Ready: Player One: A Review

I’m less impressed with this novel than the author is with himself. As dazzling as the story can be, (and it has a few genuinely great moments) it ultimately collapses in on itself. The never-ending onslaught of 1980s pop culture minutia and namechecking, reduces the entire novel to a level of superficiality of a Knight Rider episode. The characters are as flat and two-dimensional as PacMan.

ready player oneBasic story: 

Ready Player One takes place in the not-so-distant future. The world has become a very bleak place, but luckily there is OASIS, a virtual reality world that has grown into an online utopia. People plug into OASIS to play, go to school, earn money, and even meet other people – or at least their avatars.  For Wade Watts it certainly beats passing the time in his grim, poverty-stricken real life. Along with millions of other world-wide citizens, Wade dreams of finding three keys left behind by James Halliday, the now-deceased creator of OASIS and the richest man to have ever lived. Halliday grew up in the golden age of the 1980s in the United States, and OASIS is an extreme (and fully enveloping) immersion in that decade, movies, music and most of all … video games.

The keys are rumored to be hidden inside OASIS, and whoever finds them will inherit Halliday’s fortune. But Halliday has not made it easy – he has created real life dangers in his virtual world. All across the globe, players are exploring OASIS looking for the keys and suddenly one day, Wade discovers one and the international race is on! Wade, with the help of several other on-line avatars, challenge Halliday’s games, puzzles, and contests, with clues drenched in full tilt 80s nostalgia.

I was not an 80s gamer kid (I grew up in the previous decade) so for me, a lot of this name-checking various geek/fanboy bits of 80s culture quickly became an irritating distraction of a fairly ingenious story. I got the impression that author Ernest Cline is that guy at a party who spends the entire evening trying to impress everyone by talking about and quoting endlessly every single song/movie/tv show/videogame he’s ever enjoyed. At some point you just want him to shut up!

Spoiler Alert!

So finally, after 380 pages of being bombarded with more Journey and Rush lyrics that I needed to hear, or bad 80s movies I never wanted to watch again, or detailed descriptions of obscure video games I never played (or even heard of), we get to the conclusion. James Halliday’s avatar is waiting in the room which holds the last key – the key to his vast fortune. His avatar then lectures the winning player (come on, you think I was gonna tell you the winner!) and his advice is … (wait for it)spend more time outside and less time playing video games!

WOW. The only reason I didn’t throw the book across the room is because I read it on my Kindle and I didn’t want to break it.

3 palmettos

Wayward Pines Trilogy: A Review

Book One: Pines. Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke arrives in the idyllic town of Wayward Pines in Idaho – surrounded by tall pine tree forests and insurmountable mountains on all sides to investigate the mysterious disappearance of two agents who had landed here two weeks before.  He is involved in a horrific accident that leaves him with partial memory loss. But when he recovers, his interactions with the town residents  makes him realize there is something wrong with the whole town itself. He is not able to reach his wife and kids in Boise or his handler within the agency. Dead bodies turning up, mysterious bar-tenders who disappear, a psychiatrist and a nurse who seem hell bent on harming him than curing and a whole town of kooks who love nothing more than shooting the breeze during day time and take part in blood fetes at night. It gets murky and weirder by the page. And then, when he attempts to escape the town, the real horror begins … pines trilogy

Book Two: Wayward. Except for the electrified fence and razor wire, snipers scoping everything 24/7, and the relentless surveillance tracking each word and gesture Wayward Pines is an Eden. None of the residents know how they got here. They are told where to work, how to live, and who to marry. Some believe they are dead. Others think they’re trapped in an unfathomable experiment. Everyone secretly dreams of leaving, but dare not. Ethan Burke has seen the world beyond. He’s sheriff, and one of the few who knows the truth—Wayward Pines isn’t just a town. And what lies on the other side of the fence is a nightmare beyond imagining.

Book Three: The Last Town. The children of Wayward Pines are taught that David Pilcher, the town’s creator, is god. No one is allowed to leave; asking questions can be lethal. But Ethan Burke has discovered the astonishing secret of what lies beyond the electrified fence that surrounds Wayward Pines and protects it from the terrifying world beyond. It is a secret that has the entire population completely under the control of a madman and his army of followers, a secret that is about to come storming through the fence to wipe out this last, fragile remnant of humanity.

There is a downward spiral in the narrative. Book 1, Pines, was thrilling and suspenseful, with a v-e-r-y Twilight Zone feel to the entire story  Book 2, Wayward, is substantially less intriguing. The plot seems to be papered over and the ending (as is common with the middle books of trilogies) is flat and slightly unfair when the reader realizes the author has been misleading you the entire book – cheap and silly and very much TV. Book 3, The Last Town, is poorly written and runs out of narrative steam – the ending is a sudden jolt!

