Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Published: 16th August 2011 (print) / 5th April 2012 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Crown Publishers / Random House AudioBooks
Pages: 374 / 15 hrs and 40 mins
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Format:
 Paperback/Audio
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. 

I loved this story. I loved that Wade was able to geek out about his love of videos games and it was a widely supported thing. I also loved how Cline brilliantly and so creatively managed to combine popular culture and video games with a futuristic dystopian setting while also making it feel so retro at the same time.

It was a good move on Cline’s part to establish that Wade was obsessed with all things 80s. It made sense in terms of Halliday and it helped include as many references as possible without needing to explain it to the readers too much. Knowing Wade is the kind of stickler for details and knowing so much, it also made sense to have so many references about every song that plays or game that’s mentioned. The moments of convenience where Wade knows what something is to tell us, the uninformed reader, doesn’t come across as unbelievable because it has been long proven that Wade knows obscure details and is proud of it.

The world and future Cline has created sounds both amazing, terrifying, and also pretty much believable. The detail he included is astounding because so often it doesn’t mean anything but it expands on the OASIS universe or real society just that little bit more. I loved that when Wade was logged into the OASIS you felt like you too were immersed inside the virtual reality and I could easily imagine every move he made inside the system. Cline’s writing explains the futuristic dystopian world wonderfully and creates a vivid image of that society is like at both ends and across the country and how it connects naturally with the OASIS system.

There is everything to love about this book if you like the 80s, or are a fan of videogames. The 80s references are abundant, and the joy in reliving movies and games from a less technological time is brilliant. It gave me a great appreciation of how far videos games have come, even if a few of them were fabricated the familiar concept was there; creating avatars, inventories and points, not to mention the solving of riddles and treasure hunts. The other retro joy was remembering arcade games and seeing familiar games in the spotlight again.

The 2045 setting allowed Cline to take from both worlds, not so far in the future that a focus and having believable knowledge and access to 20th century media wasn’t possible, but also far enough ahead that based on current technology and gaming trends, it is also highly believable that we could get to that stage with minds like Halliday at the helm.

There are a myriad of surprises in this book, you never know what to expect because you don’t know what kind of world Cline has created and when anything is possible inside virtual reality, anything is possible. What I found interesting was that I actually found this quite believable. I could see that if such a system existed that there would be those who would try and monetise it and make it more exclusive. I could also see that when there is a mass fortune on the line people can get desperate.

Cline’s imagination is astounding. He has created a world and a virtual world that brings together so many vast and obscure references that even though I knew only a few, I still loved that they were there. I had so much trust in him that these games and characters existed I didn’t even question it. This is just one of the reasons I loved this book. It is so clever, and the OASIS is such a fantastic world that the inside jokes and references make it a better experience, and the excitement Wade has as he hunts for the egg is shared by the reader. Well, this reader anyway.

It’s not just the references or the structure, the characters he has put into this world make all the difference as well. The development and understanding of online relationships is wonderful and I found myself wishing that such a system like OASIS existed because it sounds amazing. Wade’s online connections as Parzival with Art3mis, Aech, and all the other online avatars demonstrates a great community and allows Cline to show off more of this amazing OASIS that he has created and allows him to show more sides of its functions, away from just hunting for the egg.

I listened to both the audiobook and read the physical book. The audio was read by Wil Wheaton and he did a great job. It was especially more enjoyable because Wil himself is mentioned in the book as well as multiple Star Trek references.  I like to think that even if you didn’t like or play video games or even if you don’t like or understand a lot of the references you would still enjoy this book. It has mystery and suspense, and there are twists and turns and surprises that make it an engaging read. Like a video game there are battles and side quests, and there are levels that you must go through even if you don’t realise it when you read. An important part too is that Cline keeps the timeline realistic, understanding that with all puzzles there can be short bursts and long waits, and Cline fits his story into this mould perfectly.

I think I could go on about this book forever but I won’t. I urge you to read it if it’s something you think you would like, even if you don’t think you will give it a go. It’s an adventure and a mystery and it’s dystopia all in one.

