Archive | January, 2013

Review: Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

29 Jan

 

readyplayerone

(4 out of 5 stars)

I first picked up Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One at the suggestion of Megan from BookBrats.Com. I was waffling between Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse and this novel and I am glad that I ended picking this one up first.

As a child of the 80’s who loves dystopians, this novel was like a grab bag of my favorite things. 80’s references? Check. Set in the near future where everything has gone to hell? Check. Hero quest? Check. Hint of romance? Check.

The novel opens with the aptly named Wade Watts and he gives us the deal. James Halliday (a combo of Mark Zuckerberg and Willy Wonka) has become rich and famous after creating a free online game called OASIS. Society has become so dependent upon the OASIS that almost all interactions occur within its virtual walls. Upon his deathbed, Halliday has created a hunt for an ‘egg’ that will allow the winner to control the OASIS and the accompanying fortune it has amassed. The egg hunters, or gunters, have to find three keys and pass three gates to reach the egg, all while testing their knowledge of the 80’s, James Halliday’s version of a golden era.

Five years have passed and no one has gotten any closer to even finding the first key until Wade does, under his OASIS username of Parzival (a nod to the Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail).  Close behind Wade is some of his gunter friends, his best friend Aech, the crushworthy Art3mis, and brother duo of Shoto and Daito. However, close on their heels is the evil corporate IOI Sixers, named after their employee numbers — all of which begin with the number six — who are after control of the OASIS so they can start charging for it’s use.

Some of the 80’s references are esoteric and eclectic, but like I said, as a child of the 80’s most of them I was at least familiar with. The plethora of references might alienate younger readers but I found that there was enough explanation of said references to allow them to be at least accessible if not giving you a solid wink of being in the know.

“It is on!” Aech shouted into his comlink. “It is on like Red Dawn!”
I found the quest format entertaining (I can’t resist a good quest), but at the same time predictable. At the beginning the quest is so daunting and vague, Wade and other gunters have studied for years with no success until Wade links a series of clues together. The hints that lead Wade and the other gunters from stage to stage are equally vague unless you are really up on your knowlege of the 80’s and James Halliday.
Continue your quest by taking the test
Yes, but what test? What test was I supposed to take? The Kobayashi Maru? The Pepsi Challenge? Could the clue have been any more vague?”
But this is where Wade and his friends excel. They have the time and the motivation to study up, because the reality of their situation (and many other OASIS users) is unfaceable.
“You’d be amazed how much research you can get done when you have no life whatsoever.”
 
—–
“Dilettantes,’ Art3mis said. ‘It’s their own fault for not knowing all the Schoolhouse Rock! lyrics by heart.”
By the end of the novel, Wade has completed his quest. James Halliday says,
“I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life, right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real.”
This is an essential theme of the novel, and a good one (and it also fits in with the online course I am taking from the University of Edinburgh – E-learning and Digital Cultures). Where do we draw the line between online and offline? If virtual reality has become more real than reality what hope is there for future generations? Wade learns that even though all of his relationships exist inside the OASIS, that doens’t make them any less real, but we musn’t dwell too long in fantasy, lest we neglect reality.
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On New Adult

17 Jan
Jessica Darling Novels

Jessica Darling Novels

Lately, New Adult (NA) is a term that’s being tossed around the book world. The good people over at NA Alley have put together a great post entitled, “What Is New Adult?” which lays it all out. NA Alley’s view of NA:

We view New Adult fiction (NA) as a category of literature—meaning, it gives readers content expectations, but it does not dictate genre-based criteria. Typically, a novel is considered NA if it encompasses the transition between adolescence—a life stage often depicted in Young Adult (YA) fiction—and true adulthood.

Protagonists typically fall between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, though exceptions may apply. NA characters are often portrayed experiencing: college, living away from home for the first time, military deployment, apprenticeships, a first steady job, a first serious relationship, etc.

Allegedly, NA was first tossed around in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press and the term has been on a steady rise since then. Trawling around some NA book lists, most of what you find are contemporaries. Though the term has been kicking around since 2009 what I consider to be NA has been around for quite awhile.

When I was in high school Megan McCafferty published Sloppy Firsts in 2001. I was OBSESSED. Jessica Darling was me. To this day there is not a single literary character that I have connected with more. Jessica had some triumphs and difficulties along the way and she felt real. So I eagerly awaited each book, following Jessica throughout the rest of the series (Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds, Fourth Comings, and Perfect Fifths) and am gleefully awaiting the prequel series, “The It List.”

So when I hear “New Adult” being tossed around, I’m not surprised. These were the types of books I liked to read in high school (heck, I still do). New Adult encapsulates a very difficult transitionary time for many teenagers and new adults. I’m twenty-six and I’m still not completely sure what I want to do with my life. So I’m glad that NA is getting more press and recognition, because in my opinion, it is a separate genre from children’s, YA, and adult literature.

Confession and Resolution

9 Jan

I have a confession to make.

Some background context: I graduated from Grant McEwan University in Edmonton, AB, Canada in the spring of 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Psychology. The last two years of my degree were hectic to say the least. I had to cram three years of arts courses into two because I spent the first two years of my undergrad degree in the Faculty of Science because I had wanted to be a geneticist. I then realized that that was the last thing I wanted to be and switched from the Sciences to the Arts.

When I completed my B.A., I continued onto the University of Alberta to complete a Bachelor of Education because I wanted to be able to share my love of English Language Arts with the next generation. When I graduated in the spring of 2011, Alberta Education had made sweeping budget cuts and 300 teachers in the greater Edmonton area had lost their jobs. To date, I am still actively seeking a teaching job and am not currently employed in the education sector. But I digress — this just helps to set the scene — let’s get back to my confession.

Since I graduated with my B.A., switching from student mode to teacher mode proved difficult. When I read (when I even had time to read between lesson planning and marking), I wanted to read for fun. So I essentially learned to turn my brain off when I was reading for pleasure. I turned my inner literary critic off and let the stories ride.

Enter Foz Meadows’ tweet (@FozMeadows) this afternoon regarding her review of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians (Full disclosure: Up until today I would have probably listed this book, and it’s sequel The Magician King, among my favorite books). So I read Foz’s review and was stunned.

Every single thing Foz said about The Magicians seemed as if she had plucked it straight from my brain. Only, they were all the thoughts that I hadn’t let myself ponder too long over, or even really internalize to myself. Yes, I had problems with Quentin, with Eliot and Janet and Josh and Penny and a litany of other characters and situations that arise from The Magicians and The Magician King (I actually had a really big problem with the ending of The Magician King, but that’s another blog post in and of itself). But I chose to overlook them because of one thing that Lev Grossman once said and it struck me and has stuck with me ever since. Fantasy is essentially about longing. You can read about it at length on Lev’s blog post on the matter and I believe he’s spoken of it elsewhere as well (not to say he’s the one to come up with this idea, but he’s at the forefront of my brain when I think of the concept).

What originally made me like Quentin was that he was like me. I am of the Harry Potter generation. I was twelve when Harry received his letter from Hogwarts, I grew up reading about Narnia and Middle Earth, Merlin and Morgana, The Seeker and the Dark. Heck, I was reading Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors before I even had a learner’s permit, let alone understood some of the themes from his work. I understand the longing that underlies the fantasy genre. So I overlooked. And overlooked. I passed the book onto friends and tried not to feel the way you always feel when you love a book and a close friend hates it: affronted, like they’ve personally slighted you because you don’t have the same taste in fiction.

So today when I read Foz’s review (and by extension Ana from The Book Smugglers’ review), it instantly verbalized all those uneasy feelings and misgivings I had about The Magicians and The Magician King. I had realized that I had committed a cardinal sin; not only had I become a lazy reader, but an intellectually lazy reader.

So, dear reader, there’s my confession. And here’s my new resolution for a brand new year: Read with an open mind and a critical eye.

And then she taught!

A journey through the nooks and crannies of Secondary Education with a lady who sometimes misplaces her maps.

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