It seems perfect that FOX TV is turning the books into a series, executive produced by M. Night Shymalyan since most of his projects are intriguing ideas poorly executed.

3 palmettos

Nineteen Eighty-Four to 2014: A Brave New World (Essentials)

Sixty-five years ago one of the most famous and influential novels was published, Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell’s dystopian novel introduced terms and concepts that have entered everyday use: Big Brother, doubl1984ethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak and memory hole.

I first read the novel in 1977 in Mrs. Mazursky’s Advanced Composition class at Barnwell High School (S.C.) And here we are in 2014, living in the world Orwell warned us about. For those of you who have never read 1984 a quick summary:

The Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as thoughtcrimes. Their tyranny is headed by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist. Big Brother and the Party justify their rule in the name of a supposed greater good.

Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. Smith’s job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports the current party line. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker, but he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

Everywhere Winston goes, even his home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, Big Brother. The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.

If you have a pulse and are reasonably aware of the world around you, everything in the previous paragraph should sound familiar. A few comparisons between the novel 1984 and our world should make it clear:

1984: Newspeak. NOW: Politically Correct speech

1984: Telescreens in every room. Programming runs 24 hours a day. Proles have no way to turn off their screens. NOW: Telescreens in almost every room. In everyone’s hands. Programming runs 24 hours a day. Proles rarely turn off their screens.

1984: Telescreens in all public and private places, so the populace can be watched to prevent thoughtcrime. NOW: Surveillance cameras in most buildings and public streets to prevent crime. People carrying tracking devices called cell phones. 

1984: Helicopters silently watch over the masses to keep people from creating thoughtcrime, reinforcing the fear that you are “always being watched.” NOW: Helicopters and drones silently watch over the masses to keep people from breaking traffic laws, reinforcing the fear that you are “always being watched.”

1984: Lotteries with very few winners. Held to collect income for the state, and to give hope to the masses. NOW: Lotteries with very few winners. Held to collect income for the state, and to give hope to the masses.

1984: History is rewritten to conform with modern beliefs. All references to oldthink are removed. NOW: History is rewritten to conform with modern beliefs. Example: In the 2013 history textbooks, the 9/11 attacks are described as being committed by “terrorists.” No description of their Islamic extremism and hatred for Western beliefs. However, in the same book, Timothy McVeigh is described as a “radical right-wing terrorist.” There are too many examples to list here. You’ve probably already come up with 3 or 4 in your head. 

1984: People are steered away from consuming goods such as chocolate, steak, sugar, coffee, cigarettes and alcohol by rationing. NOW: People are steered away from consuming certain foods by warnings that these items are bad for your health. Cigarette smokers are portrayed as a criminal class. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg did his best Big Brother imitation by banning sugary drinks more than 16 ounces. Other states and cities have levied heavy taxes on food items that the state has deemed “not good for the public.” 

1984: There is always a war, always an enemy always a crisis. If peace is made with one country, war is started somewhere else. When one “crises” is solved, another is discovered. NOW: There is always a war, always an enemy always a crisis. If peace is made with one country, war is started somewhere else. When one “crises” is solved, another is discovered. “War on Poverty.” War on Drugs.” Etc … 

1984: Songs are created by machines. No one can write a song not in line with Big Brother. No creativity is needed. NOW: Songs are created by synthesizers and digital samples.The creativity of past musicians are “sampled” by “artists” and re-mixed into a collage of mechanized sound.

1984: Telescreen is full of confessions of “Thought criminals.” They confess their crimes and perversions. NOW: Daytime talk shows are filled with people who enjoy sharing the low-rent, thuggish lifestyles with the rest of the world.

Over the past two years we have learned that the U.S. government directed the IRS to target conservative Tea Party groups merely because of their opposition to the expansion of federal government programs. We also learned that the government has been listening to the private conversations of EVERY Verizon cell phone customer since 2007. Through a program called PRISM, the government has also had access to the date of everyone on the internet who has logged on to FaceBook, Yahoo, Google, YouTube, Apple and Skype. The government’s response to all of this is: “We have done nothing wrong. We have done nothing illegal.” Various criminal operations and counties are hacking into digital date of corportations, political groups etc … 

So, if you have never read 1984, it would make a great (yet uncomfortable) summer read to discover what Mr. Orwell warned us about sixty-five years ago. And for the government bureaucrat whose job is to read this column, I hope you enjoyed it. I encourage you to purchase my books and read them also!