You can purchase Ready Player One via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

QBD | Fishpond | Dymocks

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Angus & Robertson | Wordery

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Published: 25th July 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Tinder Press
Pages: 341
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction Dystopia
★   ★  – 2 Stars

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

I first picked this up because the blurb sounded interesting. I liked the idea of this mystery and what happened at the end of the summer. What suddenly changed for all these girls? However, what I found when I started reading was a strange story that had great potential to be an eerie cult society but still failed to hold my interest. I soon found myself skimming it because while I was intrigued about the mystery when I first picked it up, I wasn’t engaged enough to read the rest.

Melamed tells the story through the eyes of a select few girls. There are chapters devoted to these girls and each of their stories and experiences and they cross over with one another’s lives. They are all widely different from one another, and yet they are similar as well. The overarching nature of their lives a constant reminder and is almost a threat hanging over them.

There’re a few uncomfortable things hinted at but not shown about what happens to these young girls, and the strong cult vibe is a little unsettling, though curious in its own right as most cult stories are. But the problem I found is that while there is a mystery about the whole island and the people within it, and you are following the strange and bizarre lives of these girls over many months, it isn’t a very engaging story to read.

It was curious and odd, which was interesting in its own way, but it also had moments when it was just boring. If you look deep into it there is a strong female power of rebellion and defiance, of a powerful patriarchy and an unease about how and why this entire society even happened. Melamed does tell a good story of joy and freedom, coupled with imprisonment and control. The darkness ever present as the secrets that are untold and the taboo moments are skirted around hang heavy over the vast amount of characters you have to keep track of. And yet, I still had to skim the story because I didn’t really care and these great moments, while recognisable, weren’t compelling.

This duel emotion was perplexing because as I say, on the surface it should be an interesting read, albeit eerie and unsettling. I felt nothing for the characters and I wasn’t interested in what happened to them or what they were going to experience. The few surprises were nice but had no real effect on my reading and I found myself skipping pages just to get further into the story and closer to the end, still not game to stop entirely in case there was some answer or mystery to be revealed because if the mystery hinted at was somewhere in what I had already read, it wasn’t really worth the trouble.

You can purchase Gather the Daughters via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia

Fishpond | Wordery | QBD

Amazon Aust | Amazon

The Exclusion Wars by Sheila Agnew

Published: 21st December 2015 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Oxiana Road Publishing
Pages: 204
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/ Thriller
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

A thriller set in 2025, in which teenager, Mateo Rivera, is in hiding as “Matt” in New York City where he must avoid capture by Mr. Rienham, the new chief of the Deportation of Latinos Agency, hand-picked for the job by President Trent himself. 

But Matt isn’t alone; he’s got the Underground, an organisation which advocates peaceful resistance. He’s been trained by the mysterious Underground leader, Polaris; harboured by reluctant shepherd and drop-out lawyer, Steve; and he has the not always helpful but well-intentioned support of his best friend, fifteen year-old, wannabe Navy Seal, Danni Singh. 

Rienham, the DLA and its roving pack of DepoDogs aren’t Matt’s only problems. There’s a new enemy on the horizon, and it calls itself The Latino Alliance. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review.

I really liked this book; it is every bit the thriller it claims to be while still balancing the storyline, drama, emotion, and all the other wonderful elements as well. With the Latinos being sent into exile or worse, those who haven’t fled are in hiding, and those who can pass are constantly worrying about being found out.

It’s a fascinating story with a wonderful insight into what fear and hatred can do to a country if the right voice is convincing enough. It also shows how laws and views of the few can shape the opinions of the many, influencing them in how they see others. What’s great about Agnew’s writing is that this can all be read into it, it doesn’t come across on the page as a blatant message about acceptance and about prejudice, Agnew uses the writing to subtly say things through the story rather than shoving it down our throats.

