Book Review: Ready Player One

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Wade Watts is a gunter.  That’s short for “Easter egg hunter,” which has nothing to do with the holiday.  Born into grinding poverty as the child of refugees in the energy-starved dystopian future, Wade was orphaned at an early age and put into the hands of a neglectful aunt living in a skyscraper trailer park/junk heap.  Gifted at repairing discarded and broken hardware, Wade’s one chance at getting out of this hardscrabble life is winning a contest.

Ready Player One

It seems that the billionaire creator of OASIS, the virtual reality that nearly everyone in the world uses for games, business and school, set up a game before his death.  James Donovan Halliday (Anorak on the internet) had a massive obsession with the pop culture of the 1980s, the decade he’d been a teen in.  The first person to solve a series of puzzles and complete tasks based on Eighties trivia, movies, games and music will inherit Halliday’s company and all its wealth.

Thus it is that Wade and his fellow gunters have also developed an obsession with the Eighties, as they scramble to be the first to find the Easter egg that will make its owner incredibly rich.  However, in five years no one has managed to pass the first gate.  Until, of course,  Wade stumbles across an obvious in retrospect clue.

In a bit of a surprise twist, he’s not the first to do so, but manages to be the first to accomplish the associated challenge.  The game shifts into overdrive as Wade (or rather his OASIS codename Parzival) becomes an overnight celebrity and target.  To win the contest he’s going to need more than a command of Monty Python jokes!  He may even need to go…outside.

This book reads like a young adult cyberpunk novel…written for geeky forty-somethings.  I’m a bit older than that, but still managed to get most of the references due to having been very geeky during the 1980s.  One of the notes that makes it obvious this is a book for grownups is that our protagonist gets a day job to pay his bills so he can devote time to being a gunter.

The main villains of the story are the IOI corporation and its Oology Division.  IOI wants the cash cow that is OASIS, and to make it “pay to play”, shutting out poor people like Wade and the others who live in the Stacks.  (They’ve already managed to get laws passed to legalize indentured servitude.)  IOI is fully willing to use its monetary and manpower resources to gain unfair advantage over ordinary gunters, and Wade soon discovers just how far the corporation will go to have its way.

Wade starts the story already gifted in the skills and knowledge he’ll need to accomplish his goal…except interpersonal relationship skills.  His background has made Parzival a paranoid solo operator, and over the course of the novel he must learn to build bonds of friendship with the other elite gunters he meets.  A common theme is that all of these people only know each other from virtual reality, and their avatars conceal (or reveal) important information about their true selves.

Though we wouldn’t have a story without it, I can’t help feeling that if Mr. Halliday had found some way of getting people to work on solving the “real world” problems of the dystopian future as hard as they were trying to perfectly recreate the 1980s in cyberspace, things wouldn’t be nearly as bad for Wade and others.  At least one of the gunters, Art3mis, does intend to use the money to try to fix things.

Apparently future society has stagnated or regressed on certain civil issues, back to the Nineties or so.  There’s also references to offpage sex.  It should be okay for junior high readers on up, but the heavy emphasis on things that were cool back in their parents’ time might be off-putting.

Recommended primarily to geeky forty-somethings, with some overlap for geeks on either side of “80s kids”.

Book Review: Kaiju: Lords of the Earth

Book Review: Kaiju: Lords of the Earth edited by Essel Pratt

Kaiju (“strange beast”) is primarily a subgenre of the monster movie that became codified in Japan.  They’re mostly gigantic monsters that are nigh-unstoppable by conventional armaments, and run around destroying cities or fighting other giant monsters.  The seeds of the story type were sown in the original King Kong movie, but it was Gojira (“Godzilla”) that codified it, and inspired most of the later examples.

Kaiju: Lords of the Earth

This is a collection of sixteen short stories and poems on the theme of kaiju, all appearing here for the first time.  The book opens with “Call of the Vailathi” by John Ledger, a poem that cautions that even when the kaiju is on your side, it is still a destructive force.  …At least it has a rhyme structure, that’s good.  The closing tale is “Unleashed in the East” as fracking releases a monster from the Java Sea, and two airline pilots must make a decision between saving themselves and saving the world.

I really enjoyed “The Wolf and the Rabbit” by Alice J. Black, in which a disaffected pub worker connects with another random survivor, and finds the will to do what must be done in this crisis.  If the monster seems too easily dispatched, there are hints it wasn’t the only one.

Also good is “Frankentop” by Amanda M. Lyons, which is told from the perspective of an artificial intelligence that both wants to be loved, and to protect itself.  Unfortunately, the latter is easier than the former.  Internet references abound.

“I Awoke…Wutoomba!” by Roy C. Booth homages the Marvel monster comics of the late Fifties and early Sixties.  Jack Lieiber, writer of fantastic fiction, travels to a South Seas island and runs into an assortment of stock characters, including the title monster.  This one is mostly going to please Marvel fanboys who get all the in-jokes.

Most anthologies have a dud or two, but seldom to the level of “The Plastic Centipede” by R.T. Sirk.  The monster itself is a cool idea, a giant centipede made of discarded mannequin parts and the vengeful spirits of a gangster’s victims.  But spellchecker typos, misplaced commas, badly structured sentences and characterization by telling, not showing make this story come off like the first draft of a fanfic, rather than a professionally published story.  This is clearly a failure of editing, as these banes of small press publishing should have been caught early on.

“A Day at the Racetrack” by Essel Pratt is also sub-par, as waste in a stock car racetrack’s inner pond turns animals giant-sized.  Regional stereotypes are played for broad humor, as are potty jokes.

The rest are decent enough stories.   Due to the very uneven quality, I would recommend this book only to kaiju fanatics or fans of a particular author for that one story.

 

Book Review: Battling the Clouds

Book Review: Battling the Clouds by Captain Frank Cobb

It is shortly after World War One, and two boys, both sons of majors, have come to be stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Frank Anderson’s father is in Aviation, while Bill Sherman’s stepfather is a teacher at the School of Fire (Artillery.)  Bill is new to Army life, his mother only recently having remarried, but he has an uncle in the automotive design business that built a  miniature (but fully functional) car for him.   Frank is a little envious, especially after Bill’s family gets Corporal Lee, who’s part Cherokee, to be their orderly.

Battling the Clouds

While in town one day, the two friends meet Horace Jardin, scion of the Jardin automotive empire.  Horace is boastful and spoiled, but extremely wealthy, something Frank would like to be.  That fall, all three of them wind up at the same boarding school back East, because it’s the only one that has an aviation program.  Indeed, a Canadian boy named Ernest is also attending for the same reason.

But all is not study and flying lessons.  For there’s been a robbery, with an innocent man accused.  Only a desperate cross country flight by a first time pilot can save the day!

This book is surprisingly good, better than several of the similar ones I’ve recently read, despite being written for an even younger audience.  To put it in a single word, this book has nuance.  Yes, the moralizing is rather heavy-handed.   But some of the story is told from the viewpoint of the villain, detailing how what was once a small personality flaw leads him bit by bit down the path of crime.

SPOILERS from this point on.

A nice touch is that Jardin isn’t the bad guy here.  Yes, he’s a spoiled brat, and a bad influence, but he’s not the villain.  Frank is, letting his envy drive him from using racist statements to try to turn Bill against Lee, to pawning his grandfather’s watch under an assumed name, to theft and finally assault with a deadly weapon.  He even attempts to swindle Jardin out of a perfectly good airplane with sabotage.

Bill, by contrast, is a little goody-two-shoes, who always obeys his mother and follows rules–but is naive and fails to grasp until nearly too late what’s been happening with Frank.  Did I mention they’re both twelve?

There’s some odd statements about Native Americans in the narration, but the only overtly racist sentiments come from Ernest (ignorant) and Frank (deliberately malicious.)  Frank’s also rather sexist, showing this mostly by denigrating sensible things Bill does as “like a girl” or “only a woman cares about that sort of thing.”   Bill notes that the best knitter he knows is a very manly big game hunter.

While the story takes forever to really get going (and then piles on the coincidences in the last couple of chapters) there are some gems in the meantime, like this passage:

“All through luncheon Frank thought of the money.  He went off into day-dreams in which he rescued the daughter of the Colonel from all sorts of dangers and invariably after each rescue, the Colonel would say, ‘My boy, thanks are too tame.  I insist, in fact I order you to accept this little token of my regard.’   And then he would  press into Frank’s hand six hundred dollars.  It was thrilling; and in a day-dream so easy.

“The fact that the Colonel’s daughter was a strapping damsel who stood five feet eight and weighed one hundred and sixty pounds and always took the best of care of herself in all kinds of tight places without asking odds of anyone, did not affect Frank’s day-dreams at all.  Neither did the fact that the Colonel was well known to be so close with his money that he had learned to read the headlines upside down so that he seldom had to buy a paper of a newsy!    Six hundred dollars…it would have killed him!”

I kind of want to read about the tight-fisted Colonel and his highly competent (and strapping) daughter and their adventures.   Late in the book, we also meet a farm boy named Webby, who we are told was inspired by his small part in events to become a great man.

This book should be suitable for kids (especially boys) ten and up, but with the usual caveat that parents should help them understand that the 1920s was a time with different attitudes.  (And there are now laws against 12-year-olds driving cars on public highways.)

TV Review: Sheriff of Cochise/United States Marshal | The Lone Wolf

TV Review: Sheriff of Cochise/United States Marshal | The Lone Wolf

Frank Morgan (John Bromfield) was the Sheriff of Cochise County in Arizona and then became a United States Marshal in a series that ran from 1956 to 1960.  While the show was Western-flavored, it was more police procedural than cowboy show.

Sheriff of Cochise

I watched four episodes, two from the first part and two from after the retool, on DVD.

  • “The Red-Headed Visitor”  An auto mechanic is missing, and turns up murdered.  Suspicion initially rests on his pharmacist brother in law, with whom he’d quarreled, but the sheriff suddenly realizes that a tourist at a local resort is a known criminal.   The audience knows this from the beginning, as we see the redhead buy blond hair dye, and the mechanic make a gesture that disparages the visitor’s masculinity.
  • “Bank Robbery”  Exactly what it sounds like.  Two clever robbers have hit several banks, but take a little too long to case their next job.  This makes the tellers suspicious, and the sheriff comes up with a trap.  Neither plan goes right, but this is a cop show.
  • “Rest In Peace”  A guard implicated in an armored car robbery is shot and left for dead.  Things get complicated at the hospital when two women show up, both claiming to be his wife.  (One of them is lying.)  In a desperate attempt to escape, the criminals kidnap a deputy marshal.
  • “The Diner”  Two escaped convicts try to track down a third member of their gang who they believe is holding out money on them.  It turns into a hostage situation which predictably doesn’t end well for them.  The diner of the title appears at the beginning; the cook is an ex-con the escapees pump for information.

It’s an average TV show of its period, most interesting for its time capsule qualities and the fact that it was largely shot in Bisbee, Arizona and locals can probably spot many of the buildings.

The Lone Wolf was Michael Lanyard, a jewel thief turned private detective.  He was created in 1914 by Louis Joseph Vance, starred in a number of books, and then over twenty movies and a radio show.

The Lone Wolf

What we’re concerned with here is the television show, with Louis Hayward as the title character, which ran 1954-1955 and also ran in syndication as Streets of Danger.  None of the episodes I saw mentioned the jewel thief past, although it was clear there was some shadiness.  This version carried a unique medallion that served as his calling card.  The DVD had five episodes.

  • “The Las Vegas Story”  The Lone Wolf is hired to find a man who’d been falsely accused of murder and convince him to come in for a trial.  It’s more complicated than that.  Highlights include DeForest Kelly as a murder victim, and a tense but overlong chase scene set inside Hoover Dam (I’m guessing they had to pay big bucks for the location shoot and decided to milk it.)
  • “The Beverly Hills Story”  Michael Lanyard is surprised to discover that he is now a married man, although he does have a gap in his memories of Reno.  Mrs. Lanyard certainly knows more about him than she should!  The real game is blackmail.
  • “The Oil Story”  The Lone Wolf is called to Oklahoma.  It seems a violent criminal has kidnapped his son from his ex-wife.  Lanyard goes undercover as a roughneck (badly, he doesn’t have the hands of an oil worker) and seeks out the rest of the story.  The father has a black servant who looks embarrassed to be in this role, like the actor was desperate for a paycheck and this was the best work he could find.
  • “The Karachi Story”  Most of the story takes place in India, as the leader of a religious group has asked Lanyard to protect his son.  Seems there are two factions in the sect, the one that builds hospitals and soup kitchens, and the one that wants to spend all the money improving the living standards of the priests.  All well and good, but there are also two Michael Lanyards!  Identity confusion abounds.  All the South Asian people are played by white Americans in brownface.
  • “The Stamp Story”  A valuable stamp has gone missing, believed stolen, and Lanyard is called in to find it for the mysterious collector “Deep River.”  Much fun is had with the antics of an eccentric stamp dealer and another stamp collector who’s blind.  The blind man’s daughter has a rare hairstyle, I don’t know the actual name, but it frosts the forelocks into curly horn shapes.

Mr. Hayward portrays the Lone Wolf as a bit cynical, willing to flirt with women but seldom going further, and a vicious in-fighter.  The series is old-fashioned, but has its charms.

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents Super Friends

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents Super Friends by Various

Back in the 1970s, there was a Saturday morning cartoon titled Superfriends.  It featured several superheroes from DC Comics,, plus “Junior Super Friends” Wendy and Marvin, trainee superheroes with their pet Wonderdog.   Each episode taught valuable life lessons to kids across America.  While reruns of the cartoon continue even today, younger fans may not be aware there used to be a tie-in comic book as well.

Showcase Presents Super Friends

Because the Comics Code of the time was surprisingly less restrictive than the Standards & Practices Board that governed children’s broadcasting, the writers of the comic book had more flexibility to put in story elements that explained how the team worked, and the full range of the heroes’ powers.  The book took place in a close parallel of the DC universe, so other superheroes could guest star.

Now, I said the writers could be more flexible than the TV show, but I am still amazed that they got away with mass murder as a plot point in the third issue.  Some of the deaths even happened on panel!  And they weren’t even reversed by the end of the story.  To explain, a mad scientist captures over a hundred supervillains (none of whom were established characters) and disintegrates them to create the World-Beater, which has all their powers combined.

After a few issues, the comic book explained (as the show never did) the change from the first season’s Marvin and Wendy, to the later Wonder Twins, aliens named Jan and Zayna.   This was a truly epic plot which also introduced a slew of international superheroes who later joined the mainstream DCU as the Global Guardians.  (It also gave the comic some much-needed ethnic diversity.)

Many creators worked on the series, but the distinctive art of Ramona Fradon is perhaps most representative.

Aside from the mass murder, this is a kid-friendly title; there are some dated attitudes that parents might want to discuss with their children.  The writing is typical for the time period, and certainly better than the television show.

Recommended for fans of the Superfriends cartoon and nostalgic comics fans.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...