recommended by Reddit

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.

Movie Adaptations, Morals in Children’s Books, etc

Firstly: Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility movie.

I haven’t read this classic by Jane Austen, despite liking Pride and Prejudice. But Emma Thompson won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for this one, and I wanted to understand what exactly goes into adapting a screenplay. I mean, Austen did all the work already didn’t she? Plus, it’s Ang Lee’s first English language movie and he is all famous now.

I’ve concluded that there are only a dozen active British actors. You see them once in a while in Hollywood movies, but whenever any big budget Brit movie is made, they congregate into one star-studded lineup. This is no different. Emma Thompson (Professor Trelawney), Kate Winslet (from that sinking ship movie) and Hugh Grant (from all those chick flicks) play the main roles. And Alan Rickman (Professor Snape) is one of the romantic heroes!!

The story has the typical Austen-esque drama- “He talked to me, but he is already engaged!”. But the characters are not as cartoon-y as the book, I think.

All in all, a well made movie especially if you’re a fan of the genre or can appreciate the subtleties of good direction and acting.

Secondly: CS Lewis’s Narnia series, and what he really meant.

The Narnia series is widely accepted to be a Christian allegory, with King Aslan playing the role of Jesus. The question, then, is what does Susan’s situation signify? As a kid, it never bothered me one way or another. She enters the magic kingdom along with her brothers and sisters, and in due turn, is banned from it when she becomes ‘too old’. However, she does not return at the end of the series even though her older brother Peter does. This is attributed to the fact that she has ‘discovered lipstick’ and is interested in socializing. Which is still okay, until you realize that she’s being punished pretty severely for these ‘mistakes’- her entire family dies in a train crash at the end of book seven. Harsh. Reddit has discussed different interpretations here, give it a look if you’re familiar with the series and curious. As always, Reddit’s infamous hive-mind has come up with some amazing stuff.

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.

What’s the opposite of Chick Lit?

You might be familiar with the concept of chick flicks- Hollywood romantic comedies targeted towards the segment of society that paints its nails to match its clothing. You may even have heard of chick lit, which is basically the literary version of the same thing (but slightly more intellectual, because reading). Both of those things, to me, are good entertainment but not really works of art.

This is my review of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. I’d seen this book recommended several times on Reddit as a light, amusing read and decided to give it a shot.

Our narrator is Rob Fleming, a thirty-something former DJ who now runs a record store. He and his colleagues (whom he doesn’t seem to like too much) spend most of their time making Top 5 lists, but they manage to scrape by. Rob’s just gone through a breakup, which prompts him to list his top 5 most painful breakups to stop himself from obsessing about the most recent one. Which is amusing, but doesn’t seem like a great idea…

Rob soon goes back to obsessing about his relationship, and the next-door neighbour that his ex seems to be shacking up with. And then about his unsuccessful career. And then about how his parents have a more lively social life than he does. And then about his commitment phobia. Spoiler alert: A lot of obsessing happens in this book.

He does have some pretty insightful views on life and relationships. This isn’t a romance per se- there are no confessions of love or weddings or epiphanies- but that’s what makes this book a 1000x more realistic than all the other fluff out there. ‘Cause everyone feels like a loser once in a while, and I doubt real life happy endings are accompanied by cheerful pop music.

Read this, if you want a light story with a good narrative style. Or if you want to read the male version of Princess Diaries– overthinking and self improvement plans everywhere! 3/5 from me.

PS: The answer to the question posed in the title is apparently “dick-lit”. The Internet is very, uh, educational.