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Ready Player One

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Science Fiction
on June 19, 2018

Synopsis: It’s the year 2044, and the real world becomes an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual reality utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love with any ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based into the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle. Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.

Author: Ernest Cline

There are very few books that I absolutely love and despise at the same time. It’s either one or the other for me. Ready Player One is one of those books. There is something compelling about it, yet at the same time increasingly frustrating. Ultimately, I rated it a three out of five. Let me tell you why…

What I found I enjoyed was how incredibly descriptive it was, something Cline very clearly excels at. He described the OASIS, which is a sprawling virtual reality where almost anything is possible, in such vivid detail that I could truly imagine myself there. Characters use an immersion rig, which includes a pair of virtual reality googles and haptic gloves, which allows them to enter the OASIS. Wade Watts, our protagonist, enters the OASIS and uses an avatar he created called Parzival, who looks nothing at all like him. The OASIS is a place where you can become anyone you want to be with no real world limitations. Since James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS, announced upon his death the biggest game in existence: he had hidden three keys somewhere inside the vast utopia that would allow whoever found all three keys and cleared all three gates control over the OASIS and his billion dollar fortune, it was no wonder the majority of people inside the Ready Player One world spent their every waking hours hooked into the OASIS on a search for the hidden keys. It was incredibly refreshing to see video games portrayed in an (almost) completely positive light. How many of us have ever wanted to be able to escape our real lives, even for just a few seconds? With the OASIS, it is entirely possible. It was something I was able to connect with, having been using the internet as an escape and a coping mechanism for many years now.

The character of Wade Watts divided me. On one hand, I truly felt for him. Despite his tender age of eighteen, the real world had not been kind to Wade, and his hunt for the keys would bring significant repercussions that would change the course of his life forever. To spite all the people who put him down, belittled him, or attempted to destroy his life, I was rooting for him to succeed. That being said, he came across as an elitist, believing himself to be superior to others, and he appeared to me as a ‘Gary Stu’ that begs the question: was this Cline self-inserting himself into his book? There doesn’t seem to be much Wade can’t do to the point where I was finding it difficult to believe this could happen. Towards the end of the book, Wade infiltrates the Innovative Online Industries (IOI), the main villain of the book (I’ll get to them in a second), where he remains undercover for eight days before escaping. His escape was virtually seamless, which reeked of being too convenient. It should not have been that easy, especially not in a company that large and that powerful.

The IOI are the world’s largest internet service provider, led by the CEO, Nolan Sorrento. Sorrento attempts to recruit Wade in joining the company in their Oology Division, a branch of the company dedicated to James Halliday and the hunt for the keys. Their only goal was to be the ones to find the keys to win the ultimate prize of controlling the OASIS. Wade declines, a decision that has major consequences for him. While neither Sorrento or the IOI were unbelievable as villains, the IOI were nothing but a one-dimensional, generic conglomerate that had no substance. The IOI – and Sorrento – appeared to only be in the book to tick off the ‘add conflict to a story’ box. They worked as a villain, but without Cline delving into some character development for Sorrento, he and the IOI became nothing but convenient to the story – and an allegory for everyone’s hatred for their internet service provider.

One of the subplots of the book was a budding romance between Wade – or, more accurately, his avatar Parzival – and another avatar, Art3mis. Art3mis is a female avatar who runs a popular blog dedicated to her search for the keys, a blog that Wade has been an avid follower of and ends up developing a crush on Art3mis, although he does admit the avatar could look absolutely nothing like the person controlling it, which ends up becoming a running gag through the book that Art3mis is actually an overweight man named Chad who lives in his mother’s basement. The romance itself I have no issue with. No, my issue – and a main reason in my decision to rate the book at a three out of five – is the borderline obsession Wade has. After their avatars first meet in the OASIS, they begin to regularly correspond with one another, building a friendships, which, to me, was then ruined by Wade’s incessant pestering for Art3mis to go on a date with him. That topic of conversation clearly made her uncomfortable and she declines his offer, yet Wade continues to harass her over it. Wade comes across as the stereotypical nerd who has no social awareness and no idea how to speak to women that makes him come across as creepy rather than simply socially awkward. I find that stereotype to be almost as offensive as the snorting, buck-teeth nerd stereotype. Surely, in 2018, we should have moved on from such stereotypes?

