With the film version of Ready Player One due out this weekend from Steven Spielberg, it’s past time that I take a look back at Ready Player One, the book by Ernest Cline. I really wanted to love Ready Player One, and it seemed right up my alley, despite some reservations from certain reviews and excerpts I’d seen online. I wanted to read the book before the film came out, even if I was years late to the party. But I came away not only disappointed but also extremely frustrated. I understand its appeal, and I don’t begrudge anyone for liking it, but I found reading it to be an unpleasant experience, in spite of its creative setting and generally entertaining story. Overall I’d give the book a C-, but read on for 5 Things about Ready Player One, 3 that I hated and 2 that I liked.
Before Tomorrowland is a bit of a difficult book to categorize, not that categories are necessarily important. It’s technically a prequel to the Disney film Tomorrowland, in theaters this weekend, but it features none of the characters from the new movie. It almost requires a familiarity with at least the premise if not the trailers for the film or even the Alternate Reality Game “The Optimist”, and the imagery that we’ve seen thus far continually floated through my mind as I read the book. It tells an interesting story on its own, but even more it serves as a palate whetter for the film, offering just enough backstory and explanation while still leaving the right amount of mystery and curiosity to energize my interest in the film (already at an all-time high, as Tomorrowland is my most anticipated film of the year, even ahead of Star Wars). The result is a novel that’s almost impossible to objectively view on its own, yet which is perfectly placed to capitalize on this exact moment, although I imagine that only the most die-hard fans will have sought it out. Yet it’s also a fun, exciting, fascinating story in its own right, with an interesting twist on some familiar faces from history as well as an intriguing look at what might have been and what we someday might accomplish together.
*Update: I was informed by author Amy Pascale on Twitter that Joss Whedon: The Biography is not an “authorized biography” and have edited this review to remove any references to it as such. I apologize for the mistake.
I had some mixed feelings about reading a biography of Joss Whedon. For starters, I rarely read non-fiction (just as a matter of personal preference), but what made me more reluctant was my personal admiration and loyalty to Joss, the man who has created so many of my favorite stories over the past fifteen years or so. The man who created “cult classics” like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly in addition to writing and directing The Avengers, one of the most successful films of all time, is certainly a subject ripe for study, but what to expect from a biography? Could it capture the essence of this Lord of the Geeks that his fans all know and love, while managing to explain to the uninitiated why he’s worthy of our praise, while managing to find something new that will surprise even his most devoted followers or that could give a deeper meaning to his work? While I found the book to be an enjoyable read, the bigger answers to these questions turned out to be something of a mixed bag.
Private detective Cormoran Strike is back on a new case in The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym for Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling). After solving the high-profile murder of supermodel Lula Landry in last year’s The Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike has had almost more business than he can handle, most of it filled with divorce cases, jealous lovers and jobs for the tabloids. It’s not particularly fulfilling work but it’s allowed him to finally start clearing his debts, even if he’s running himself ragged in the process, causing his leg, which was amputated after an explosion in the war in Afghanistan, to become increasingly more painful.
Thomas wakes up in a dark room and can’t remember anything from his past except his name. The room is an elevator, slowly rising until doors above him open to the sky and he finds himself in a glade surrounded by teenaged boys, just like him. The glade is surrounded by towering walls and beyond those walls lies the maze, a deadly mystery whose walls change position every night and which is filled with murderous, biomechanical creatures. Each day, some of the boys run out into the maze, mapping its movements and searching for a way out, but they have to be back by sunset so that they’re not trapped in the maze with the creatures when the doors close automatically.
There was a bit of a stir when the warmly received The Cuckoo’s Calling was discovered not to be Robert Galbraith’s debut novel, but that he was in fact a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. The reasons behind the pseudonym seem pretty obvious considering the critical and public reaction to Rowling’s previous novel, The Casual Vacancy. Using a different name allowed Rowling anonymity, where her book could be taken on the value of its content alone, without the hype, expectations and preconceptions that would have come from releasing “J.K. Rowling’s new novel”. And, tellingly, Galbraith got some very good reviews before the secret slipped, with several reviewers finding it hard to believe that The Cuckoo’s Calling could be a debut novel.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is a pretty straight-forward detective story, but is relentlessly entertaining and filled with memorable characters. It tells the story of the death of Lula Landry, a supermodel whose fall from her penthouse apartment was ruled a suicide by the police. Continue reading
The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling’s follow up to the Harry Potter series is a bit difficult to review, or even to classify. It’s one part political drama, one part small town comedy, while also being largely an ethical fable about our attitudes toward others, the interconnectedness of our lives and the consequences of our actions. It’s a seedy, foul-mouthed take on a host of issues that can feel both exaggerated and painfully realistic and believable at the same moment. And while on the surface The Casual Vacancy has little in common with Harry Potter, both stories begin in the same fashion, with death.
The opening of The Casual Vacancy is a far cry from the double murder that began Rowling’s other series, starting instead with the rather pedestrian death of Barry Fairbrother as he collapses in the parking lot of the local golf club on his anniversary due to an aneurism. Continue reading
Warning: This review contains some spoilers from the first book in the Divergent trilogy. To read my review of Divergent, click here.
Insurgent picks up where Divergent left off. Beatrice, who was recently inducted into the Dauntless faction at the top of her class, is on the run with Tobias and the survivors from the Abnegation massacre. They managed to stop the “simulation” mind control that the Erudite were using to control most of the Dauntless, but at great cost. Many of Beatrice’s family and friends are dead, and she has seen and done things that haunt her every thought.
If Divergent was all about finding your own path when the world wants you to fit in a particular slot, then Insurgent is about coming to terms with the choices you’ve made, and how to relate to paths chosen by others. Continue reading
Divergent, the first book in a trilogy by Veronica Roth with a film adaptation coming next year, has been compared to The Hunger Games, and it’s easy to see why. Both books feature strong female protagonists in violent and dangerous situations. Both books have a similar tone, and are told in the same first person style aimed at “young adults” (my dislike for that term as related to books is a topic for another post). However, that’s largely where the similarities stop.
Divergent, tells a story set in the post-war remnants of Chicago.