Friday, September 23, 2011

Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

"Dogs and cats, living together . . . mass hysteria!"

"You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the Frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada."

Family Ties

Silver Spoons

DeLoreans

Rush’s "2112" album

Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong

If these things mean anything to you, then Ready Player One is a must read. Ernest Cline has written his first novel and it’s a blast. The 1980s are forty years in the past, but because of one man, James Halliday, it’s the most important decade in human history. Knowledge of that decade’s movies, television shows, music, and video games is going to make someone wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.
James Halliday is the creator of the OASIS, an on-line reality that most people now spend every waking moment of their lives inhabiting. They live there as avatars, going to school, working, completing quests, defeating dragons, and falling in love, all while they sit in a chair, looking through a visor, wearing a suit that provides the tactile sensations of the virtual world they’re experiencing. The world outside the OASIS has fallen apart and the OASIS is the only world that matters anymore.
But the continued existence of that world becomes uncertain when James Halliday dies. In his will, he leaves ownership and control of the OASIS to the first person who can complete a contest; find three hidden keys that unlock three hidden gates within the OASIS and you’ll receive the OASIS along with Halliday’s immense fortune and wealth.
Ready Player One is really a lot of fun to read. Part of the fun for me was because I was a teenager during the '80s and grew up on all of the pop culture references Cline uses so well throughout the book. But you don't need to have fond memories of that decade to enjoy this book. The fate of the avatars is just as captivating as the fate of the real people behind them. And sometimes I found myself forgetting that the characters in the story weren't the real ones, but their virtual identity instead.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lord Jim

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Years ago, when my wife and I were first married and had absolutely no money, I signed up to receive a book a month from The Easton Press. That decision nearly ended my marriage (numerous times). I wanted them because they were the classics, and with their leather binding, I loved the way they looked on the bookshelf. My wife was right though, I should have cancelled them after they sent the first one. But I didn't (and I'm still married,) so now every so often I take one of them down and I read it. When I do, I always feel a little tinge of residual guilt due to the monthly conflict that it caused. But these really are good books, so the guilt doesn't last long.

Lord Jim was published at the very end of the 19th century, just after Joseph Conrad published one of his other classic books: Heart of Darkness. It's about a man who lives on the sea. As a young man he gets a job aboard the Patna and spends much of his time dreaming about one day becoming a hero. It's on this ship that he gets that opportunity. When the ship collides with the wreckage of another boat in the middle of the night, Jim is sent down to determine the extent of the damage. What he sees leads him to believe that the ship's hull is close to breaching and that the Patna will soon sink. The crew decides to abandon ship and to ensure their survival, decides not to wake the sleeping passengers, leaving them behind to go down with the ship. Jim decides that he is too insignificant a member of the crew to go against their decision, and leaves with them.

Unfortunately for Jim, the Patna doesn't sink, and its passengers are rescued by another vessel and the crew of the Patna faces a judicial investigation where Jim becomes the scape goat and is the only one punished for the abandonment. Jim's decision to go along with his crew mates haunts him for the rest of his life and it becomes a defining moment for him. The rest of his life is spent running away from anything that reminds him of his experience on the Patna. Eventually he finds success in a fictional region called Patusan where he becomes a leader among the native inhabitants and ultimately finds a measure of redemption when he gives his life in their defense.

Lord Jim is a great story. At times it's a little slow and tends to get confusing at times as the narrator jumps back and forth in time, recounting the history of Jim as he had become aware of it through the reports of people he met throughout his life. But the themes in this book are what I think have elevated it to the ranks of classic English Literature.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, September 16, 2011

The All-Pro

The All-Pro by Scott Sigler

Just in time for the beginning of the NFL season, Scott Sigler releases his third book in the Galactic Football League series: The All-Pro. In the first book, The Rookie, quarterback Quentin Barnes placed the tier-two-level Ionath Krakens football team onto his shoulders and helped them qualify for tier one. Then, in The Starter, he and the Krakens had to fight for respect and try to avoid the type of season that would have sent them right back to tier two. Now, in his third year, Quentin has his eyes and his team set on the grand prize: Galaxy Bowl Champions.

This is a great series of books. The football aspect of it is spot on. Sigler knows his stuff and does a great job of giving you an idea of what it would be like to line up behind center and look into the eyes of someone (or something) determined to end your career every play. The idea that football might still be played 700 years into the future by not just humans, but by elite athletes from all the sentient races, makes the series all the more enjoyable. It's a lot of fun and fans of either the sport or the science fiction genre should enjoy it a lot.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, September 12, 2011

Flashback

Flashback by Dan Simmons

I'm now convinced that Dan Simmons could write a great book in any genre he were to choose. His catalog of books has spanned the genre spectrum and all that I've read so far, I consider among the best. With Flashback Simmons has written a dystopian novel that is going to stick in my mind for quite some time.

The economic downturn of the early 21st century was only the beginning of a downward cycle that eventually leaves the United States fractured and near total economic and political collapse. What remains of the country after the secession of Texas and the loss of power over the Southwestern portion of the country to Mexico, is a country with no future and no hope for change.

But it's flashback that has done the most damage to the country and many other parts of the world. Flashback is a drug that allows its users to relive the best moments of their lives as many times as they wish. Most Americans spend eight hours or more every day under the drug's influence - including Nick Bottom, a former Denver homicide detective who five years ago lost his wife in a bizarre car accident. He now spends all of his time and money on flashback in order to fill the void her death left him with.

Nick is hired by a Japanese tycoon to reinvestigate the murder of his son, a murder that Nick had previously investigated before he lost his job with the Denver police, but had failed to solve. Using flashback to relive suspect interviews and revisit crime scenes, Nick discovers something that went unnoticed during the original investigation six years earlier - his wife had been present at the scene of the murder minutes before it took place. In fact, when Nick begins to reinterview key figures in the investigation, he learns that his wife had spoken with many of them about the murder years earlier. What connection did his now-dead wife have to the murder, and was her death a result?

Flashback is a great book! It reminded me a little bit of some of the stories written by Philip K. Dick (Bladerunner, Minority Report). It has a gritty, defeated, and eerily plausible feel to it that I will remember long after the details of the plot leave me.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Is it possible to take one of the most beloved and time-tested books in English literature and improve it? After reading P&P&Z my answer is a categorical YES. Nearly two years ago I read Jane Austen's book about the Bennet family and the man my wife has an inexplicable fondness for - Mr. Darcy. I read it for two reasons: first, because it's a classic and I think people should read them, and second, because I saw P&P&Z at the bookstore and I wanted to have the "before and after" experience when I read it.

I didn't enjoy Jane Austen's book. I don't have any issues with its characterization as a classic book, but there just wasn't anything about it that appealed to me. It's about a family with five daughters and all anyone seems to be concerned with is how and when these five girls are going to get married. For me it really needed another facet to hold my interest. Seth Grahame-Smith chose the perfect addition to make it the type of book I wanted to read instead of one I felt I should read - Zombies.

For awhile now, in the early 19th century, a plague has been afflicting England, and it's been causing the dead to rise up with an insatiable craving for brains. One can't travel the country roads between towns unarmed anymore for fear of being set upon by a group of these undead. For the Bennet sisters, it's why their father sent them to China at an early age; to train at the Shaolin temples in the arts of the Ninja.

Just as he did with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith demonstrates a surprising amount of writing talent with P&P&Z. He does an excellent job of maintaining the same feel and writing style that Austen used. He keeps her storyline almost entirely intact while infusing it with ultraviolent zombie mayhem for those of us readers who possess less than fragile senses and sensibilities.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