Do gamers dream of virtual reality?

This is my review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

This is an acclaimed (by the Internet, but that counts, doesn’t it?) YA sci-fi dystopian novel. Possibly the only novel fitting these criteria that I hadn’t read yet. And it didn’t let me down!

Wade Owen Watts is a child of the future, who was (almost literally) raised by the Internet. In this new world, house rents are dependent on Wi-Fi availability, and free education is available for all children via virtual reality. Meanwhile, a wealthy, eccentric, videogame maker has left a challenge to children everywhere. I don’t recall what the reward was, but this is basically Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘s ‘golden ticket’.

Our hero’s only way out of his gloomy urban slum is winning this challenge, and he has dedicated years of his life to studying 80s geek culture in search of clues- much like thousands of other teens all over the globe. The plot is cliched, but definitely not boring. You can see the ending from hundreds of pages away, but that doesn’t make the story any less enjoyable.

Master list of cliches and/or stereotypes in this book:

  1. Hero gets the girl in the end
  2. Japanese kids are hardworking and intense
  3. Token racial minority in America
  4. Reference to white trash culture because hero has to be white
  5. Reminder that people fake their identities on the Internet
  6. Geeks are unattractive, but can undergo quick transformation to get aforementioned girl
  7. One or more of the token racial minorities will die
  8. Technology giant built from humble beginnings by pair of hardworking youngsters in their garage
  9. Eccentric millionaire
  10. Friendship ends because of a fight over a girl

This list is not exhaustive (or well-formatted), but this site, TV Tropes does a good job of describing common tropes in TV and movies.

The writing style of this book is slightly confusing. It reads like a YA action novel but is littered with 80’s geek culture references. I’m a bit too old for YA myself, but wasn’t even around in the 80s, let alone playing videogames. 99% of the pop culture references went over my head, but luckily they did not have much relevance to the plot.

4/5 from me. Recommended for anyone who enjoys fast paced stories without too many subtleties.

Mad Scientists Are Mad

This is my review of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

I’d previously read The Handmaid’s Tale by the same author and didn’t like it much. It is like what happens if you lock an emo-goth feminist into a room for a few months- a dystopian novel about the subjugation of women. But I kept seeing the MaddAddam trilogy mentioned on the Internet, and decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did!

The protagonist of the story is Jimmy, alias Snowman, who appears to be the last human alive after a bioengineered virus epidemic. The evil mastermind behind the epidemic is revealed to be Crake, Jimmy’s childhood friend. We learn about their formative years while present-day Snowman fights to stay alive in a land overrun by vicious animal hybrids.

The novel is set in an unspecified future time, when scientists are the elite of society, living in separate gated communities. Jimmy’s father is a genetic engineer, working on developing modified animals, mainly for human consumption. He attends the high school in his community, where he meets Glenn, a borderline Aspergers biology prodigy. They become fast friends, indulging in the usual (?) teenage vices. Jimmy’s mother, formerly a lab technician in a biological lab, begins to have serious doubts about the ethics of genetic engineering, and soon escapes from the high security community- she is a fugitive until her death later on in the book.

Jimmy and Glenn separate to go to different colleges- Jimmy to a rundown liberal arts school and Glenn to the prestigious Francis Crick Academy. They are in and out of touch for the next several years. After Jimmy learns of his mother’s death, he falls into a depression, questioning his mediocre job in advertising, his numerous casual relationships, and even his premature hair loss. Glenn, now referring to himself as Crake, visits him to offer a job marketing his latest drug. Further trouble ensues when they fall in love with the same woman, Oryx. It becomes obvious to Jimmy that something is being planned, but the full extent still shocks him.

Like many other sci-fi novels, this book will blow you away with its attention to detail. Jimmy, self-described as ‘not a math person’, doesn’t fit in with his father’s (and Crake’s) scientific background. He studies a watered-down version of the now neglected humanities in college, and though his degree is looked down upon, it allows him to critically evaluate the world-building plans of the scientists. His skills at rhetoric also stand him in good stead as the plot progresses. The genetically modified creatures have some neat features, like insect repellent scents.

And the drawbacks. This is book one of the MaddAddam trilogy, and feels very much like a prequel. The ending is more a cliffhanger than an ambiguous climax and that annoyed me a little bit. Jimmy’s mother is a two dimensional character, despite having an interesting point of view that could have been elaborated. In fact, most of the female characters in sci-fi are strange to say the least- the wives in Fahrenheit 451 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep are also pointlessly neurotic. Just saying, it seems like a weird literary trope.

3.5/5, and I’m definitely going to check out the rest of the series. If you liked Oryx and Crake, try reading some Robin Cook for more medical mayhem.

The Dystopian Novel (Archive)

Hello World!

We recently decided to move to WordPress from another blogging platform. So the first few posts will basically be our old pieces. This one’s from way back in December 2012.

In a sudden burst of enthu-ness, yours truly will be reviewing three dystopian novels in a single post. Here we go.
The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
This trilogy (yes, an actual trilogy!) is pretty popular right now, and was made into a movie as well. And for good reason. They’re short, easy to read, and work on many levels. Action, ‘cute’ romance and sharp political commentary, they have it all. Don’t miss the jibes at media, advertising, and popular fashion squeezed between the near death battles and starvation/torture.
Rating: 4                        e-book friendly: yes
*Whatname will review this again, later.
A Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
This is a famous contemporary British novel. The story is very slow and not very gripping, but the thoughtful writing style makes up for all this book’s shortcomings with respect to plot and pacing. Set in a dystopian future where women are no longer respected , the story follows Offred, the official ‘mistress’ of a high ranking official, as she begins to rebel against the oppressive and cruel society that took away her freedom.
Rating: 3                        e-book friendly: yes
A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess
The movie based on this book is a classic, and you can see why. The opening few pages will horrify you, but keep you hooked. Alex is a not-so-nice teenager, a juvenile delinquent in fact. Murder, assault, vandalism and rape are part of his daily routine. What happens when classical conditioning (an old psychological trick, remember Pavlov’s dog?) is used to turn him off to the idea of violence? You get one of the most epic novels of all time.
One warning though: the narration uses a good amount of made-up slang, and it takes a bit of getting used to.
The novel gets its name from an old Cockney phrase, ‘Queer as a clockwork orange’, which refers to ‘a queerness so extreme as to subvert nature’.
Rating: 5                        e-book friendly: no
Other novels of this genre you should try: 1984 (classic!), The Giver, Fahrenheit 451.