So I was reading yesterday that Steven Spielburg is moving ahead with his movie adaptation of the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
Based on this, I was reminded of my review I wrote after listening to the audio book for the first time, but more importantly, I was reminded of roughly this time last year, when I decided I was going to give the book another chance, and relisten to it.
For those who will remember my previous review, I really enjoyed it to begin with, but as the book went on I got more and more annoyed with Cline's style of writing, how rather than be imaginative about something, when he had to 'create' something, he just instead pulled something out of the 1980s, and said it was like that. In other words, just using other people's works rather than being creative himself.
Mostly though however I took issue with the ending. I know it's not good to spoil, and so: SPOILER WARNING:
The lead kid gets a girlfriend and stops playing videogames.
I said at the time, and I still believe that this is either a deliberate, or subconscious play on the traditional (offensive) stereotype that all videogame playing geeks are "fat, lazy, sofa dwellers" (quote from Peaches Geldof), and the only reason they play games is because they can't get laid.
- Maybe this was the case with Cline himself, who knows, maybe when he met his wife/husband/life partner/whoever, they were not supportive of his hobbies and so he gave them up, or maybe he actually was using videogames as a replacement for human interaction, when in reality 'all he wanted, was to be loved'. I don't know, but I see no reason why his girlfriend (also a prolific videogamer) and him couldn't keep playing videogames together. You know, like how my wife and I do. Those who play together, stay together! Now that would have been an ending that is celebrating geek culture, not a form of self-flagellation.
So I revisited the book, and with the knowledge of the end and what happens to all the characters, I found so much more, sometimes hidden within the text, other times hiding in plain sight. Most of it was just economical nonsense, such as hating on 'the big companies' all the while loving the company who owns the OASIS, and the CEOs of it, which in itself is a multibillion dollar company and two of the richest men alive. So in this case, either the lead character, or (as I am inclined to think) Cline himself, is a hypocrite.
Then there is the lack of realism in the world itself. Apparently there is a total lack of fuel, most of all being oil. This has caused the global economy to crash. Ok I can buy into that.
So along comes the OASIS, provided by these guys, including a game console, a VR headset, and a set of haptic gloves. All of which costs only $0.5!
Ok I call bullshit here! Providing that sort of hardware for half a dollar? Fuck off! Remember we are talking about a world that has a serious lack of oil. What are electronic hardware made of? Something that is an insulator most of the time, so... Plastic! What is plastic made from? Oh shit! Oil! And no subscription fee? To keep a virtual world with high quality content alive? Fuck-no! I've played those 'free to play' online games. They are shit, unstable and full to jack of gold selling spammers. That's why I play World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14, both require subscriptions, and both are all the better for it.
Next we have the references. The continuous references.
You know, after listening to Ready Player One the first time, I then went on to listen to Neuromancer by William Gibson.
It was like a breath of fresh air. Suddenly I was reminded of what it was like to listen to a SciFi book steeped in a virtual world that was actually imaginative and innovating, rather than just imitating. To write something as a knowing nod every once in a while is something! It's amusing, entertaining, and let's the audience feel part of the 'in' crowd. Doing it every bloody paragraph is just lazy writing.
Last but not least, we had the lead character. Every single time he encountered a hurdle, be it needing to play a certain game, or knowing the dialogue of a certain film, by total coincidence, he was an expert in that particular game and/or film.
In internet culture they have something called a Mary Sue, a character who appears to have no faults, or if they do, these faults never impact on the story. The challenges encountered, the characters are always experts in their fields. In fantasy it may be in magic, combat, black smithing, AND habidashery. In this, it's that he never encounters something that he is not an apparent university graduate on. On the few occasions he does encounter something that he should have trouble with (actual physical combat) then he has a giant fucking mech which he just so happened to have won in an earlier challenge.
Again, this is lazy writing.
Just once I would have liked to have the lead character out-trivia'd by someone else, or in any situation where he wasn't smarter, wittier, faster than someone else, and more importantly, not always so fucking smug about it.
I suspect that what we are looking here is some sort of victory/power fantasy for Cline. The lead character represents him, someone who can't bring anything to the table beyond an obscure knowledge of '80s pop culture references. So instead of just dealing with that, Cline has attempted to create his own world where these totally useless skills make him not just a hero, but a pseudo God!
After 2 hours of giving this another shot, I turned to my phone and said "Enough!" Shut it off and deleted the audiobook from my phone.
Don't get me wrong, I wanted to like this book. Something that is vaulted as one of the modern classics of geek literature, but it wasn't. It was just bad. Like the crew of Ecto1 despairing at the health inspector as he shuts off the containment unit (see I can do it too), I just knew that whoever thought this, and by proxy, the film adaptation, was just a bad idea.
Now excuse me while I jump into my virtual delorean and drive off to a party so I can have a random shape shifting-light dance off with my significant other. Why? Will this forward any story or narrative? Of course not, but people will think it's cool...
- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley