Review: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

This book is well written and the story well told, no doubt about it. Too bad, then, that it doesn’t speak to me. I am certain that had I not read stories like Neuromancer and Snow Crash, back in the days, the impact of Ready Player One had been bigger but also I never was much of a gaming nerd. Fact is when my math and physics teacher got tasked with teaching us students to program in Basic, on ABC80 computers – and I admit I don’t remember if that was in 1982 or 83 – I vowed never ever to work with computers. Those stupid text based brainless things that spat Error11’s at me were idiotic. Period. So I’m not entirely in the target range for this tale.

On the other hand this DID change and I reconnected with computers during the late 80’s. Since 1991 they have been my livelihood and at that point I did take to gaming, but only for a few years. I lost interest somewhere at the time Doom turned to Quake. I just don’t have time for such things. Fun, but not fun enough to be prioritised above my family, or to take the place of reading.

Just to say I’m not clueless and that’s why Ready Player One didn’t do it for me ;-)

The tale is told as from the memory of Wade Watts, an orphaned kid growing up in poverty, in a white trash trailer park on steroids. His only escape is the virtual world of OASIS, and he is not alone. Millions of millions of people look at the unreal as their only way out of the misery a collapsed global economy and ecological disaster has left for most of humanity to live in. When the mega-billionaire OASIS founder dies, leaving as his will a riddle and the promise of a quest for his heritage, Wade decides to make a try at it as his off chance to a ride out of misery. The tale is the story of his quest, and as the OASIS founder was obsessed with 80’s culture the quest is a ride through 80’s music, film and gaming.

Definitely recommended to anyone who actually spent time in the pop-stream of the 80’s, not to mention anyone who was obsessively playing computer-based games back then, arcade or not.

For those of us who spent our 80’s time  in other ways – well, it IS a good read. Just not the ultimate nostalgic experience it might be for those who did ride the wave, way back.

Review: Cyberabad Days, by Ian McDonald

Good science fiction is the domain of people who have something to say, some questions to pose, regarding what we humans and our societies and our cultures are. In that science fiction is a genre that can be urgent and immediate, facilitating discussion on topics on ethics and identity and cause and consequence on a level way beyond what is possible when you have to deal with the ordinary and everyday life in the here and now. Because to science fiction there is a possibility closed to others – the possibility to extrapolate future, to ask and explore the kind of “what if” that relates to society, politics and economics.

Ian McDonald is one of these great “what if”-people. In Cyberabad Days he explores the “what ifs” of artificial intelligence, man and machine and the self-interested middle class and its hunt for ever more personal glory against a background of  “what if” India got balkanized. The means is a series of short stories, some would call it a short story collection. But this is to belittle the book because each of the stories, together with River of Gods, build to something that is far more than a series of disconnected tales – it is a suite of different perspectives on the suicidal trip India’s upper middle classes enters upon as they try to outdo each other in wealth and glory; the stories showcases the effects on society as a whole, without never ever leaving the little person behind.

My favourite stories are The Dust Assassin, An Eligible Boy, The Little Goddess, and The Djinn’s Wife (which made me think of Iain M Banks‘ Culture books in general and Surface Detail in particular), but all are very good. And most of all – without the rest of them the last story, the one that actually relate to River of Gods in a more substantial way, would lose some of it’s impact.

Anyone who have read and enjoyed River of Gods should read Cyberabad Days. Anyone who have not read River of Gods yet should do so first to be able to wholly appreciate Cyberabad Days but it IS readble on it’s own, too.

And any which way Ian McDonald is one of the most important of our current authors, SF genre or not. Not only because he has something to say but because he says it well, respecting his readership and our brains, to think for ourselves.

Go support a living author. Go get one of his books. And start thinking.

Considering: Nostalgia. A rant.

An unsound preoccupation with what has been, numbing today by reliving the past.

Just like everybody else I now and then smile at a memory – things done and experienced; places; music; faces. Those are short moments, though, because I live here and now and as here and now is the only place in which I actually am here is where I spend my energy. Possibly I spend energy on the future as well, on the principle that the future is now, making now liveable.

However, this doesn’t make it possible to successfully evade other peoples’ nostalgia.

People spending an evening reminiscing on their youth. People who go to nostalgia concerts, listening to old heroes regurgitating old hits, meeting people they don’t socialise with anymore, to get a waft of the “good old times”.

True, sometimes this “don’t socialise with anymore” is due to hard facts of life, of living in different areas and having schedules that doesn’t match without applying a jack-hammer. But when conversation is down to “do you remember when…” I feel like I’m being walled in; roofed over; chained to the bottom of the sea.

What irks me even more is when people who spent their youths raging against nostalgia recline against their memories, like a soft pillow, without even reflecting over how they now do what they rallied against; once money started to roll in they got corrupted; still praying to the same gods, out of convenience? Talking the talk without walking the walk.

I get a heart attack only writing about it, I tell you.

Get laid, get paid, owe your life to the bank, push “pause”. Eternally frozen image. Futureless and hence hopeless. Stuck. Digging up corpses, hoping to find some of the essence that once made life interesting. And then wonder why I don’t attend all those nostalgia events, thinking I’m the one who is anti-social?!?!

Excuse me, don’t spend energy trying to convert me to your belief.

I have a life to live.