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In the Future, There Will Be Robots - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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April 17th, 2012


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10:26 pm - In the Future, There Will Be Robots
Tonight: two startling visions of the future! One is interminable and boring, and the other is exciting and awesome. See if you can figure out which is which!



Feed, by M.T. Anderson—recommended to me by a cute girl on BART—has a good, interesting concept to work with: in the future, everyone's brain is linked to the Feed, so what we've always dreamed of is a reality—we are literally on the Internet ALL THE TIME. What this means is that the Feed is always learning about you and your preferences and recommending things for you to buy, you have the whole Internet's worth of information at your fingertips, you can cyberchat with people without having to type anything, and, oh, your brain is full of ads. The audiobook impressively creates what are essentially fully produced radio ads that appear in between chapters or, sometimes annoyingly/distressingly, break into David Aaron Baker's narration unexpectedly. When characters chat, they sound different than when they speak aloud, presumably recreating different fonts/formatting in the text. I would definitely like to experience more creative audiobooks like this one!

If only Feed had compelling characters and a story to go along with the worldbuilding. I was reminded of Little Brother in that it seemed like M.T. Anderson had a good idea and wanted to make some social commentary, but he didn't really bother to tell a story. Some of the satire is pretty funny, and the social commentary is pointed and clever, but the main character is not likable at all, nor is anyone else in the book besides Violet, the girl he meets on the moon who opens his mind to maybe not being a sheep who relies on the Feed. Everyone talks in idiotic futuristic Valley Girl slang, and perhaps Anderson is making a point about how language will devolve into nonsense, but it sure makes for an annoying, frustrating read. At least Little Brother was entertaining. I wanted to give up on this book after the first few chapters, and it was a struggle to make it through most of it, since nothing really happened. The book focuses on the relationship between Titus and Violet, but Titus is so dull that I didn't really care. The book improves in the last third, but by that point, it had already lost me, and I wanted it to be over so I could move on.



In the near future, most people spend their time in the OASIS, a highly sophisticated MMO comprising hundreds of different worlds. Using haptic gloves and visors, people can interact in these fully rendered worlds as easily as the real world. The man behind the OASIS, James Halliday, is a huge fan of classic video games and '80s pop culture, and these loves pervade the virtual world he has built. When he dies, however, he reveals that he will leave his substantial fortune—and the entire OASIS—to the person who can decipher his riddles to find the keys to unlock the gates that will lead them to an Easter egg within the game itself. And so the Hunt begins.

Welcome to Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.

Our hero is ubergeek Wade Watts, a.k.a. Parzival, an elite gunter, or "egg hunter." His sole mission in life? Find Halliday's Easter egg. He and his best friend, Aech, devote the majority of their time to brushing up on their classic video game skills and '80s pop culture knowledge, not knowing what piece of obscure trivia could be useful in the Hunt. Also, there is this cool female blogger named Art3mis. Obvious love interest is obvious. What do all these gunters want? To find the egg before the megacorporation IOI and its horde of Sixers seize control of the OASIS, monetize the game, and RUIN EVERYTHING. DAMN THE MAN. DOWN WITH THE EMPIRE.

Ready Player One is a flawed book, so let me get a bunch of criticisms out of the way. The book is hugely frontloaded with exposition, and even when the plot finally kicks in, expositional infodumps sometimes arrive to bring the story to a grinding halt. There is no artful integration here; Cline is just providing information about the extensive world he's imagined or explaining something about a game or a movie or a band or a TV show to a hapless n00b who's never heard of Family Ties. The book tries a little too hard to appeal to a broader audience, when this is clearly a niche book. The writing in general lacks a real style; it mostly tells you what's going on (Cline was a screenwriter first, best known for Fanboys). Cline can sometimes get caught up in the whole "Oh my God, I'm referencing something geeky, look at this geeky stuff I know, holy crap, aren't you geeks loving this geeky stuff??" aspect. The issue of online identity versus real-life identity has been dealt with better in other works.

