Book Review: “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

“I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life. Right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real. Do you understand?”

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First published by Crown in 2011 – 384 pages in first edition

In 2044, the world and especially the US isn’t looking so good. Wade Watts is one of many people living in “the stacks,” towers of trailers and mobile homes piled high. Wade isn’t great at interacting with people and his family life is less than ideal. But just like everyone else, Wade has a way to escape: The OASIS. This is an extremely immersive virtual reality experience that started out as one video game developed by James Halliday but soon exploded into an entire universe with thousands of planets to explore and even its own currency that’s more valuable and popular than regular cash. OASIS users have avatars that they can name and design in any way they choose. Wade’s avatar is named Parzival, and because Wade is poor he can’t really buy the equipment he needs to advance his avatar’s level. When James Halliday (now insanely, incredibly wealthy) dies, he’s a loner with no family, and he leaves behind a will that is anything but traditional. Somewhere in the depths of the OASIS he has hidden an “Easter Egg” and whoever’s avatar is the first to discover it will inherit his entire fortune. In order to access this prize, egg hunters (“gunters”) will need to find three keys that open three different gates. None of it can be done without completing various challenges that all relate to Halliday’s obsessions in life.

The resulting story is a complete love story to 1980s pop culture, the development of video games and computing, and basically all things geek (I’m not gonna pretend that I didn’t make a little excited noise when Parzival describes the teleportation booths as reminiscent of the TARDIS). Wade is a complete Halliday devotee and because he loves all of the things Halliday loves he is able to creatively attempt the quest for the egg despite his limited resources. Other important characters are Parzival’s fellow “gunters” including his best friend Aech (“H”) and long-time crush Art3mis.

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Just kidding, I just had to put some Wil Wheaton here. The only spoiler I will give is that I thought this audiobook was… AWESOME! I loved the story and feel like a more inclusive type of virtual reality like the OASIS is not so far off for us. I identified with Wade, Art3mis, even Halliday in various ways and I found myself really sharing the characters’ triumphs and sorrows.

Maybe it’s just me being a general nerdy person but SO many of my favorite movies, TV shows, bands (RUSH!!!) and other things that I like all the way down to my favorite brand of sneaker had a home in this book and it literally warmed my heart. I would be stuck in traffic and look over to the car next to me to find someone staring at me because I was either hysterically laughing or crying a little bit and it probably looked weird since when I’m listening I’m alone in the car.

Wil Wheaton is the most perfect reader for this story. I was interested in getting this book in audiobook format even though I’ve wanted to read it in general for years now (one of my law school professors actually first recommended it to me) because it constantly comes up on lists of the best audiobook performances. I cannot separate the character of Wade from Wil’s voice in my mind now and I am hoping in vain that he will be cast as Wade in the movie when it comes out even though I know it probably won’t happen. It got to a point where I would just sit in my car in the work parking lot or when I got home because I could not bring myself to stop listening. I blame all of my tardiness on Ernest Cline and Wil.

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Between this and The Martian I have been quite lucky with my sci-fi in recent weeks. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Cline’s successor novel Armada but I will probably check it out. I adored this book and everything about it and do not hesitate in giving it 5 stars 🙂

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Book Review: “The Martian” by Andy Weir

“Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. ‘Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.'”

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Hardcover edition; Crown, 2014. 384 pages.

I am so glad that I finally read The Martian. I’ve somehow ended up with a lot of current reads at the same time but this is the one that I just couldn’t put down, and I am home sick from work today so I knew I would end up finishing. I think that at this point with the upcoming film and all of the book’s hype, most of you seeing this will know the basic premise: A mission to Mars fails and in the aftermath one astronaut of the six-member crew gets left behind, presumed dead, but of course he is very much alive and has to figure out how to attempt to survive (and evade starvation) on Mars with very limited supplies. Luckily, he’s incredibly inventive and resourceful, but just when you think that it cannot possibly get any worse for Mark Watney, something else will happen that he will need to deal with and adapt to. Watney (who I could not avoid picturing as Matt Damon because of the movie casting) is as upbeat as one in his situation could possibly be and is an extremely lovable character.

A few reviews that I’ve seen have taken issue with the fact that there are a lot of puns, jokes, and other remarks that are silly and nerdy and detract from the seriousness of the subject matter and Weir’s excellent writing. I happened to love the way the entire book was structured and these glimpses into Watney’s psyche during all the time he spent alone. I think that his sense of humor is what kept him from going completely insane and it made perfect sense for that to be recorded. In between all of the jokes and puns I found that the actual science behind The Martian was well-researched, logical, and likely. In the readers’ guide at the back of the paperback that I bought, Andy Weir explains that the way initial mission at the beginning of the book was structured is the most likely way that a manned mission to Mars will occur when that does end up happening.

I gave The Martian 5 stars. I cannot wait for the movie to come out in October and I really hope that it does the book justice. The Martian is the type of sci-fi book categorized as “real science”  or “hard science fiction” because it is based on accurate research and a plausible plot. Because of this, I think that readers who might not ordinarily turn to sci-fi would still appreciate Weir’s excellent crafting of Watney’s survival tale.

Book Review: “11/22/63” by Stephen King

“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why. Not until the future eats the present, anyway. We know when it’s too late.”

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Hardcover edition; Scribner 2011. 849 pages.

Sometimes, it takes me months to get through a book as long as this one. Other times, though, I read the entire length of the book in one day and then feel a massive migraine beginning to develop just from reading so much.

Today was one of the latter days. I simply could not stop.

11/22/63 is a massive tome that chronicles what happens to English teacher Jake Epping as he travels back in time to a fixed point 53 years in the past, via a “rabbit hole” in his friend’s worn-down diner that is connected to one September day in 1958. His friend is dying of cancer and cannot make it through the five years in the past that would allow him to prevent Kennedy’s assassination, so Jake takes on the mission. However, in the beginning, for Jake, he is not as focused on stopping the assassination, but is extremely motivated to figure out a way to prevent a horrific family tragedy in the life of one of his adult GED students from ever happening. The story that follows once Jake makes his trip down the rabbit hole is like a mix of ’50s and ’60s historical fiction, some gruesome moments (but nothing like King’s typical work), a political thriller, and a decent amount of romance thrown in for good measure. Somehow, this works well and it’s like no other book I have ever read, and especially not like any other Stephen King book (though, the references to several of his other novels did not go unnoticed).

I gave this book 4 stars. I enjoyed the story and the writing but I was expecting just a little more out of this book, based on enthusiastic recommendations from friends, many Goodreads reviewers, and my mom, whose opinion is obviously the most important in this case. I think that some of the earlier exposition could have been eliminated before the bigger events. Besides that, though, this was an interesting, entertaining read, which I think would appeal to a wide variety of readers who generally would not consider venturing into King’s work. If you are like me and sometimes think that you were “born in the wrong generation,” this book might definitely make you think twice about that!