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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Night One – Five Nights At Freddy’s: Horror Game Success in Simplicity

There are times when I just really need to go fanboy crazy over something. Age of Ultron was a pretty good example of this. So is the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise.

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I’ve made a terrible mistake.

That’s why I’m devoting a week of posts to Five Nights at Freddy’s. One for each night you have to survive, culminating with the dreaded sixth night and 20/20/20/20 Mode for those of you who are brave enough.

Five Nights at Freddy’s – The Original 

Touted as one of YouTube’s favorite jumpscare-based horror games, Five Nights At Freddy’s is the start of something special. A horror game that allows players to flee with one press of the Escape key clearly knew what it was doing and who it was catering to from day one. It’s five nights of surviving four animatronics and one sneaky Golden Freddy, followed by one extra night and an adjustable AI difficulty. 20/20/20/20 Mode is a strong representation of the relentless difficulty video games used to have, and should have for people seeking a real challenge. Hell, Scott Cawthon even added an extra star for people who beat the original 20/20/20/20 mode because he didn’t think it was possible.  Continue reading

Music Monday – The All About Halsey Edition

I completely forgot what day it was, which made me all sorts of stressed out about tonight’s post. Mostly because I feel totally uninspired after a day filled with meetings and conference calls and so on. Partially because it’s Monday, which means The Bachelor is gracing my television. Oh dear god.

Right.

Let me preface this by saying I’m glad I didn’t set specific rules and parameters upon which Music Monday artist selections would be judged (or excluded).

Thanks to the magic of the internet, iTunes, and recommendations from complete strangers who apparently know my taste in music better than I do, I bought Halsey’s five-song EP, Room 93, on iTunes. The previews proved to be a compelling argument in favor of this purchase, and I have to say it was well worth what little money it cost. It was $4-something. I’m drawing a blank, but I’m not sorry.

Room 93 consists of “Is There Somewhere”, “Ghost”, “Hurricane”, “Empty Gold”, and “Trouble (Stripped)”. Catchy lyrics with fantastic vocals pervade all five songs, leaving me want so much more. I mean five or more albums, at least. To give a better frame of reference as I can’t quite describe things well tonight (this is not a proud moment), Halsey has a similar sound to The Sounds’ Weekend as well as…well, a fair bit of Metric’s music, actually.

I am willing to say, without exaggeration or hyperbole, that Halsey’s music is some of the best stuff you can feed into your ear-holes right now. As in right now. Honestly, it’s five songs for a little over $4. All five songs bring something fantastic to the table; each one has its own unique character.

As someone who really has no business writing serious music reviews, I admit that I just really love how Halsey’s music sounds. It’s fantastic stuff. One EP and I’m already willing to say it’s on-par with the likes of Metric (gasp, shock, and so on).

Four out of five arbitrary ratings whatchamacallits, if only because I want more music before I’m willing to change my rating to a five.

Happy (not actually) Bastille Day!

Happy Monday, fellow misadventurers! It’s another godforsaken Monday, and boy did I feel like death. I was the sickliest sick that ever drank Pepto Bismol earlier, but now I feel so much better. Fortunately for everyone who reads this, I’m not going to talk about that any further.

I picked Bastille today because it’s the first artist I’m not giving five out of five arbitrary scoring point-things. I love Bastille, and we’ll get to the reason for this choice soonish.

Somehow, through some stroke of luck, I happened upon “Pompeii” on YouTube. It had me hooked instantly. iTunes was opened, I searched for Bastille, and then cursed everything because the full album wasn’t available. There was, however, a four-song EP titled Haunt. If this were any indication to me, based on “Haunt” and “Pompeii”, as to how good their upcoming CD would be, I knew I would be hooked.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely correct there. I did, of course, buy the Deluxe Preorder Whatever-The-Hell version, which featured a few extra tracks (one of the albums redeeming qualities). Haunt set the bar very high in terms of what I should expect, and a few of the tracks let me down a bit by comparison.

