only gradually migrating back towards striking a balance in terms of how much fiction writing, blogging, and reading I do in a week. I’ve done more reading and writing this week than previous weeks, which isn’t saying much since my fiction writing has been lagging. So has my reading. Shit happens, really. The important part is that I’m making progress, so instead of belaboring the point I’m going to enjoy a bit more work on my novel-in-progress later, but not before enjoying the company of my mom and stepdad.

Meanwhile, enjoy this lovely song from Steven Universe:

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.

 

My pledge to no longer be bored

I think it’s safe to say that one of the most commonly heard phrases, especially in people around my age group and younger folks (You dern whipper-snappers and your selfie-sticks), is “I’m bored”. Earlier today, after having completed my tasks for the day and then-some, I found myself thinking exactly that. I’m bored.

Somewhere between stopping at the liquor store to purchase the other ingredients required to make a Blood & Sand–a decision I entirely support, especially after making one and enjoying it quite thoroughly–and contemplating dinner, it occurred to me just how awful saying “I’m bored” is given just how much I could be doing with my time. I’m not talking about endless writing or spending hours promoting things on social media, interspersed with the conversations I’ve grown famous/infamous/unknown for having. Louis C.K. said it better than I ever could, in fact, and so I found a convenient image on the internet with his words placed on it to share to make my point here.

louis-ck-im-bored-useless-world-endless

There’s a lot of fantastic truth in this quote, and it got me thinking even further. There is, at no point, really a good reason to be bored. I’m not going to preach about the miracle of consciousness. I think it’s more about finding the things that matter most in this sea of constant information and distractions.  Continue reading