While Ernest Cline clearly excels at description, dialogue is clearly not his forte. Now don’t get me wrong, not all the dialogue in the book is awful. There are some genuine heartwarming, heart-wrenching, and downright hilarious moments that could only illicit such emotion because of the dialogue. However, there were many more cringe-worthy lines than there were not. To me, this made Cline come across as out-of-touch. Now this could be explained by the fact that this book is crammed full of 80’s nostalgia – and that it’s set in 2044! Perhaps how they spoke in the 80’s (a decade I wasn’t even born for) made a comeback thanks to the popularity of the OASIS and James Halliday, who was obsessed with the 80’s even into adulthood. It is set almost thirty years from now and there’s no telling what’s going to be popular and current, therefore some suspension of disbelief could be had. However, I still found the dialogue difficult to read due to how cringe-worthy it is.

Ready Player One starts off strong, hits a couple of bumps in the road for the middle, then picks up its pace again for the ending to finish on a high note. The characters have the marmite effect – you’ll either love them or hate them, there is no in between. The hunt for the keys, while interesting and somewhat captivating once a name first appears on the scoreboard, is full of 80’s pop culture that had been searching on Google several times during the reading as I wasn’t familiar with most of the games or movies referenced. Despite its glaring plot holes and bugbears, Ready Player One was an enjoyable read overall, although I doubt I’ll read it again any time soon.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction
on May 20, 2018

Synopsis: Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

She leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself.

Author: Gail Honeyman

It was the synopsis of this book that really drew me in. A story about routine and loneliness and knowing how to survive. It spoke to me. I could relate to this book already without having read further than the blurb at the back. A strict structure in life and loneliness are some things that I’m all too familiar with and so I was quite excited to have a book that I already felt connected to on a deeply personal level.

The story is about Eleanor Oliphant, a woman who has just reached her thirtieth birthday, and who has worked in the same job for almost a decade, who eats the same meal, who buys the same bottles of alcohol on the weekend, who is socially awkward and doesn’t understand social cues, and who decides she’s in love with a man she has never met before. Then, a problem with her work computer has Eleanor meeting Raymond Gibbons, who works in IT and is assigned to fix her computer, and this chance encounter turns Eleanor’s world upside down, breaking down the walls she’s built around herself, and leading her – and you – on a journey of self-discovery.

I started reading and I was instantly hooked – I needed to know more. Then, the more I was reading about Eleanor, the more I started to despise her. She was rude and ignorant and absolutely everything that I hate in a character – and a person. There’s one scene where she’s had her nails done and, as a response to being asked if she would like a follow up appointment, she commented that she could do a better job herself at home and for free. That comment irked me as someone who has worked in retail and dealt with rude, patronising, and ignorant customers before. Yet the further along in the book I got, the more character development Eleanor goes through. Towards the end, I was rooting for her and had begun to feel proud of the progress she had made.

One of the first things you find out about Eleanor is that she has a scar on her face, and, that when she went for her job interview some ten years previously, she had a broken arm and a black eye. The reason for these are not explained straight away. Honeyman knew how to captivate her audience and did so in a way that had you not only wanting to know more, but had you needing to know more. There was a plot twist at the end of the book that had me reading until the very early hours of the morning because I couldn’t put it down without knowing the answers to all the burning questions in my head – and, boy, was it a plot twist.

You discover early on that Eleanor has been alone for a long time. Aside from a phone call from her ‘Mummy’ every Wednesday evening at the same time, Eleanor has no one else in her life. Eleanor tells herself that she’s fine, but under the surface she is anything but. Her mother, who she never sees in person due to her being institutionalized, is cruel and never misses an opportunity to put Eleanor down and destroy her self-confidence until it’s nothing but a pile of ashes on the floor. It’s because of her mother that Eleanor has decided to pursue the man she claims to be in love with despite having never met him in person before. She calls it her ‘project’ and it pleases her mother greatly. While Eleanor claims to be ‘completely fine’, where her mother is concerned she is anything but.

Early into the book, Eleanor meets Raymond, who, as mentioned above, is assigned to fix her work computer. Eleanor bumps into Ray in the hallway on her way out of work one evening, something which displeases her as she had tried to time her departure from work to avoid everyone and their small talk. Eleanor and Raymond suddenly find themselves bonded together through their good deed of saving a man who had collapsed in the street. From there on, Eleanor struck up a friendship with Raymond, albeit against her will. What I absolutely loved about their friendship was how it never felt forced. If you work for the same company, in the same building, then it’s not uncommon for you to bump into one another. They eventually become quite good friends, with them having lunch together, attending a couple of parties together, and even visiting Raymond’s mother together. There was an opportunity for Honeyman to turn their friendship into a fully fledged relationship, but I’m more than glad that they didn’t. It was a breath of fresh air to read a novel, particularly one that deals with incredibly sensitive topics, where romance doesn’t play the biggest role in these character’s lives. Trauma doesn’t disappear because you fall in love, but being loved and having a person to lean on, whether that’s through a romantic love or platonic love, makes it easier to learn to heal.