This book is flawed. I recognize that. Truly, on literary merit, it only deserves four stars.

But I experienced this book as read by geek icon Wil Wheaton (who, hilariously, is actually mentioned in the book), which immediately gives it bonus points. And once the plot kicks into gear, shit gets real, and the book becomes an insanely fun thriller that is essentially geekgasm after geekgasm. Once it becomes clear that the leaders in the Hunt all have giant targets painted on their backs, competition becomes fierce and dangerous. This book is about a fucking puzzle hunt inside a video game; how could it not be awesome? I was positively giddy listening to this book. There were honestly times when I wanted to go out driving just so I had an excuse to listen to more. It's only appropriate that a book about video games is just as addictive as a video game, after all. The puzzles and clues and quests and trials are imaginative and creative—since it takes place in a virtual world, it sure isn't bound by the laws of reality, and you are not prepared for what Cline has in store for you—and, again, always rooted in some sort of gaming or pop culture reference. This is a book in which the geeks are heroes for knowing the third sentence on the fourteenth page of the Dungeons and Dragons manual or whatever. It is a point of pride, not shame. It's impossible not to root for Wade and his friends, and, of course, we also want him to get the girl. Basically, THIS BOOK IS SO MUCH FUN AND IT IS FULL OF AWESOMENESS.

This book is a must-read for gamers, pop culture fiends, and nerds in general. So basically everyone I know.
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: Deftones - Xerces
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(16 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:electricmonk
Date:April 18th, 2012 01:41 pm (UTC)
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Off topic: I had a dream I interviewed you for a story I was writing about bagels.

What are your feelings on bagels?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 18th, 2012 01:47 pm (UTC)
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Um, I love them and am about to have one?
[User Picture]
From:electricmonk
Date:April 18th, 2012 01:49 pm (UTC)
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Apparently my dreams predict the future, then!
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From:grammarwoman
Date:April 18th, 2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
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Wow, nice timing! I'm about halfway through reading Ready Player One. I'm interested and invested in seeing what happens next, but I'm not sure if I really like it, if that makes sense?

For example, the trope of "OMG people online in OASIS may not be who they appear to be!" happens at least once or twice a chapter, like WE GET IT, THANKS. So far, there's only Art3mis as the token female avatar - in the future, haven't we worn down the idea that gaming is a dude sport? Or are women still hiding from the trolls?

Then there's the training montage that smacks of authorial wish-fulfillment - "Do nothing but exercise and restrict your food intake for two months and magically you'll be in shape!" Plus, Wade is, well, basically a douche cipher with Nice Guy syndrome: tragic backstory, one brief twinge of "It's all my fault!" and then no empathy for the people in the stacks, except to steel him in his fight against the Sixers. We get all these details on what he does, but almost nothing on who he is other than a determined gunter.

I'm hoping we'll get more on Art3mis, because right now I'm really wishing this had been from her POV.

Sorry for the rant! Maybe I would have been better off listening to the audiobook.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 18th, 2012 03:53 pm (UTC)
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one brief twinge of "It's all my fault!" and then no empathy for the people in the stacks, except to steel him in his fight against the Sixers
Oh my God, that bugged the living crap out of me. HAVE SOME EMOTIONS, SIR. (I disagree that he's a "douche cipher with Nice Guy syndrome," though. I just think he's an obsessive geek lacking in social skills. A bit of a stereotype, perhaps.)

Your criticisms are valid, and it's the reason I was trying to decide whether I wanted to give it four or five stars basically the entire way. Like I said, it's flawed, but I enjoyed the hell out of it, so I focused on the positive. It had the potential to be more amazing, though.
[User Picture]
From:beeker121
Date:April 18th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
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I bought "Ready Player One" for my boyfriend for the holidays and he enjoyed it. I've been trying to decide if I should read it or not; since my geek cred is reasonable, but I've never really played video games so I'm afraid I won't get it.

