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01 November 2015

Book Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok. I would have loved this book even if it didn't remind me that the old Atari Joust video game existed. I had entirely forgotten about it but as soon as Cline described it, in all of its oddity, I gasped. Man! I LOVED that game! I haven't thought about it since 1983 but suddenly there I was in an arcade in a mall in Miami, my braces newly tightened and my pockets stuffed with quarters. Later I would go to the Camelot Records to grab 45s of the Billboard top 5 to pack in my suitcase and haul back to Jamaica, where I was living at the time. Our American culture came shipped in duffle bags when any of us went to the states. No satellite TV, certainly no internet. Music on vinyl smuggled through customs, hidden along with our M&Ms and our soft toilet paper. NPR in the mornings over shortwave radio. A VCR as big as an ottoman on which we would watch tapes of movies pirated from HBO while someone was in the states (I still get giddy when I think of the feature presentation flyover intro; that music meant something NEW, something exciting! Cannonball Run!) D&D games played on someone's veranda. Epic sword wars and treasure hunts waged through the hills and dales of our fenced-in ex-pat compound. Once, when lighting struck near the pool we were swimming in, we all scrambled out and then my pal Jocko pulled his dice out of the pocket of his swim trunks and rolled to see if we were dead.

This book took me right back to those years. It made my heart warm. It is a deftly crafted combination of dystopian search for justice and hard-core nostalgia, all wrapped up into a cohesive package by a creative and wholly original story line.

Of course, these kids of 2044 know more about the 80s than I ever did, or ever will. I'm no expert. But I lived through it, just like the nice old lady Wade knows, so I've got cred!

I do worry about something like OASIS becoming our actual future. I worry about complete immersion in a world that isn't real. I see the possibility of it very clearly; Facebook is a primitive version of where I fear we're going. On FB, we create a version of ourselves that isn't quite honest. It's an entire online community of people attempting to find meaning by narrating and documenting their meaninglessness. It's only a short step to finding meaning by creating a new person to live in a different world where we might do better than we're doing in the real world. That idea is attractive. It's addictive. But it isn't real. As Groucho Marx once said, "I'm not crazy about reality, but it's still the only place to get a decent meal."

But that alternate unreality also lets people overcome physical disability, racial stereotyping, and gender stereotyping. Wouldn't it be nice if we could present a physically perfect version of ourselves for people to know? Because if we can control everything about how we look, we can all be physically perfect. Then what creates difference, what creates depth and connection, is what we say. What we do. Who we are. Cline plays a bit with this part of it with his characters. None of them are what they seem to be online. But the best parts of themselves still show through. And the best parts of themselves have nothing to do with what they see when they look in the mirror. Or what they look like online.

I wish Cline had been a little less pat with the ending. It seemed like an easy way out. But maybe he did that because he's going to use a sequel to dig into the unanswered what ifs. I hope so. Because I want to know what happens next.

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Book Review: The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I was reading this one, my 11 year old son was halfway through The Name of the Wind. He and I were sitting on the couch, both reading, when I gritted my teeth and sucked in my breath.
"What?" he asked, alarmed. "Did something awful happen?"
"No," I replied. "There's just a sex scene and I'm wondering whether I can let you read this book now."
"Oh," he said. "Felurian? I already guessed about her. It's on the back of this book, see? 'I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life.' I'm ready. I already know they have a lot of sex."

Oh. Ok. Well. Carry on then, not-yet-12-year-old.

I liked this book. Not as much as the first book, but enough that I read it quickly and found myself thinking of the characters and the story-line when I wasn't reading.

I've read some reviews that complain about the tangential nature of the story. But that's life, isn't it? Wandering from thing to thing without a clear path, though a path sometimes reveals itself in hindsight. Kvothe is on such a circuitous path. He has cunning, strength and a hell of a lot of luck. He is also curious and dedicated to justice, which causes all of his tangents.

I was fascinated by the Adem; to imagine a society where facial expressions are discouraged and physical movement instincts are always wrong. It was like Bulgaria writ large; in Bulgaria, shaking your head means yes. Nodding it means no. I did not realize how often I unconsciously move my head when assenting or refusing; one night, I ended up three sheets to the wind because I kept accidentally telling the waiter I wanted more wine. My words said no, but my head said yes. With the Adem, I imagined trying to navigate learning a whole new way to express what we tend to intuit. Respectful Fascination.

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