My one gripe with this novel, aside from Eleanor’s behaviour (although this can be be somewhat explained by the events that unfolded in her past that unravels the longer you read), is her infatuation with musician, Johnnie Lomond. It didn’t seem all that believable to me. Eleanor becomes almost obsessed, going so far as to find out where he lives and turn up at his apartment. Her infatuation doesn’t seem all that fitting, especially when you factor in her past and her behaviour around and towards other people. It felt, to me, that it was simply there to add as a subplot.

For a debut novel, Gail Honeyman did an incredible job bringing these characters to life. You get taken on a ride that fills you with a range of emotions, that leaves you craving more and feeling utterly disappointed when you reach the last page and realise that’s the end. It’s a very well written novel which makes it almost difficult to believe that this is Honeyman’s debut.

The Hate U Give

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, YA
on April 29, 2018

Synopsis:My parents didn’t raise me to fear the police, just to be smart around them. They told me it’s not smart to move whilst a cop has his back to you.

Khalil does.

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer.

Author: Angie Thomas

I found this book in Waterstones. It’s one of their ‘Everyone Is Talking About’ books, featured prominently in their window display. I’ve made it my goal to read as many books as I can, regardless of genre, the cover, or the synopsis and so I did a large Waterstones haul, which included picking up The Hate U Give.

I was particularly intrigued by this book as it has been influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been gaining prominence, in particular over the last few years. I feel like every other time I read or watch a news story that it features an incident of police brutality. We even hear about it all the way across the pond from America. The author herself had witnessed a shootout at the age of six which partly influenced her to write this book. Part of the reason I picked this book up is due to it having been inspired by real world events. There is an authenticity about it and I felt as though I could picture the events unfolding before my very eyes with every sentence.

The story is centred around Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old girl, who witnesses the death of her friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer and the subsequent battles she faces in deciding whether to speak out as the sole witness. Starr was a character that I fell in love with while reading this book. She is strong, resilient, and inspirational. When you witness something as horrific as she does, it can turn you into a victim, but Starr does the complete opposite. She is not a victim, she is a survivor. There is something about Starr as a character, as the narrator, that compels you to read on and to root for her.

I absolutely loved her family. Starr has a mother, a father, an older brother from the same father, and a younger brother from the same mother and father. She is friends with her half-brother’s sister. She has an uncle who is a cop, who also acted as a surrogate father to her whilst her own dad was in jail, an aunt, grandmother, and cousins. It was refreshing to see such a modern family. Real life isn’t entirely made up of two parent households with three kids, a dog, and a white picket fence. Families come in all sizes and all forms and each one is as valid as the next. The character arc her dad, Big Mav, goes through, in particular at the end, warmed my heart. It showed that the way you think about a person isn’t who they really are. People can surprise you. People can change.

One aspect of this book that I did enjoy was the brutally honest account of what life is like in a black community. While I know this is not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario as it’s not the same situation and experience for everyone, it was eye opening to read what can – and does – occur in some communities. Angie Thomas has decided to tackle extremely sensitive and important topics for her debut novel but has not shied away from a realistic experience. Black people are not being portrayed as perfect and saintly within the pages of this book; there are drugs, violence, and gang wars. The fact that these occur in their neighbourhood of Garden Heights should not influence the media in deciding whether the victim deserved it or not, as is the case with Khalil. It is truly heartbreaking to read how those who knew Khalil have to hear the media spin lies about him and his life in order to justify his death. It begs the question: how many victims of violence have been portrayed accurately in the media?

While many people will see this book as being about police brutality and racism, which are running themes in the book, the real story goes much deeper than that. It’s a story about using your voice, that your voice is your greatest weapon, which is something everyone needs to recognise. If we don’t speak out about the issues that are important to us, that affect us deeply, then who will? We always wait for that one person to make a stand but that one person can be you. It should be you. This book shows that people will oppose you and try to shut you down but you should stand up, you should rise up, and you should shout from the rooftops (or on top of a car) about the what is important to you as loud as you can, regardless of who hears you or not. All it takes is one spark to start a blaze. Throughout the last few chapters of the book, Starr embodies this quote for me: ‘Start with where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’ Even a sixteen-year-old from Garden Heights can make a difference.