Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One was first published by Broadway Books in 2011. I’ve had it on my “to be read” pile for about six years and finally decided to read it as part of my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge because the movie adaptation is releasing this March. The story is set in the United States, in the year 2044. The world is a bleak and dismal place. War, disease, and famine has become a world-wide problem. Economic, social, and government institutions have all but collapsed, and income inequality is at its greatest levels of all-time. Despite these problems, technological advancements have continued and the new ideal world is one called the “OASIS,” a virtual space unlike any we could currently imagine, where people can be whomever they choose. People can meet and get married in the OASIS, children go to school and earn their diplomas through the OASIS. It is a beautiful and powerful opportunity and, as it turns out, also deadly dangerous. When the creator of the OASIS dies, leaving behind an immeasurable fortune plus control of his company, an international, play-to-the-death quest begins. The first person who can solve each riddle and beat each boss, wins it all. Billions of dollars. Total control of the OASIS. But despite years and years of effort by individuals, groups, and corporations, the scoreboard remains empty. Empty, that is, until one lonely, poor, awkward geek named Wade Watts, AKA Parzival, figures out the first test and beats it. Then all hell breaks loose.

Ernest Cline’s style is effective in creating this science-fictionalized, virtual reality cross-over world, where people exist in two places simultaneously, sometimes as themselves but often not. He creates great tension in the idea of this universal split-personality, where everyone is someone else and where people are often only truly honest in the virtual world. The tone, too, is appropriate given the content and topic. Cline writes with a kind of frenetic irreverence that suits the abundance of geeky reference, nerd history, and 1980s pop culture that permeates the narrative. It is crystal clear who this story is about and what kind of audience will be attracted to it, though I don’t think the book will be appreciated only by self-professed geeks like me. This is because the prose itself is engaging, the pace is fast but not overwhelming, and the two worlds being created are delicately balanced and well-treated so that both seem believable, each with its own graces and terrors.

THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION. One of the most common and powerful critiques I’ve read from other reviewers about this book is its lack of characterization or problematic issue with stereotyping, and I get it; there might be some problems here. First, though, I want to start with what I think was a great strength for this novel’s characterization: the antagonists. The bad guys. They are so realistically normal, and so realistically evil, in that deeply human way, that I found them horrifying and compelling at the same time. What is the nature of their evil? Greed and a consuming desire for power. That said, some reviewers have pointed out weaknesses in character development, as when Wade Watts, having fallen in love with a girl, realizes that he is overweight and thus commences to get in shape (the process of which is described in just a few sentences so, sure, that’s a bit unrealistic). The rather fanciful and laughably easy weight-loss/fitness process aside, I’m not sure what the primary resistance is to that character’s impulse. How many of us, especially when we were young, tried to modify our appearance to impress a person we were interested in romantically? I appreciate that the “message” isn’t great, but is it unrealistic?

In addition, some have argued that Ready Player One is just another cis-white-het-male fantasy because the protagonist is a white heterosexual male. Do we need more diversity in fictional protagonists? Yes, particularly in the still male-dominated genres of science-fiction and fantasy. That said, I can’t fault a good novel and its interesting-if-flawed hero because of the fact that he is a straight white male. I also appreciated the diversity of his friendships (though, as I will discuss in a moment, reviewers have found plenty to fault there, too).

SPOILER AHEAD. I’ve also read critiques about the way Cline draws some of the diverse characters: Art3mis, Aech, Daito, and Shoto (OASIS character names for real people). Wade’s best friend in the OASIS is Aech, whose character is a heterosexual male but who, it turns out, is a black lesbian woman in real life. When the two finally meet, Wade is taken aback for a moment, and then they have a good laugh and carry on like the best friends they are. Some have taken issue with the fact that Wade was shocked by Aech’s real gender/race/sexuality, and others have said the character was drawn that way to tic all the “diversity” boxes. I simply didn’t read it that way. To me, seeing a straight white teenage male discover his best friend is a black lesbian woman, and then shrug it off as entirely unimportant, was a welcome and powerful statement, especially in the science-fiction genre which remains heavily heteronormative.