Agnew has created a story that is slightly prophetic in a way, because Agnew based Trent on a Trump like figure but wrote it years before Trump decided to run which makes it even eerier. It depicts a future that, honestly, is on the closer side to believable than not, the explanations are there about how this came about, gradually, and with the right set of circumstances, snowballing before it could be stopped, all really quite plausible. The dictator style of Trent and the control he and his lackeys have created bring this future to life with detail and well roundedness that makes it real.

The characters are fantastic and definitely a highlight of the story. They are all so unique, fully fledged, each with a passion of their own and not just there to play a role around Matt’s story.  Matt is a great kid and an excellent narrator. He tells his story well and Agnew uses his voice and conversations to inform the reader without needing to include large amounts of back story. Matt never forgets where he’s come from or who he is, but he is smart enough to keep the thoughts to himself, and always remember his training. He is adult in some ways, having to keep secrets about his heritage, knowing delicate information and constantly having to check his behaviour and actions so as not to get caught, but at the same time he is also very much the 14-year-old as well. He has an attitude, he has crushes on girls, he has friends to hang out with and get in trouble with, and he misses his mum immensely.

There is a continual sense of thrill and suspense, but all for different reasons. It’s the suspense of Matt thinking he’s about to be found out at school, the anticipation about whether someone knows his secret, tension when he is trapped and unable to send for help, the constant feeling you’ve developed that something is about to go wrong at any given moment. Agnew definitely makes you become involved with the varying levels of thrill and suspense she’s created and when there’s actual drama and action is brings it to a whole other level entirely.

You can’t ignore the similarities to the current situation in America when reading this story, but it is a fascinating read and doesn’t read like a response to current events, it remains in the futuristic realm, even if it is barely ten years in the future. Agnew begins and concludes this story wonderfully and it’s the right balances of everything in the middle. I would definitely love to read a second book so I can keep reading about these characters and this strange yet familiar world they live in.

You can purchase The Exclusion Wars via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

Risen (#1) by M. T. Miller

Published: 13th January 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 87
Format: ebook
Genre: Dystopian Fantasy
★   ★  – 2 Stars

In the middle of nowhere, a nameless individual rises from the dark. With barely any knowledge apart from how to speak and how to kill, he finds himself in a world gone mad. Worse off, nearly everything that moves is out for his blood. 

Not knowing where to turn, the wanderer traverses the desolate landscape of a ruined continent. Along his travels, his mind and body are pushed to their limits as he desperately tries to make sense of what is going on, what he is, and why he exists. 

Foe after foe meets their end at his hands, yet each kill only serves to raise more questions. Is he even human? What has happened to the world? Where does his path lead?
The answer lies beyond the blood-stained horizon.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

From the start Miller fills you with curiosity with a main character with no memory and a target on his back. From then on it leads you into a strange story filled with mutated people and a society that has fallen apart.

Unfortunately, I just could not get into this book. I could see where Miller has left room for the continuing series which is great, there is a curiosity to finding out exactly what happened to Nameless and more about this dystopian land he’s found himself in. But while it was an ok read, I couldn’t engage very well with the characters or the story. I feel like I’m the only one because other reviews are giving out three and five stars so maybe don’t just take my word on it.

There was a lot I liked, Miller’s writing is evocative and clever, the opening pages are vivid and descriptive; the story certainly opens on a surprise and there are a few good twists. You become used to Nameless and his strange ways, you also settle into the story and learn alongside Nameless as he discovers where he is and what he might be. With a back story provided by a beggar Nameless befriends, a brief rundown is given about how the continent has ended up the way it has. This brief explanation is actually enough for now as there are other pressing matters happening, and the vicious Skulls hunting Nameless are their own mystery to focus on.

Miller has been clever in that through Nameless’ escape from these menaces we’re shown a bit more of the world and where it’s ended up. We also discover more things about Nameless on the way in interesting and mystifying ways. Being the first in a series it’s evident that there will be more revealed later on, and Miller offers just enough to satisfy while leaving room to reveal more further down the track.

It is action packed which reinforces that idea that Nameless is always being hunted, and the scenes change quite quickly but I didn’t mind that. To me it suited this strange new world where danger is everywhere, and the more you see of the Skulls you realise they are relentless in their chase and there’s never a moment of peace.

It’s intriguing and not without charm, there isn’t a great deal of suspense or draw that keeps you reading, it’s more idle curiosity to see where it will go. The mystery of Nameless is a mystery worth solving on its own; whether this is enough to propel you onto the next book I’m not sure. It’s a short read which works in its favour so perhaps with each installation and more of the story is revealed an alluring tale will be told.

You can purchase Risen via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

 

Dare to Dream by Carys Jones

Published: 14th February 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
REUTS Publications
Pages: 260
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopia
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

“The world was going to end. Of that, Maggie Trafford was certain.”

Fourteen-year-old Maggie Trafford leads a normal life. Well, as normal as being crammed in a three-bedroom house with four siblings and a single parent can be, anyway. But despite being somewhat ignored at home, Maggie excels, earning top grades, a best friend who would do anything for her, and stolen looks from a boy in Maths. 

It’s not until the dreams start that Maggie realises “normal” is the least of her problems. Every night, she lives the same nightmare—red lightning, shattered glass, destruction. But nightmares are just that, right? No one believes her when she says it’s an omen. At least, not until the already mysterious pillars of Stonehenge start falling. 

No longer alone in her fear, Maggie and the world watch with bated breath as one after another, the historic stones tumble, like a clock counting down. But only Maggie knows what it means: when the last stone falls, destruction will reign. And when the world ends, there’s only one option left—survive.

Horrifying and raw, Dare to Dream is equal parts tragedy and hope, detailing the aftermath of apocalyptic catastrophe, the quest for survival, and the importance of belief. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This is a fantastic story. Jones has created a gripping story about the fall of humanity but has done so with style, anticipation, and mystery. There are not certainties about anything and despite best efforts

Maggie is a great character. She is not portrayed as being anyone particularly special, she has a hard home life, her family get on her nerves sometimes, and she is often ignored and cast aside. But despite this, she is still a sweet person, and she tries to understand everything and everyone as best she can. When strange things start to happen and she has strange dreams, there is no indication that Maggie is the sole person to save everyone, but she tries anyway because that’s who she is.

The build up and the waiting make the story strong; the anticipation, the uncertainty, even Maggie’s fruitless attempts at trying to alert her family and authority figures all add to the suspense. Both reader and Maggie are not sure what is going to happen and when the countdown starts there is no telling what will happen at the end other than what Maggie keeps seeing in her dreams.

Jones’ writing is gripping and real, and the sudden changes and the unexpectedness can be a shock but it can also create excellent tension and suspense. The writing captures the feeling and the despair of the apocalyptic environment superbly, and with detailed and vivid descriptions the eerie undertone and isolation is expressed beautifully.

Even before the event occurs Jones inserts you into the story, right from the beginning. Maggie’s frustrations and her anxiety, the intense friendships and the isolation all shine from the pages. Jones highlights the fear and the trauma after the fact as well, the frustration and the confusion, the shock and the determination are coupled with vivid descriptions and amazing detail that express everything Maggie and the others are experiencing.

One thing I loved about this was the conclusion. Jones brings it to a close perfectly where there are questions, just enough left unexplained to leave you wanting more but content with where it’s ended and enough of a resolution to offer hope and satisfaction.

There are certainly surprises, some more grim than others, and an unexpectedness that adds an extra spark to the story. As you read Jones tempts you by never really confirming things or reassuring you things will go the way they appear to be going which only adds to the anticipation. The unexpected nature of events adds urgency and a nice sense of reality among the science fiction aspect; nothing is mapped out, a rushed plan is formed, and human nature and instinct often override the best-laid plans. It is an incredibly well told and clever story you certainly won’t forget anytime soon.

You can purchase Dare to Dream via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust