Author Topic: Ready Player One: Is It Just Me?  (Read 4097 times)

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Offline Nergol

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Ready Player One: Is It Just Me?
« on: August 31, 2012, 11:51:41 PM »
So, having heard rave reviews of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, I figured I'd give it a shot. I got the audiobook, narrated by Wil Wheaton, and inaugurated a recently-resurrected iPod with it. I figured I'd love this book. I grew up in the 80s - I'm a year younger than Wheaton and the Halliday character from the book (and four months older than Seth MacFarlane), so all those references should be right up my alley. Besides, I love cyberpunk. So - 80s themed cyberpunk? I should be loving this.

But after four hours of the audiobook, I couldn't take it anymore. I know a lot of people love this book, but I didn't enjoy it one bit.

The biggest flaw is that the 80s references aren't fun. They aren't interesting. They don't make any commentary or provide insight on the 80s. They're just sort of... there. This is the same problem I have with Family Guy and its endless 80s references. They don't actually amount to anything other than: "Hey everybody, remember the 80s? Yeah - they totally happened!" But it's even worse in RPO, because every reference is provided with an explanation. This misses the point of cultural references, which, in a way, are like jokes, in that if you have to explain them, the purpose of telling them has failed. Also, who are the explanations for, anyway? People who grew up in the 80s or are hip to 80s pop culture don't need them, and those who aren't are unlikely to be reading an 80s nostalgia piece in the first place.

Also, Cline has no discriminating taste even in 80s culture. Thus, the references come across less as a bunch of hip references from someone who loves good pop culture than just a dump of a list of stuff that happened in the 80s. The disquisition on Family Ties is a good example. I watched that show with my dad back in the 80s, too, and I remember it well. It sucked then, it sucks now, and it will continue to suck in the 2040s. It was unfunny, maudlin dreck then, and now it doesn't even have any kitsch value. Every decade has stuff that's worth remembering and stuff that's worth forgetting in it. This book just seems to take everything equally, no matter where on that scale it lies. It comes off, as one reviewer on Amazon said, like reading a Wikipedia page on the 80s.

And yeah, the exposition... the endless exposition. Even in the four hours I put into it before I gave up, there were things explained two or three times, in more detail than I really needed them to be. Especially since the premise is, really, not all that futuristic or original. Snow Crash covered much of the same territory twenty years ago, and MMOs have been around for more than a decade. Again, I don't really need them explained to me all that deeply, and taking the time to do so made the story sluggish.

There's also a weird tone of arrogant mean-spiritedness to this book. It's a little hard to describe, but it reeks of that attitude you get at a comics shop if you say that you really don't know that much about Green Lantern or that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was actually a pretty okay movie. The author's taking occasional breaks to beat you over the head with his sociopolitical views doesn't help, either. The whole "geekier than thou" thing just doesn't work for me. It definitely keeps the book from being as "fun" as a lot of people have claimed.

And yeah, the writing is clunky and artless. It's of the "This happened, then that happened, then this happened, then that happened" style. The characters are flat and undistinctive, and have more than a whiff of Mary Sueism to some of them. The bad guys are generically bad, mostly because they - horror of horrors - want to run a business at a profit, which reeks of pure evil to those who have the internet generation's "everything ought to be free" sense of entitlement.

And none of that would bother me if I didn't hear everywhere I turned about how this was the best book since A Tale of Two Cities and the most clever thing to come along since Dorothy Parker retired. But I just don't get the raves for this book - it's a generic Snow Crash clone, except not half as good and peppered with joyless 80s name-dropping.

Again, is it just me?

Offline Pak-Man

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Re: Ready Player One: Is It Just Me?
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2012, 12:30:07 PM »
So I found a place near my work that rents Audiobooks and decided to give this a whirl on my daily 3-hour-round-trip drive to work. I'm a couple hours in now.

It's not an example of superior writing, no. I don't have a sense of what it's trying to say, yet, or even if it has anything to say. I don't feel like I know the narrator yet, other than he's a bitter poor kid who loves the '80s. I will give it some credit for trudging some relatively new territory. Fiction that speaks to gamer-culture is rare. After 30+ years of the existance of the culture, I can think of maybe 2 movies that have done it well, and no books. Maybe that's because gamers tend to get their fiction from video games.

That said, I'm not annoyed by it yet. I love a good treasure-hunt story. I kind of wish they'd just get on with it at this point, but I'm looking forward to seeing where it's going.

UPDATE: I'm almost finished with the audiobook, now, and I have to say it's won me over. The writing is still pretty clunky. Writing 101 teaches an author to "show, don't tell." Cline has this annoying habbit of "show, then tell." He gives us the information any capable reader needs to put everything together, then he spells it out for you, like he doesn't trust the reader to come to the conclusion, or remember facts he'd explained a few chapters eariler.

If you can get past that, though, it's a darned fun story. The references feel a lot less forced and overexplained once the treasure hunt gets underway (With the exception of a scene where he feels the need to explain that records used to come in record cases), and there are a lot of neat twists and turns, and the most convincing and accurate depiction of budding nerd-love I've ever seen.

So it's not brilliantly written, and it takes a while before it gets its momentum, but if you can get past that, the story is a heck of a good time.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2012, 08:50:26 AM by Pak-Man »