Book Review: ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

Book Title: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Genre: Science Fiction / Speculative Fiction

Summary: In 2044 the world is a grim place – overpopulated and under financed, there is little hope for the future of the people living in it. Respite from this world comes through OASIS, a virtual utopia that usurps reality. Here you can attend school, go to work, and be entertained – and this is exactly what Wade does. Like many, he is searching for a way out of his grim and depressing reality, a way that is attainable but virtually impossible; OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden puzzles within OASIS, but that was years ago and no one has found any clues or signs that the prize will ever be won. The prize? Halliday’s fortune and ultimate control over OASIS. When Wade stumbles across and solves the first puzzle, the race to the final prize becomes more than just a game.

Favourite Scene: Too many. I especially loved the nature of the second puzzle! (Go on, read the book.)

Favourite Character: Ogden Morrow – he plays a minor role but he seems like a pretty cool guy.

Review: Love. Love. LOVE. This book was recommended by the ever wonderful Katy and the promise of ’80s pop-culture and gaming references was too good to refuse. And I am so glad I got my hands – and mind – on this book. In typical Stef-style, I churned through the book in a single sitting, absolutely absorbed by the characters, setting, and plot. The narrator’s voice was unique and easy to follow, so much so that it was easy to imagine this was a conversation being had over coffee.

The world constructed in Ready Player One was eerily believable. As is the case with most good dystopian novels set in “the not-too-distant-future”, Cline utilised the harsh realities of the early 21st Century to create a frighteningly plausible future. The book was published in 2011 and this makes the dates and characters especially relevent right now – the setting is 32 years away and the generations depicted in the novel are uncomfortably familiar. Referring to his aunt, Wade laments:

“Her generation had it the hardest. She’d been born into a world of plenty, then had to watch it all slowly vanish. More than anything, I remember feeling sorry for her.”

The characters were it. I could easily imagine some of my gaming friends sitting in and contributing to the conversations that took place in the book, and the ’80s pop-culture references and gaming scene were nerd-tastic.

I’m keeping a vague list of books I’ve reviewed this year that have been added to the “If you read ONE book this year” pile (let’s face it, I’ve said it a few times) and Ready Player One is definitely up there.

Read it. If you’re ready. 😉

Publishing Prestige

Let’s be honest here: writers want to be published. We want to see our names in print and receive a (preferably fat) royalty cheque that finally recognises all the hours we spent labouring over our creative work when everyone else was getting “a real job”. We want our stories to be read, our poetry to change lives, and our names to be synonymous with Literary Accomplishment. (Or some of us might just want a movie deal and some fast cash on the Popular Fiction circuit – come on, the thought hasn’t crossed your mind?)

There is an element of prestige around being a publishedwriter. I must admit, when someone tells me they’re the author of XYZ book I have instant respect for them … and then when I look into it and discover it’s a self-published book … my opinion of that “author” … wavers.

Now, I know that revelation will cause a few gasps and startled cries of “No! But … !” so please hear me out …

You see, for a long time self-publishing was considered to be … well … vain.Fun fact: Benjamin Franklin and William Blake churned out their own work, and Virginia Woolf published her own books, too. So when I suggest that self-publishing is lacking in prestige, I say so because … well …

There are a lot of preconceived ideas around self-publishing. I am being absolutely honest when I say that I have been terribly against self-publishing and have equated self-publishing with self-absorption. (They don’t call it vanity publishing for nothing, right?) So, factoring in the efforts of Virginia Woolf and William Blake (and many others), when did the prestige of being a published writer become exclusive to writers published by a publishing house? I’ve had my say on doing it right, so now I want to address the attitudes towards self-publishing. They are, undeniably, changing – my own attitude included.

I was involved in the self-publication of a book in 2009 and have since opened my eyes – and my mind – to the world of self-publishing. Needless to say, my opinion of self-publishing has changed (phew!) and I know of some excellent books that have been self-published, and I feel bookshelves are richer for them. I’m working on changing the assumptions that underpin the negative perception I have of self-published writers; I’m a lot more open to reading self-published books now than I was two years ago and I’ve had some pleasant surprises. I’m also eager to read the abundance of self-published work now available in ebook format because it a) is cheap; b) can be surprising; and c) could be me one day.

I enjoy the blogs and creative works of a lot of self-published authors with a cheer of “good on YOU for having the courage to get your book out there” (and a pang of jealously because I’m simply not that courageous)! I’ve been spending a lot of time perusing the options for “one day when” I get around to writing a novel I’m prepared to share with others and self-publishing is certainly looking like a viable option. Is there still stigma attached to self-publishing? Was there ever stigma attached to self-publishing or was I just led astray?

It’s a lot easier to self-publish these days; you have marketing tools at your fingertips to advertise your ebook and promote the print-on-demand service for a reasonable cost, and there are many platforms available to the writer who is prepared to put in the extra work and be a publisher, too. With the more readily available facilities to self-publish comes tougher competition for attractive cover designs, properly edited work, and an overall semi-decent novel to stand out above the crap and compete with the bestsellers.

I used to feel intimidated by published writers, but now it seems that anyone can be a published writer … and while there are some prime examples of terrible self-published books, there are also great novels that might not have been accepted by a publishing house yet have made their own way into the world – and into the hands of those who need it. There are many resources available to the writer who wishes to self-publish – so many that there’s no excuse to not doing properly. The stigma of self-publishing is being challenged by an increasing awareness and acceptance of self-published work and self-publishing success stories.

When it comes down to it, I’ve read bad books and I’ve read good books. I’ve also read books that have been seriously amazing – should it matter how those books were published? Wouldn’t it be better for a writer to have prestige based on the quality of their work, not on how it was produced and presented to the world?

I am curious to know what others think on this subject. With the very rapid popularity of ebooks has come a dramatic increase in self-published work; what do you think when you see the words “published author” in someone’s bio?

Is the prestige that has been associated with Published Writers transferable to Self-Published Writers, or is it exclusive to writers with publishing houses writing the royalty cheques?

Come on baby, light my fire!

Kindle.

Mmm, hmm. You saw this coming, didn’t you …

My mother was brave devious kind enough to lend me her Kindle this week (actually, the past two weeks) so I could experience the joys of eReading. In its slim red case, it looked quite fascinating – more like a diary than a book. I opened the case and surveyed the image of Mark Twain on the screen.

“Slide and release the power switch to wake”, it urged.

I reached for the switch. Hrm, nope, not in the top right corner where my iTouch button is. Ha, not down the side, either. Not near the keys …

“Do you need some help?” I declined with an expletive.

Ha! On the bottom! Right, we have power!

“Your battery is running low, please recharge your Kindle.”

What? Oh … *blank* The screen died. I sighed and set it aside, picked up the printed copy of The Help that’s been waiting for me on my bedside table for quite a few weeks and read it cover-to-cover before I went to bed in the wee hours of the morning. Stupid Kindle.

It took me a week to get the darn thing charged by the time we found the charger (it hardly ever needs charging, apparently, so the charger was in some obscure place). I finally turned it on and decided to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. The Kindle accompanied me on the train every morning and every evening, and I must admit I felt a bit embarrassed sitting on the train, red leather cover splayed and grey Kindle blinking black every time I “turned the page”. Were people judging me? That cute guy reading an actual book, what did he think? Did he care? I judge Kindle users with a conceited sniff, surely now I’m being judged …

The anguish was almost unbearable.

But, from Monday to Thursday, I persevered. I read to and from work on the train, during my lunch hour, and before bed.

“Your battery is running low, please recharge your Kindle.”

Again?!

“The battery is supposed to last a month!” My mother protested.

“Evidently it can’t handle my reading habits!” I scowled darkly.

Fortunately, the battery survived long enough for me to finish The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and to have a play and explore its features. I also read a few other things, determined to get a good, solid use out of it before making up my mind.

Here is what I didn’t like:

  • Damned if I could figure out the bookmark feature. How do I go back to the bookmark? Do I have to scroll through and find it or is there a special command that takes me straight to it? Ergh.
  • The little bar down the bottom telling me how far through the book I was – it made me feel pressured to race through and beat it.
  • The blinking-black to change pages freaked me out. I though I’d broken it the first time it did it.
  • Being bumped on the train terrified me. I had visions of the Kindle hurtling forth and smashing on the floor. I never panic when my book is bumped.
  • The power issue. You can’t just grab it and read if the battery isn’t charged. A mild inconvenience, but when I’m on a train and there’s nothing to read, my friends get bombarded with stream-of-conscious texts. It’s really best if I’m constantly entertained.
  • The buttons are too small for my fat and clumsy fingers.

Here is what I liked:

  • The size and weight were super convenient. Lots of books in one place! Joy!
  • The ease of downloading a new book when you’ve run out of stuff to read.
  • The idea of (haven’t actually done it) being able to upload quotes from what you’re reading onto Facebook. That’s pretty cool.
  • I actually didn’t mind the screen. It was easy to read from and I quite enjoyed the experience overall.
  • The ability to load a PDF onto it so I can read it from the screen. Much less glare than a computer screen so it’s easier for my old eyes to read.

I wouldn’t mind playing with some other eReaders, as I’m definitely starting to see the appeal! Any recommendations?

Long Live Books?

I’ve read countless obituaries for books over the past few weeks and felt very much like I’ve been suffocating in a doom and gloom forecast for the printed word. Hand-in-hand with predictions for the end of the publishing industry, the demand for eBooks and cheaper+better+faster books … well, what’s a bibliophile to do? All this negativity and promise that books will one day be artefacts, rare and not of the norm … Will I one day be rich if I keep my vast collection of novels, anthologies, poetry, and complete works … or will I be a crazy book-hoarding lady who will die – quietly and undiscovered for weeks – beneath a pile of printed words that will be discarded in the rush to clean out my house for a new resident?

Morbid, I know. But my death seems like nothing compared to the loss of those loved, cherished stories that have kept my brain and spirit nourished for so long.

The thing is, bibliophiles like me make sweeping statements about how books can never be replaced with technology. Nothing quite matches the smell of a musty old book, the crease of the spine to indicate the countless times you’ve devoured your favourite story, the feel of the grainy paper beneath your fingertips as you turn the page …

But then there are those who make perfectly valid arguments for eBooks:

  • it’s easier to travel with eBooks than print books (trust me – as an avid reader, my backpack was weighed down with a 6:3 ratio of books:shirts when I was travelling in 2010)
  • you can get an eBook instantly in the comfort of your own pjs (no leaving the house and braving stores or impatiently waiting for the mailman to deliver your purchase)
  • save the planet: dispense with paper and get into paperless reading
  • with the amount of ‘free’ eBooks available, e-readers pay for themselves pretty quickly

And so I’m torn.

I don’t believe that books are dead – they can’t be, because that would make my bedroom a graveyard and my heart cannot stand to think of never again looking at a pile of books beside my bed waiting for my attention.

But if I go to the dark side and start reading eBooks, will I still be a bibliophile?