Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reviews: Hill's NOS4A2 and Cline's Ready Player One

Three stellar reads in two weeks. I reviewed Toby Barlow's Sharp Teeth yesterday, and today, it's Joe Hill's jolly Christmas tale, NOS4A2, and Ernest Cline's totally awesome Ready Player One.

First up is Joe Hill's NOS4A2. A story of a woman with the power to access the inscape -- which, Hill subtly tells us, is available to all of us, in a darker version of If you can dream it, you can do it! -- Vic McQueen can find things by riding her Raleigh bike across a bridge that was demolished years before. Years later, the Raleigh gone and Vic convinced that her past troubles and adventures are all the product of psychosis, she comes face to face with the reality of the inscape when another person, whose own inscape is a demented version of a Christmas wonderland populated by ghoulish children, returns to finish the job he started years before, when Vic escapes his clutches and burned down his Sleigh House.

I hear there's a lot left unexplained by Hill, and I'll agree, to a point. But in a book as chock-full of stuff as this one, what do you want? An epic? It would have to be The Stand in length to answer every question. And frankly, I don't want all the answers. (BTW, I seem to be reading a lot of Amazon reviews lately where people criticize an author's too-neat ending, everything tied up, all questions answered--jeez, louise, what do you folk want?)

Here's why I'm satisfied: like each of Hill's books, it's a fast, sharp, ride, where you're hanging on for dear life as you barrel along with Vic over the bridge and into the place where monsters live. It's got some damn fine writing, and some likable characters. Including Charles Manx, riding along in his 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, picking up children and delivering them to Christmasland, where they can play forever and ever and ever... (cue Have a Holly Jolly Christmas! and pictures of desiccated skulls hanging from rollercoasters while kiddies with needle teeth and rusted kitchen knives dance around)

If I've got one problem with the book, it's that Vic doesn't realize until nearly the end that Manx actually believes he's doing something good for these kids. It's sick, it's twisted, but those are his children. Manx is a far more believable villain than many I've read, because despite the fact that he's sucking these children dry in order to live forever himself, he cares for them.

NOS4A2 is also, for better or worse, an homage to his father and, indeed, to any number of horror books and films. I loved finding the references (probably missed more than half of them), almost like Easter eggs in video games. Which brings me to....

Ernest Cline's rad dystopian, Ready Player One. In the near future, civilization is in tatters, but if there's one thing you can count on, it's that technology will save the day! Or at least provide a total escape from the fact that you live in the bottom trailer of a stack twenty trailers high, with fifteen other ragged souls ready to beat your ass for whatever little you've got.

Wade Watts, senior in virtual high school, has got it slightly better than that. I do mean, slightly. He's got skillz, yo, and a few friends (who, of course, he has never met in person), and he's got something a lot of high school seniors haven't got: a goal. His goal is to find the Easter eggs left behind in the OASIS by its creator and, ultimately, win a few billion dollars.

The OASIS is the virtual world nearly everyone inhabits when they aren't working. Everyone's got an avatar, everyone's got a place they like to hang out, somewhere far different than the reality they all live in. The best part? The worlds of the OASIS are mostly '80s reference material: villages, dungeons, entire planets that are detailed recreations of, say, Blade Runner. (dude, that's what I'd hit first) And because the OASIS's creator was a child of the '80s and a total nerd, he's hidden the clues to his little puzzle around the OASIS and you won't find them unless you've totally boned up on your '80s trivia. So--and this is awesome--eighties culture is back, baby!

Because it's the key to a better life, everyone's involved, peripherally or in a big, all-consuming way.  Wade Watts is in, big-time. In fact, he solved the first clue! Except, now, everyone wants to know who he is, how he did it, and most of all--they want to stop him from making it the rest of the way.

Maybe I adored this because I'm a child of the '80s and a total nerd. Maybe it's because, like NOS4A2, it's a fast, thrilling ride. But there's a real sense of glee here, as, like in NOS4A2, you recognize the references. FFS, there's a Q*bert reference! And all the worlds, man... I could've put on the glasses and spent a few days (weeks, months) exploring the OASIS.

My only (tiny) niggle is that while I liked Wade, he didn't have a real hero's journey. There was no change, no metamorphosis happening. Some might argue there was, but it's very small. On the other hand, I really just loved tagging along with him, and meeting--finally!--his online friends.

And I really want to play a few hours of Ms. Pac-Man now.

Three great books--I recommend them all. What a way to escape the dreary fuckwittery that this winter has become. Now, anybody got any recs? I really need a new one. Besides these three, I attempted two others--attempted. One was a self-pub, and it was free, and I won't say anymore except that the problem I continually run into with self-pubs is that the authors have not gotten themselves an editor. GET A GOOD EDITOR. I can't get into a story that's filled with grammatical errors, spelling errors (HOW is that happening in this day of spellcheck? HOW?), and punctuation errors. If I'm re-reading sentences to understand what you meant, you did it wrong. And frankly, a lot of them read like first drafts. I know you're excited to have finished it, but please, spend some time and polish it.

I've been there. I've put out drivel. Maybe I had a good idea, but it needed more work. This I've learned. Now my output is slooooooow, but honestly, the stuff I've been working on is way better than previous work. It's tough, but it's fun. :)

The other book was a Brandon Sanderson fantasy. Quickly becoming one of the most popular and, I think we can say this now, prolific fantasy writers around, I had to finally give one of his books a try. Not for me. I can see why many love his stuff, but I couldn't finish the one I started, and I won't be giving any of his other stuff a try. It's totally a YMMV situation. You may want to check him out if you haven't already and if you're into fantasy.

That's it! Tell me what to read next!


  1. "...meeting--finally!--his online friends."

    What´s not to love =)

    You´ve read Neal Stephenson´s work, right?


    1. So, no, I haven't, but because you recommend him, I checked him out and immediately put Snow Crash on The List. Very excited.