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

Artemis by Andy Weir

Published: 14th November 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Broadway Books
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

As someone who ADORED The Martian almost to a serious fault, I was disappointed this didn’t live up to the same feeling. Once I adjusted my expectations and stopped trying to compare it to The Martian, I enjoyed the story. Pushing past that barrier proved extremely difficult because I found myself constantly thinking back to Weir’s other work which, not only is unfair to him, but unfair to my reading experience. I kept expecting it to feel the same, to have the same likeable characters, and the same awe inspiring world.

Jazz is a character who is who normally doesn’t get up to too much trouble herself, she merely aides the illegalities of others. She is clever, too clever for what she is doing but she is stubborn and doesn’t listen when people tell her she has great potential. One of her clear character “charms” is that she is continuing her teenage rebelling well into her twenties which is something you have to get used to because it gets on your nerve a bit. I kept forgetting how old she was meant to be with her behaviour sometimes, but taken with the perspective of her whole story and experience it is slightly forgivable.

Some of Weir’s justifications for her behaviour and relationships was a bit thin, a stolen boyfriend at 17 causes a 10 year rift between friends, and a strange jealously of a fellow co-worker adds to her childish nature as well. There is nothing wrong with having an unlikable character, my only concern was that she was meant to be likeable on some level and it hasn’t hit that mark at all. But character assessment aside, once you accept who she is as a character you can focus more on the story around her.

My interest increased when I realised it was to become somewhat of a mystery. I liked the detective aspect and the problems that needed to be solved. I enjoyed the challenges Jazz faced, especially being in the unique situation of being on the moon. It added new problems and barriers, and it allowed Weir to introduce us more to this world he had created. The only downside was I felt the language was repetitive, and the delivery of information wasn’t always as seamless and natural as it could have been.

Weir has created a great world, one that works in a believable manner. It is futuristic while being grounded in a known reality, combined with a long held science fiction premise: a society on the moon with people who visit, people who live there, and people who are born there. His complicated world construction is aided once again by maps to help you picture the location of everything  and get a sense of this futuristic location with logistics about the day to day life explained through plot points and exposition. The science once again came across as realistic and plausible. It didn’t feel quite so seamless and natural as The Martian, but that might have something to do with the story structure itself. Instead of Watney writing his journal and explaining his process in that form, Jazz tells us her own story in first person and it feels clunky and at times unnatural.

I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy it but that’s not true. I didn’t love it, but I liked it and I liked the story Weir told. The plot went beyond just a space story and it shows that people will always be people no matter their circumstance or location. There was mystery and intrigue, and there was clever science that I really enjoyed learning about and seeing put into practice.

I quite liked the ending, I think Weir redeemed himself with how he handled the final chapters. There is intrigue, mysteries, and the suspense of things not going to plan. I’d gotten used to Jazz by the end and while I actually thought there were going to be a few more surprises I enjoyed the ending. It made sense for the journey we’d been on and the story Weir was trying to tell.

You can purchase Artemis via the following

Book Depository | QBD

Dymocks | Fishpond | Booktopia

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Angus & Robertson

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

Published: 28 October 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Random House
Pages: 387
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. 

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. 

After a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’s surface, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. 

Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

I love this book. I knew before I started I would love this book. It’s funny and clever, and I love it. You don’t need to know anything about space or Mars or NASA because Weir writes in such a way that it is all official and practical, but it isn’t bogged down the technical language. You know what is happening at all times and it makes you amazed. This is helped along by Watney’s logs, he is a character who is fun and light-hearted so he makes jokes, and enjoys himself, even when he is in dire situations.

The events in the novel take place over a couple of years, switching between Mars and Earth. The book starts right in the middle of crisis mode on Mars. Watney is presumed dead and the team have left him behind. From there we see his struggle to survive and eventually we get to see their journey home with the knowledge he’s died and can’t be brought home. Watney is the main narrator, he gets first-person control. But there’s ample third-person narration that comes in a few chapters in where we see the NASA side of things and how various characters contribute and are dealing with the Mars Situation. I liked the characters Weir compiled to create his not so distant future NASA (the year is never actually stated but it can be worked out and the answer is online). They’re clever and tough and take no backchat. But they’re also good at their jobs and excited about what they do which makes it fun for the reader to experience alongside them.

One criticism: Didn’t like Annie. I know we don’t have to like all the characters but she actually didn’t come across as A Character We’re Not Meant To Like. She was fine until she started making fun of the ‘nerds’. Really Weir? Are you telling me, NASA’s Director of Media Relations would be making fun of the NASA scientists for liking LOTR? The brilliant NASA scientists who are working on saving a man left on Mars? Is Annie just some random reporter who likes making fun of “nerds” despite them being in NASA herself and who deals with important things like sending people to space. Is that a nerdy thing? I don’t know. I have steered this off the review but it annoys me so much that we still feel the need to make these jokes in movies and books. Can we never let go of the stereotype of making fun of people for liking things other people deem uncool? Anyway, rant over. Back to the awesome book which is awesome despite Annie. (Also it’s very hard to emphasise the importance of NASA when it is already in capitals).

What I also loved about this was nothing was rushed. You see Watney’s full time on Mars albeit a few months here and there. You see his slow progress working things out and taking the time to travel outside the HAB. None of it drags out, because Weir needs to explain Watney’s process makes it seem plausible, and because it’s Watney it’s fun and interesting and hilarious. No kidding, there is so much humour in this book it’s amazing. I predominantly chose to read this book because of one hilarious snippet I saw posted online and that got me in (the biggest outrage was this scene was not in the movie!). Watney tells his story through journal entries which vary in length so you will get an entry of a few pages or you may get one a few paragraphs or one line. It really mixed u the flow of the story and breaks up the story nicely into these snippets of events and times when things happen.

You would think that having to describe the day to day goings-on would be tedious and repetitive, but it isn’t. Weir balances it out perfectly. We root for Watney and his struggles. We see him succeed and we see him fail. Weir makes us enjoy checking in on potato crops and solar panels because of the environment it is happening in. We’re enjoying seeing Watney succeed/struggle, but we are also fascinated that it’s happening at all. I could not fault this book. From beginning to end it was wonderful. I adored the ending and Weir never takes his foot off the pedal when working out logistics of everything while still making it enjoyable and understandable.

I genuinely could have started this book again the moment I finished. Instead, I watched the movie and marvelled how actually very true it was to the book. They included all the important points and any minor changes made no real difference whatsoever. It’s one of the better film adaptations in my opinion. This does account for the 2.5 hour runtime though.

If you do see the film instead of reading the book I suggest you read it as well. You miss out on some of the hilarity and Watney ruling Mars by himself is a delight to behold on the page.

You can purchase The Martian via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Wordery | Book Depository

Fishpond | Amazon

Enthrall by M. R. Reed


Enthrall by MR Reed
Blog Tour
February 1-12th, 2016

Published: 12th October, 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 312
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

After years of being a helpless witness to his alcoholic father’s abuse towards his family, seventeen-year-old Miles Boswell has just about reached his breaking point. He dreams of the day where he can leave everything behind and begin a new life on his own — that is, until he discovers that he has the ability to control people’s minds. Suddenly, the odds are overwhelmingly in his favor.

But what begins as the answer to all of his problems soon causes him to question his every thought when he captures the attention of August Sylvan, who seems to be the girl of his dreams. As someone who has limited experience with girls, Miles can’t help but wonder — where do his powers end, and where does reality begin? 

At the same time, he finds himself at constant odds with his morals and his potentially warped sense of justice…and soon discovers that nothing is as simple as it seems.

This book contains strong language, violent scenes, and some sexual content.

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

I could possibly bump my two stars up to a 2.5 on the basis that while the story wasn’t unenjoyable, I came away feeling unsatisfied. I finished it feeling like things were unresolved, left unanswered, and even taking into account the surreal moments and strange quality the story had, it felt as though something was lacking.

Enthrall tells the story of Miles and August, a pair of teenagers who fall in love and both have families they would rather avoid for varying reasons. The pair seems perfect for one another, but when Miles discovers he has developed a strange ability, it is the start of a dangerous downward spiral for both of them.

I started this book with a nice warm feeling. It was so sweet to see the two characters attracted to each other but thinking the other one was out of their league. Seeing August become nervous around him and Miles awestruck, it was cute. Both were semi social outcasts and had an attitude that made people avoid them. But when they become a couple they join forces to become a team of pretentious and moralistic teens who feel superior to the world which turns you off them a bit.

I liked the story, the characters had depth, they were teenagers and did teenage things. I loved their complicated home lives and the school drama, it was an enjoyable story. The concept Reed’s explored is interesting, and it certainly was an interesting experience watching Miles’ struggle. There were just a few things that didn’t sit right. One of the biggest disappointments was the lack of explanation. Even if there wasn’t a detailed explanation, something would have been better. Reed offers hope towards the end, but even then you end up more confused than anything, trying to see if you’ve missed something. The mystery would have been ok to deal with if it didn’t hint throughout that you were going to get a reason.

Reed writes with the voice of a teen and each character tells their story as if speaking to the reader, which is fine, but it takes a few chapters to get into the swing of it. The dual narration works really well and seeing both sides of the story and both experiences adds meaning and offers a different perspective on similar events. It’s also a great chance to see the gradual downfall and changes of each character, Miles in particular.

As a character Miles is someone who is hard to figure out. He seems sweet, but arrogant; he is incredibly selfish and as you watch him descend further into the mess he’s made for himself there is not pity whatsoever because you’ve seen how he’s brought it on himself. I found myself at times comparing him to punk version of Holden Caulfield, he doesn’t think everyone is a phony per se, but he is quite judgemental of others and pushes his moralistic agenda over everything and judges those who do things he doesn’t approve of. August does this as well, but to a slightly lesser extent.

As fun as unlikable characters are though, I was sad I didn’t connect with him because Miles actually does some good things when he isn’t being selfish. But because I didn’t care about him I couldn’t feel that proud of him for what he was doing, and it didn’t really suit his character when he did.

Reed shows Miles’ decent gradually, and you can see his mindset change as time goes by. Some things he did I felt were quite a big leap, and a few characters reactions were not that realistic, but it didn’t take too much away from the story. Overall it was a good read, you take enjoyment from the characters and their lives, and while there isn’t a satisfactory conclusion, the story being told is quite enjoyable.

You can purchase Enthrall via the following

Amazon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Our formative years are the ones that stick with us the most–you know, those tirelessly frustrating yet unforgettably magical moments that shape us into the people that we will become. The music that I liked as a teenager, the books that I read, the relationships that I created (and destroyed)…those are the things that I think truly formed the adult that I am today. I still love those things. I still think about those things. I still harbor a lot of anger in relation to the events that I experienced as a teenager, and it does nothing but fuel my creative spirit.

And that’s what I like to write about: Teenagers, and all of their idiosyncrasies, and concerns, and that whole unintentionally egocentric view that they have about their worlds. I find it fascinating. I’m thankful every day that I’m no longer a teenager, but I have to admit that it’s a interesting time to look back on.

Miles and August encompass a lot of me, and my experiences, and my observations. The music, books, and beliefs that I held at that time inspired me to write about the events that take place in Enthrall. My intense hope is that somebody reads it and is able to relate, or get through a difficult time, and just know that somebody understands what he/she is going through (at least a little bit.) That’s what music and books did for me. I hope to pay it forward.

 

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