SPOILER AHEAD: There have been complaints, too, about Daito and Shoto being stereotyped by their race. There are a few pages where the two, plus Wade, repeatedly mention the word “honor” as in, was someone’s actions honorable or not. At first glance, I could see how this might come across as racist: you’re drawing Japanese characters and scripting them with cheesy samurai film clichés? But, wait. Daito and Shoto identify as samurai. They talk about honor because they care about honor. I’m not convinced that this is the author being lazy or making a racist mistake in narration or dialogue; to me, it is an expression of what is important to the two characters themselves, and it aligns with their backgrounds and their other actions throughout the novel. (But do Parzival and Art3mis both need to repeat it in the span of a few pages? No, probably not – I hear you, there.)

SPOILER AHEAD: Lastly, I’ve read criticisms about the love-interest, Art3mis, and the development of Wade’s and Art3mis’s relationship. Some have said she “succumbs” too quickly in the end, after rejecting his advances for so long. I’m again on the opposite side of this debate, I guess. The two were the top competitors in a prize that would change not just their own lives, but the entire world. Art3mis took the smart route, which was to focus on the tasks at hand. Wade couldn’t get past his feelings for her. What’s wrong with either of these responses? And who is to say that, once the competition ends, particularly given all that the two go through and all that Wade does for Art3mis, Aech, and the others in the real world, where all of their lives are at risk, the two wouldn’t come together after all?

Ultimately, I do agree that characterization is the weaker element for this novel. I think there’s enough to make us care about Wade’s success and about the fate of his friends, but there are also things that happen too quickly or perhaps go without enough explanation. Wade, too, makes some decisions which leave us wondering whether or not we should be thinking of him as a hero, but as Aristotle suggests, an effective hero is mostly admirable and to be rooted for, but he is not necessarily perfect.

The Huffington Post calls Ready Player One, “The Grown-Up’s Harry Potter.” This isn’t quite right. Although there are some comparisons between the Muggle/Wizarding world and the Real/OASIS worlds, and between the orphaned lives of Harry Potter and Wade Watts, Ready Player One is much more of a realistic science-fiction novel than it is a fantasy. As a child of the 1980s, and a self-confirmed geek, I saw much more of Stranger Things in this novel. It’s a dystopian thriller for contemporary society. And I loved it. Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

Ready Player One is Book 3 completed for my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge

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February Checkpoint #TBR2018RBR

Greetings, Challengers!

Congratulations! We have reached the second checkpoint and I am pleased to announce that we have 30+ book reviews linked up in our Mr. Linky widget (below). Nice work! Can we get another 30 this month?

I’m also thrilled to announce the winner of the first Mini-Challenge: Fanda from Fanda Classiclit! Fanda won a book of her choice ($20USD) from The Book Depository. She chose a copy of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, in honor of Dickens’s birthday. Enjoy, Fanda! 

Question of the Month

What are your strategies for staying on top of your reading goals? Do you keep a bullet journal or other kind of planner? Do you aim for a certain number of books per week, per month? Do you just “wing it” and let whatever happens, happen? Tell us your secrets!

My Progress: 3 of 12 Completed / 2 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read 3 of my 12 required books. At the moment, I’m feeling pretty confident that I will be able to read and review all 14 books on my TBR Pile Challenge list this year! I’m pretty excited about that, although, to be honest, my two year-long projects have been suffering a bit since the semester started in mid-January. I need to stick to my commitment of pacing myself this year so that I can keep up with both of those projects (reading and writing) while also keeping up with my challenge list and other pleasure reading. It’s always a balancing act, isn’t it!?

Books Read So Far:

How are you doing?

index

Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year.

Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS

Aristotle’s Poetics

What can I say about Aristotle’s Poetics that has not already been said, and by those much more capable? Certainly, despite being just a collection of drafts and journal entries, this is one of the most significant, relevant, and pervasive pieces of literary criticism in the western tradition. It continues to influence readers and scholars alike. While some have said the work is difficult to read and understand, I thought the Malcolm Heath translation (Penguin Classics 1996) was excellent, and the Introduction even better.