“Pompeii”, while one of my favorite songs by Bastille, is also enough of an earworm that having it stuck in my head for weeks at a time negates some of its greatness. Having to skip tracks after giving the whole CD a chance makes it a bit more disappointing, as I’m usually able to take a liking to entire CDs over time (usually being the operative word here).

Overall, Bastille’s vocals and catchy tunes still defeat any doubts I have about Haunt and Bad Blood and more. Overall arbitrary rating of four out of five golden wossname-thingums.

Lazy, continuation Tuesday

Let’s talk more about Metric. This will be the part where I say which songs I’m particularly fond of, ending with the same arbitrary rating I used last week.

Also, I seem to be developing the dreaded man-cold, and so I feel miserable and unpleasant. Moving on.

Black Sheep

I loved this song in Scott Pilgrim Versus The World, and I loved it once I gave Metric a chance. Like with all of Metric’s songs, the lyrics are fun to listen to and kept me hooked from the first listen to the thousandth listen. There may be hyperbole afoot there.

Speed the Collapse

The energy in this song is fantastic. It’s in the lyrics, the instruments, etc. Everything about this song is energy. This is great driving music.

Clone

Also great driving music, but it’s also quite relaxing…so maybe not the best night-driving music.

Satellite Mind

One of the first songs I really got into by Metric. I’m willing to forgive how this gets stuck in my brain occasionally because it’s delightful.

Ultimately, I can’t recommend Metric highly enough. It’s a fantastic band all around, and for me to pick one CD is far too difficult.

Also, I need sleep.

Ninety-one days remaining.

Blargh, I am dying.

Standard New Year Hullabaloo

Happy New Year! To those of you reading this in the year 2015, on January 1st, in a world that hasn’t devolved into some sort of post-apocalyptic Hellscape, I bid you good tidings. To those of you who are in such situations: best of luck, and embrace your new robotic/insectoid/alien overlords in hopes that good behavior will be rewarded.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day mean a number of different things to a number of different people, of course. That’s a fairly obvious statement, I should think. There’s the easy way of viewing New Year’s Day as the start of a new calendar year. Another day that will, in all probability, be followed by three-hundred-sixty-four similar days. It’s a series of weeks in which the previous year sneaks into dates on virtually every document until, damn it, those guilty of such forgetfulness finally move forward and accept not being time-travelers. Some people view this as a time to enact change, small or large in their lives via resolutions while others view it as a time to continue with more of the same. Neither of those options is particularly bad on its own. It’s all a matter of how the resolutions or staying the same (which, in itself, is a resolution of sorts) are carried out. I’ve established I prefer to set goals that feel more achievable and moving forward from there. Such behaviors, I feel, were instrumental in the completion of my first novel, achieving my first paid publication (upcoming at a presently-unknown date), and surviving one hundred consecutive days of blogging, among other victories. However, I did allow myself a fair few more naps than I care to admit, more cheat-days with my writing, and other grievous creative and personal sins. However, I aim to make gradual, and hopefully very productive, changes this year. My goals for the year, as of now, will follow. Before that, I’d like to encourage the sharing of goals in the comments as well as the sharing of encouragement. Continue reading

Wibbily wobbily, spoilery-woilery post ahead

That was physically painful to type, by the way. Before I get into the actual post, given my neglect this weekend, I would like to half-apologize for the last couple blog posts. It’s a half-apology because I was having a wonderful time quite some distance away from all of my troubles. It was spent in the company of two of the most fantastic people I know and it gave me a chance to finally meet a couple really terrific people as well. Drinks were had, tabletop games were played, and I had some of the best times I’ve had in a while all crammed into a weekend. I’d also like to point out that the Hyatt House in Dulles, VA, was the best hotel experience I’ve ever had in all of my travels. Great price, great customer service, and the rooms are like tiny homes-away-from-home without that weird feel of actually being in another person’s house using all of their appliances, their bed, and their shower. That’s a universal feeling most people, I imagine, have while staying at a hotel. Continue reading