Also, I've read the first two issues of "Saga" and thank you for pointing that out. I want a giant armored tortoise of my very own and can't believe how sucked in to his world I am this quickly.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 18th, 2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
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ISN'T IT SO GOOD??? Also, what the living goddamn fuck is up with those TV-headed aliens.

You don't have to have played video games to get Ready Player One (like I said, exposition city), but there's no doubt it's better appreciated by a gamer. That being said, I was personally familiar with only a few of the games heavily referenced in the book (there's more focus on classic arcade and Atari games), so I wouldn't let that stop you. It's a wild ride.
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From:omoo
Date:April 19th, 2012 01:21 am (UTC)
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I have plans to read Ready Player One over the summer (I ordered the paperback and it hasn't shipped yet). I'm looking forward to it, but most of the reviews seem to have similar feelings.

Have you read the Wake, Watch, Wonder trilogy? If so I'd love to hear your opinion.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 19th, 2012 02:13 am (UTC)
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I haven't even heard of it.
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From:omoo
Date:April 19th, 2012 12:33 pm (UTC)
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It's about the internet becoming sentient. I think you'd enjoy it, or at least the first book/ book and a half. Somewhere in the middle, the story becomes a little less compelling.

http://www.wakewatchwonder.com/books.html#WAKE
[User Picture]
From:thetheatremouse
Date:April 19th, 2012 04:41 am (UTC)
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Ohmygosh this is such a bizarre feeling for me because I think this is the first time I read your review of a book and instead of thinking "hmm...I should check that out" I'VE ALREADY READ IT. I somehow feel...triumphant? But also thrown off. Because...this does not happen.

Also, dude, where's your Korra review/reaction/response? I'm all eagerly awaiting over here.

Edited at 2012-04-19 04:42 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:eldritch_flame
Date:April 21st, 2012 03:06 am (UTC)
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Ooh, they have the audiobook of Ready Player One at my library! It's sounds very intriguing. Also, Wil Wheaton.

On a related note, I am half-way through I Kill Giants and I'm LOVING IT, and I just finished Rosemary and Rue which I also really enjoyed! Your recs are most excellent, sir.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 21st, 2012 06:07 am (UTC)
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Hurrah! That is very good to hear. Hope you love the rest of IKG and the Toby Daye series.
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From:eldritch_flame
Date:April 27th, 2012 12:35 am (UTC)
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I did indeed love the rest of IKG! Although it's sad, cos I really want to show it to my young cousins, but it has swear words in it. I suppose I will just have to keep it in mind for a few years down the road.

I found Rosemary and Rue hard to get into at first -- I felt like I couldn't get a proper read on the character -- but by the end I was hooked, and I'm really excited for the next book!
[User Picture]
From:daynr
Date:April 24th, 2012 04:04 am (UTC)
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so while traveling I read Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and loved it (except for the end section on medical morals, because I'm sort of done with that stuff for now.) And the sequel to Feed, which I was resistant too because of the end of Feed, but I enjoyed (and third one soon!) And I LOVED Will Grayson, Will Grayson, bc one of them was just like my ex and yet they were these incomprehensible boys, which is a species I do well with but Do. Not. Get. But I have to say, I didn't really like Discount Armageddon. It felt just not quite original enough, despite the concept, because she was a little too happy-go-lucky, ditzy, arrogant, badass of a character. Like most other books of that genre. Well, and she was in NYC and so I really knew all the ways it didn't capture the city (versus the October Daye series; my familiarity with SF is little enough that I enjoy her presentation of the city.) I'll probably read the others, just through the library.

But I wanted to report in on the books I found through you. I have a bunch more on my kindle, though some I've dropped (Zoo City, didn't care enough about any characters except the animals.)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 24th, 2012 04:35 am (UTC)
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Hey, I really appreciate your reporting! (Although I didn't recommend Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Haven't read any John Green.) I'm glad you're liking most of my recommendations.

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