Heath takes Aristotle’s Poetics chapter-by-chapter, explaining what each of the core concepts is in any given part of the text, then elaborating with details, explanations, and contemporary context, which makes the original text much more readable. It was particularly helpful to read the introduction because the translation itself dropped some of the original language, without reference. For example, mimesis, hamartia, and katharsis, three incredibly important terms in literary criticism (including the study of rhetoric, drama, and narrative), are addressed by descriptions of their functions, only, and the translated terms (imitation, error, and purification) are what is given in the text itself. This is one of the few flaws I found in the translation because, presumably, anyone reading this text is doing so for edification on the topics of literary study and should hopefully be aware of the Greek terms that we continue to use in conversation of these topics, even 2,000-plus years later.  

That slight blip aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Aristotle’s Poetics. The majority of his musings are about dramatic tragedy, particularly in comparison to dramatic comedy, which he finds a lesser art form. That said, much of what he describes also applies to the study of narrative fiction and storytelling more generally. His methods of analysis, too, are fascinating in that they illustrate how one might go about “doing” the work of literary criticism, not to mention that his insights provide excellent food for thought regarding the dramas he analyzes himself (such as works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Homer). Of the utmost interest is the idea that readers (more appropriately: audiences) derive pleasure from what are often painful emotions related to tragedies: fear, anger, loss, disappointment, etc. This, of course, leads to Aristotle’s explanation of catharsis and supports his argument that the cathartic experience of reading emotional works or witnessing an emotional play (of a specific type, at a specific sophistication, and for a certain privileged kind of audience) is the reason why storytelling is so powerful and effective.

One of the most unique and compelling aspects of Aristotle’s analysis, for me, has to do with the study of character, and what makes a “good” character. Aristotle claims that the character needs to be moral, but not perfect. He should be believable in his purposes and his struggles, but should also be “better” than we are, so that we can look to him as one to admire and so that we react rightly when said character falls. I think of the kinds of books I most often respond to, and they do indeed tend to have characters that are flawed but noble, that often fail but do great good (either actually or didactically/philosophically). In treating my thoughts on characterization in book reviews, I will try to consider Aristotle’s perspectives a bit more closely.

Aristotle also explains the function of plot and describes which are better or worse, depending on their constructions and outcomes. He describes “ordered structure” for example, and the idea that even in chaos, there must be some kind of realistic expectation for the events that are occurring. In other words, a character/reader/audience might be surprised by something that happens, but whatever it is that happens must be probable to the situation at hand. This is somehow both an obvious observation but also a profound one: how many plots have run afoul because the author seemed to throw in some plot device or tangent that made no sense and that could have been removed without influencing the story whatsoever? Everything must have a purpose. Whereas I found the exploration on character interesting from my perspective as a reader, I find this analysis of effective plots invaluable when thinking about my work as a writer.

The last element I found most fascinating, though I am skipping plenty that is interesting for the sake of brevity and because I simply did not conduct an academic reading on this text, is the idea of language. Aristotle criticizes some of his contemporaries who balked at the fact that some poets were using colloquial language. He writes that “the most important quality in diction is clarity, provided there is no loss of dignity” and adds that “the clearest diction is that based on current words” (36). He argues that the best language is that which is “some kind of mixture” of diction that is both clear and out of the ordinary, traditional and inventive. In many ways, I think this argument presages what Shakespeare would do in retelling familiar stories but couching it in the language of the people, even going so far as to invent much of the language he needed because it simply didn’t exist yet (or didn’t fit into his rhyme scheme). It is heartening to think that Aristotle, one of the foremost minds in all of western philosophy and an authority on language, was not an old fuddy-duddy.  

Aristotle’s Poetics is book 2 completed for my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge

January Checkpoint #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Yahoo! It’s time for our very first Checkpoint (with mini-challenge #1 — see below). We have 100+ participants this year, which is pretty awesome considering the challenge was on hiatus for two years. I’m inspired by all of your interest and commitment – reading is awesome, isn’t it?

Question of the Month

Which book on your 2018 list has been on your shelf the longest? (Best guess is fine!) The one I’ve owned the longest is The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, and I’m excited to say that it was the first book I read and reviewed for this year’s challenge! 

My Progress: 2 of 12 Completed / 1 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read 2 of my 12 required books. I’m feeling pretty great about that because the new semester starts tomorrow and I never have a whole lot of time for pleasure reading while school is in session. I plan (really, I do!) to read all 14 of the books on my list this year, the main 12 plus my 2 alternates, so getting a jump-start on this list before spring semester began was important. Books read:

How are you doing?

index

Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

MINI-CHALLENGE #1

As I mentioned in the Announcement post, there are four mini-challenges planned for this year. Our first checkpoint also brings with it the first mini-challenge!

Here’s the plan: Visit this link to see the list of linked-up participants. Travel around and leave a comment (or two, or five) with some encouragement for this new year and new challenge. Then, when you’re done, come on back to this post and comment with a link to the blog where you left your encouragement.

Everyone who spreads a little cheer and positivity on another challenger’s post(s) will be entered to win a book of choice, up to $15 USD, from The Book Depository! Comments need to be posted and linked-up here by the end of January and the winner, drawn randomly from the collection of comments, will be announced in the February checkpoint post. Only those who registered for the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge by January 15th are eligible to participate in these challenges and/or to win any of the TBR Pile prizes. 

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS 

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Plot/Story:

“The darkness was rising, but much was still hidden by the shadows.” From the Moors of Devonshire to 221B Baker Street comes Dr. James Mortimer. His aged and aristocratic friend, Sir Charles Baskerville of Baskerville Hall, has died under mysterious circumstances. It seems a vicious hell-hound has returned to the grounds, reigniting an old family curse that appears to be extinguishing the Baskerville heirs one-by-one, until only one—Sir Henry—remains. Mortimer and Sir Henry explain the family history, and a threat against Sir Henry, to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, begging for help and for answers. After spotting a bearded man following Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer around London, the famous detective and his equally famous partner soon realize the threat is real. Holmes, too busy with a number of cases to leave for Devon, and worried that he has been spotted by the criminal anyway, elects to stay in London, asking Dr. Watson to play the role of primary observer, detective, and bodyguard to Sir Henry. But can Watson alone keep Sir Henry safe from a supernatural evil, especially when a new love enters the picture and threatens to further endanger the heir’s life?

Characterization:

Being one of the few novels in the Sherlock Holmes series, there is more opportunity to introduce multiple characters and for those characters to develop somewhat over the course of the 160-ish pages. That being said, I did not find the same depth or detail as in A Study in Scarlet. I was blown off course slightly in the early part of the book by the circumstances of one character in the Baskerville family lineage, but as it turns out that was a clever red herring, which caused me to mistake the real villain (although I was close and it became obvious not much later). Some have claimed that The Hound of the Baskervilles is a bit lazy for Doyle, that there is not as much heart or interest in it, possibly because Doyle had hoped to be finished with the series but felt pressured to continue it (pressured by a rabid fan base and by his publishers). I cannot agree with that opinion, although I do believe that The Hound of the Baskervilles is definitely different from Doyle’s previous installments. This feels a different kind of mystery, a different kind of detective story, and with a different kind of hero and villain.

Dr. Watson, for example, gets the most amount of page time. As the usual narrator for these stories, it is not unusual to get his perspective most of the time, but in this case, he is actually the first-hand protagonist, too. Sherlock is present only in the beginning and, of course, in the end, to take the credit as usual. Nevertheless, Holmes is much more genuinely complementary of his partner and even the Inspector than ever before. Could he be growing up? And the villain, who/which shall remain nameless, is both what he/it appears, and not. The secondary characters, from the crotchety old telescope man who sues everybody in town for the fun of it, to the two female characters, and the Baskerville housekeepers, are interesting and add something to the universe being created in this little moorland scene.

Prose/Style:

Something I will never get used to is how quickly I sink into a Sherlock Holmes story, and how rapidly I move through it. This one came in at 160 pages in my edition, a Bantam Classics with tiny font. And yet, I read the entire thing in less than 3 days. The reason for this is not just that the stories are always gripping, clever, and humorous, but that the writing is special, too. I think Doyle was a kind of anthropologist-philosopher who always had unique and enlightening things to say about the human race. An example that struck me came late in the book, when the speaker remarks, “[it] may have been love or may have been fear, or very possibly both, since they are by no means incompatible emotions.” What a special little insight there, unexpected and yet so wholly relevant both to the plot and to human nature more generally. As a master of pace and suspense, clever logic and word play, and good old-fashioned human psychology and emotional insight, Doyle has few peers, particularly in this genre. It makes reading the Sherlock Holmes tales both fun and meaningful.

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

SERIES SPOILERS AHEAD! If you have not read The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmesand/or “The Final Problem,” you might want to skip this next part. Understood? Well, then, if you are ready, let’s carry on:

This is the first Sherlock Holmes installment following “The Final Problem” (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes) wherein the detective apparently gives his life to end Moriarty’s evil machinations. As it turns out, Holmes did not die, but readers will not be treated to an explanation in this first “return.” There were certainly enough reasons why one might conclude, after reading “The Final Problem,” that Holmes might still be alive. One thing I would have liked to see, here, would have been a reckoning of that particular series plot hole, even though it might not have anything in particular to do with this specific installment. That aside, the novel is filled with insights into science and mythology, superstition and the nature of evil. What I think I found most appealing about this particular installment is that it balances a history of bad luck with the opportunities that arise for a true villain to capitalize on myth and on peoples’ fears. A small castle in a small town on the moors of Devonshire seems a perfect setting for the story that unfolds in The Hound of the Baskervilles. There is the reality of daylight, where one can walk safely through the moors if one follows the visible pathways, juxtaposed against the true danger of the night, where even a lifelong resident might get lost in the fog and disappear forever. The metaphor is a treat. Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0

This is the first book completed for my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge

Announcing The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge!

About:

After a two-year hiatus (while I was writing my doctoral dissertation – sorry!) I am pleased to announce that Roof Beam Reader’s official TBR Pile Challenge is back for the SEVENTH YEAR!

This challenge started when I realized I had some MAJOR issues with buying books but never reading them (not because I don’t read – but because I have such a book buying problem!) Year after year, books would sit on my shelf untouched, and I would end up reading newer ones first. I realized I was missing out on a lot of great books because I let them sit there gathering dust instead of reading them as I bought them.

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).

Specifics:

1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2017 or later (any book published in the year 2016 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.

2. To be eligible, you must sign-up with the Mr. Linky below. Link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book’s review. Books must be read and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed.

3. The link you post in the Mr. Linky below must be to your “master list” (see mine below). This is where you will keep track of your books completed, crossing them out and/or dating them as you go along, and updating the list with the links to each review (so there’s one easy, convenient way to find your list and all your reviews for the challenge). See THIS LINK for an idea of what I mean. Your complete and final list must be posted by January 15th, 2018.

4. Leave comments on this post as you go along, to update us on your status. Come back here if/when you complete this challenge and leave a comment indicating that you CONQUERED YOUR 2018 TBR LIST! Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from Amazon.com or The Book Depository!

5. Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable, as long as you have never read the book before and it was published before 2017!

*Note: You can read the books on your list in any order; they do not need to be read in the order you have them listed. Audiobooks count. Graphic novels count. Poetry collections? Essay collections? All good!  As you complete a book – review it, go to your original list and turn that title into a link to the review. This will keep the comments section here from getting ridiculously cluttered. For an example of what I mean, Click Here.

Monthly Check-Ins: On the 15th of each month, I’m going to post a “TBR Pile Check-In.” This will allow participants to link-up their reviews from the past month and get some recognition for their progress. There will also be small mini-challenges and giveaways to go along with these posts (Such As: Read 6 books by the June Check-in and be entered to win a book of your choice!) I’m hoping this will help to keep us all on track and make the challenge a bit more engaging/interactive. I started these mini-challenges in 2014, and I think they were a great success, so I am continuing them this year!

Chat: On Social Media, please use #TBR2018RBR


My 2018 TBR Pile Challenge List:

  1. Poetics by Aristotle (335 BCE)
  2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016)
  3. Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)
  4. Gemini by Michel Tournier (1998)
  5. The White Album by Joan Didion (1979)
  6. Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain (1894)
  7. Don Juan in the Village by Jane Delynn (1990)
  8. The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer (1997)
  9. The House of the Vampire by George Sylvester Viereck (1907)
  10. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (1901-2)
  11. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine (2008)
  12. The Ascent of Woman: A History of the Suffragette Movement by Melanie Phillips (2004)

Alternates:

  1. Good Without God by Greg M. Epstein (2009)
  2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)

Sign-Up to take the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge: