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Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-553-45938-8
Published: Random House, 2011
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

021915_ReadyPlayerOne_Cover

Main Characters: Wade/Parzival, Art3mis, Aech

Synopsis: In the not-so-distant future, technology companies own… well, pretty much everything. The development of fully-immersive virtual-reality gaming (the OASIS) catapulted its inventor to multi-billionaire-dom, and while he used his wealth and power for good, there are plenty of others who would like to obtain and use that power for evil. Wade, known in-game as Parzival, is a very average kid: his home life sucks, so he spends most of his time in the virtual world. When an opportunity arises to solve the world’s biggest virtual riddle and inherit the billions of dollars the OASIS’ founder has left behind, Wade jumps at it. Can Wade solve the riddle and change his future forever, or will the evil corporations and their less-than-orthodox methods win out?

Memorable Quotes:

  • “You’re probably wondering what’s going to happen to you. That’s easy. The same thing is going to happen to you that has happened to every other human being who has ever lived. You’re going to die. We all die. That’s just how it is.”
  • “Very well!” he said. “You shall prove your worth by facing me in a joust!” I’d never heard of an undead lich king challenging someone to a joust. Especially not in a subterranean burial chamber.
    “All right,” I said uncertainly. “But won’t we be needing horses for that?”
    “Not horses,” he replied, stepping away from his throne. “Birds.”
  • I considered giving them what they wanted. I really did. But I thought it through, and I couldn’t come up with a single good reason why they would let me live, even if I helped them clear the First Gate. The only move that made sense was to kill me and take me out of the running. They sure as hell weren’t going to give me five million dollars, or leave me alive to tell the media how IOI had blackmailed me. Especially if there really was a remote-controlled bomb planted in my trailer to serve as evidence.
  • I felt no shame about masturbating. Thanks to Anorak’s Almanac, I now thought of it as a normal bodily function, as necessary and natural as sleeping or eating.
    I would argue that masturbation is the human animal’s most important adaptation. The very cornerstone of our technological civilization. Our hands evolved to grip tools, all right—including our own. You see, thinkers, inventors, and scientists are usually geeks, and geeks have a harder time getting laid than anyone. Without the built-in sexual release valve provided by masturbation, it’s doubtful that early humans would have ever mastered the secrets of fire or discovered the wheel. And you can bet that Galileo, Newton, and Einstein never would have made their discoveries if they hadn’t first been able to clear their heads by slapping the salami (or “knocking a few protons off the old hydrogen atom”). The same goes for Marie Curie. Before she discovered radium, you can be certain she first discovered the little man in the canoe.
    It wasn’t one of Halliday’s more popular theories, but I liked it.
  • I sat there in my stronghold, staring at the monitors, watching all of this unfold in stunned horror. There was no denying it. The end of the contest was at hand. And it wasn’t going to end like I’d always thought it would, with some noble, worthy gunter finding the egg and winning the prize. I’d been kidding myself for the past five and a half years. We all had. This story was not going to have a happy ending. The bad guys were going to win.

Review: I received this book as part of a LootCrate and it took me an embarrassingly long time to get around to reading it. Like, on the order of months. I hadn’t heard anything about it and wasn’t really intrigued by the blurb on the back, and honestly, I thought it might’ve been too geeky for me! I play a myriad of video games across all kinds of genres (like World of Warcraft, Transistor, Borderlands, Counter-Strike, what have you), which… okay, yeah, I’m pretty geeky. But I’ve never delved into the lore of such games, and I figured that’s the kind of thing this book would be about.

Then one day I was staring at my shelves, trying to decide what to read, and this was one of the few left untouched. So I grabbed it, and it did not leave my side until I’d finished it. I carried it around in my purse for a few days– to work, to dinners, and then up and down the steps with me at home. It was so, so quick to catapult itself to the top of my favorite books list that I was almost in shock. My review on GoodReads was quite brief, amounting to: “This is it. This is my favorite book in the world.” Let me tell you a bit about it.

As I mentioned in my synopsis, we begin in the not-so-distant future: the year 2044, to be precise. The world is quite different. The wage gap continued to grow and numerous environmental crises took root. There are few habitable areas left, and those that do exist are wrought with poverty. There’s pretty much one place left in the United States where there’s any sort of money or power, and it’s in Columbus, Ohio. Most people’s lives are pretty shitty, and most people take to the OASIS to escape. That’s the name of the fully-immersive virtual-reality world created by James Halliday, which quickly became the go-to computer operating system in the world, and made Halliday the king atop a pile of gold. (Well, not literally. But he wound up kinda rich. Like, the most rich.) However, the OASIS is a free service. You have to buy the computers and headsets, of course, and the internet, but once you can log on, you’re home free.

At any rate, Halliday died (like people are wont to do), and instead of a will, he left a riddle. A riddle that would culminate in the finding of a golden egg. A riddle so ridiculously intricate that it was five whole years before anyone managed to figure out the very first steps. Five years of studying every piece of 80s trivia available (Halliday’s favorite era), five years of studying gameplay of video games long since forgotten, and five years of “gunters” (egg-hunters) slowly throwing their hands up in defeat.

Wade, our hero, thinks it could be him. He’s a smart kid, and he’s put in some hard work. He spends all his free time on the OASIS, either attending virtual school or ingesting more potentially-useless trivia. There’s no real reason for him to go anywhere else, because he lives in a trailer stacked atop approximately twenty others, and he lives with his aunt, who doesn’t seem to care what he does. Pretty much his only possessions are the interfaces that allow him to connect to the OASIS, and he’s got them sequestered away in his hideout, which is pretty much a cave deep within a pile of old, rusting cars.

But not even Wade realizes what will happen the instant his username appears in the first-place slot, or what dangers will arise. It’s been blank for five years, and there are some people– or companies (companies are people, right? Right…?)– who would do anything to get their hands on the golden egg (and Halliday’s fortune). Namely IOI (Innovative Online Industries), the internet service provider that has monopolized that industry, headquartered in the only city left in the United States that isn’t a slum: Columbus, Ohio. The IOI wants Halliday’s money. They want his legacy. They want to make even more money by being able to charge people to log into the OASIS. And they want it really, really badly.

Badly enough to kill.

Wade has never really had a problem going it alone, but he had met some online friends along the way. One such friend is Aech, whose whereabouts are unknown but has always been there for Wade as a gaming partner or a confidant. Aech is pretty equally matched with Wade in terms of 80s knowledge and video game expertise. They’ve spent the past few years collaborating on their research, but decided that if they’d figured out the first steps, they’d keep it to themselves. Nothing like a little friendly competition, right? But they’ve got plenty of learning to do about each other, first, and when Wade’s situation turns desperate and he winds up turning to the real-world Aech for help… well, let’s just say there are surprises in store for both of them.

A second person he meets along the way is Art3mis, the wickedly intelligent blogger who Wade had always admired from the safety of his terminal but had never attempted to interact with. When he runs into her virtual avatar outside the tomb where the first clue is located, they begrudgingly spark a friendship that quickly turns into something else… or does it?

I really don’t want to give away too much here. I want you to read this book. I want you to love it. I was barely alive in the 80s (late ’88) so some of the references are lost on me, but a lot of it is stuff that is firmly ingrained into the public consciousness and won’t be going away any time soon! And look, it’s 2016– if you don’t know what something is, you can flop the book down and open a new tab for Google. There’s no excuse for not “getting” anything that happens in this novel. Besides, if people in 2044 are still loving the 80s, you can too!

The point is that I loved this book. I loved it so much. The ending made me bawl. Like, flat-out “put the book down and cry”-cry. And that is honestly not something that books can achieve for me very often. I want to buy this book for every person I know. Actually, I started toward that goal today– I was at Books Inc. in Mountain View this evening with my friend Alex, and I bought it for her. I hope she loves it as much as I did.

A lot of this story rang true for me because I’ve been there. I’ve gotten lost in the virtual world. It allows you to be a person you can’t be in real life– to fly, to use magic, to be strong– and allows you to see places straight out of other people’s dreams. I’ve met so many people through virtual platforms, friends and lovers alike. I started playing World of Warcraft in 2009 and I still talk to people from my first guild on a regular basis. Sometimes the friends you make are thousands of miles away, but it’s never stopped any of them from being there for me when I needed them most. Just like Wade’s friends.

Whether you’re a gamer or not, I hope this book inspires you to take the first steps of something. Maybe nothing so drastic as a challenge to win yourself billions of dollars, but maybe something you’ve always wanted. Make an effort to meet the person you’re in love with… for real. Change your stripes. Write a book. Record an album. Do something, but do it because life is short and it will be worth it. I promise.

Rating: ★★★★★+

P.S. they’re making a movie out of this, due in 2017. You’ll want to have read the book first. I’m hoping the movie will be awesome but as we all know, it’s never quite as awesome as the book. 🙂
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Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-307-58837-1
Published: Broadway Books (Random House), 2012
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

gone girl

Main Characters: Amy, Nick

Synopsis: Nick and Amy appear to have the perfect marriage. They’ve got it all: looks, money, love. But one morning, Amy has disappeared, and all that is left are signs of a struggle. Was their marriage really as good as it looked? Is Amy dead or just missing? Is Nick the fragile, worried husband or is he… a killer?

Memorable Quotes:

  • They’re baffled by my singleness. A smart, pretty, nice girl like me, a girl with so many interests and enthusiasms, a cool job, a loving family … I know that they secretly think there’s something wrong with me, something hidden away that makes me unsatisfiable, unsatisfying. (Amy, p. 29)
  • I know I am going to be angry– that quick inhale, the lips going tight, the shoulders up, the I so don’t want to be mad but I’m going to be feeling. Do men not know that feeling? You don’t want to be mad, but you’re obligated to be, almost. (Amy, p.65)
  • I have never been a nag. I have always been rather proud of my un-nagginess. So it pisses me off, that Nick is forcing me to nag. I am willing to live with a certain amount of sloppiness, of laziness, of the lackadaisical life. I realize that I am more type-A than Nick, and I try to be careful not to inflict my neat-freaky, to-do-list nature on him. Nick is not the kind of guy who is going to think to vacuum or clean out the fridge. He truly doesn’t see that stuff. Fine. Really. But I do like a certain standard of living– I think it’s fair to say the garbage shouldn’t literally overflow, and the plates shouldn’t sit in the sink for a week with smears of bean burrito dried on them. That’s just being a good grown-up roommate. And Nick’s not doing anything anymore, so I have to nag, and it pisses me off. (Amy, p. 85)
  • My husband is the most loyal man on the planet until he’s not. I’ve seen his eyes literally turn a shade darker when he’s felt betrayed by a friend, even a dear longtime friend, and then the friend is never mentioned again. He looked at me then like I was an object to be jettisoned if necessary. It actually chilled me, that look. (Amy, p. 100)
  • Until Nick, I’d never really felt like a person, because I was always a product. Amazing Amy has to be brilliant, creative, kind, thoughtful, witty, and happy. We just want you to be happy. Rand and Marybeth said that all the time, but they never explained how. So many lessons and opportunities and advantages, and they never taught me how to be happy. I remember always being baffled by other children. I would be at a birthday party and watch the other kids giggling and making faces, and I would try to do that too, but I wouldn’t understand why. I would sit there with the tight elastic thread of the birthday hat parting the pudge of my underchin, with the grainy frosting of the cake bluing my teeth, and I would try to figure out why it was fun. (Amy, p. 224)
  • My body was a beautiful, perfect economy, every feature calibrated, everything in balance. I don’t miss it. I don’t miss men looking at me. It’s a relief to walk into a convenience store and walk right back out without some hangabout in sleeveless flannel leering as I leave, some muttered bit of misogyny slipping from him like a nacho-cheese burp. Now no one is rude to me, but no one is nice to me either. No one goes out of their way, not overly, not really, not the way they used to. (Amy, p. 250)

Review: My friend Caroline and I picked this up at the bookstore a couple weeks ago. I hate seeing a movie adaptation before reading the book; I’d rather have the book ruin the movie than the other way around. We were going to read it together and do our own personal sort of book club, but she works a lot more than I do and I simply couldn’t put this book down. Caroline, stop reading this right now and finish your book!

If you’re planning on seeing the movie and haven’t read the book yet, I’d advise you don’t read this review. Spoilers ahoy.

First and foremost, this book is a masterful piece of work. Amy is a masterful piece of work. Nick is a smarmy, spoiled baboon along for the ride.

Amy is… brilliant. She’s sharp, conniving, and knows what Nick is going to do before he even thinks about it. Amy does not like to be taken for a fool, and when she finds out that Nick is cheating on her with a ditzy twenty-three year old, she sets her sights on the ultimate revenge. She spends an entire year crafting this; every single spoken phrase, every single action is meticulously calculated. She doesn’t move unless she knows how it will be read once the plan is set in motion.What’s the plan? Why, to frame her husband for her murder, of course.

Like I said, Amy is meticulous. Her husband thinks she’s got an adorable affection for crime novels, but she’s really doing her research. She spends her evening writing a fake diary for the cops to find; she picks out real events from their shared history and twists them just slightly in her favor. She mentions real historic events that were happening at the time, things that would be sourced to ensure their plausibility. In the diary, she mentions feeling sick, describing textbook symptoms of antifreeze poisioning: yes, that’s right, she poisoned herself with antifreeze, then saved the vomit to later be wielded as evidence against her husband. She performed Google searches on his computer, things that would seem innocent until the police were looking for them: body float Mississippi river.

Somewhere along the way, Nick figures out what is going on. Of course he did– he’s a bumbling baboon, but he’s not a complete nitwit. All the proof that the cops are going on are things that were set up by Amy. Nick’s a deep sleeper? Perfect opportunity for Amy to plant his fingerprints all over the murder weapon. Nick’s cheating on Amy? Plant some underwear in his work office. Amy’s pregnant with a baby Nick didn’t want– wait, what?

I honestly think this is my favorite of Amy’s tricks. Her friend Noelle was pregnant with her fourth child. Amy invited Noelle over for lemonade and just happened to have drained the toilet– oh, it’s broken. When Noelle needed to pee, Amy later went and collected it, swapped it out at a doctor’s appointment, and voila– iron-clad laboratory proof that she, Amy, is in fact pregnant. What kind of monstrosity would kill his pregnant wife?! jeers the crowd. So cruel, so cruel. Because Nick did actually want a baby.

After hiring the best lawyer in the country, Nick finally learns how to act, and begins pleading with Amy via the national news. Come home, he says. I love you. He paints such a good picture of his adoration that even Amy begins to fall for it. He knew she would; that’s how well they know each other. Amy literally doesn’t believe she’s unlovable. She expects admiration, so when it’s granted, she believes it completely. Of course Nick loves her. Why wouldn’t he? Amy’s plans begin to change.

This is such a completely brilliant novel. Like I mentioned earlier, I legitimately did not want to put it down. I brought it to work with me and read over my sandwich at lunch. Amy’s plot is so precise, the lines so taught, that Nick never even had a chance. I read somewhere that we’ll never hear about the perfect crime, but this, my friends, is the perfect crime.

I chose the quotes above because they resonated with me the most. Amy and I have very little in common, but every good piece of writing has moments you can relate to. Especially that first quote; that’s me in a nutshell. To the outside world, I have plenty of redeemable qualities, and yet… single. So single. Anyway, for that second quote: I know what it’s like to be angry and then have it written off as “irrational.” I think every woman does, which is why the “do men not know that feeling?” was such a great piece of writing. The rest of the quotes are there not because they echo in familiarity against the inside of my skull, but because they’re some damn good quotes.

Check out the trailer for the upcoming movie here.

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this story as a movie, especially because 50% of Part I is a fabrication. The events are mostly true, sure, but all the feelings behind them are not. It’s easier to throw a plot twist like this at you in a book, I think. But it comes out next Friday and I will be there for sure, that you can count on!

Rating: ★★★★½

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Review: Nobody’s Princess by Esther Friesner

Title: Nobody’s Princess
Author: Esther Friesner
Genre: YA Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-375-87528-1
Published: 2007, Random House

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Main Characters: Helen of Sparta, her family, and her friends Atalanta, Milo, and Eunike

Synopsis: Helen of Sparta, daughter of Zeus, is a young girl growing up in ancient Greece. She may not know exactly what she wants out of life, she knows what she doesn’t: she doesn’t want to marry a boy, she doesn’t want to learn needlepoint, and she definitely doesn’t want to just be pretty! Helen takes it upon herself to make her own dreams come true, such as learning to swordfight, and sets herself up to become Helen of Troy, one of the most famous women history will ever know.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “That would be so easy, wouldn’t it?” she said. “So easy to let someone else make your choices for you. That way, if you fail, it isn’t your fault.” She clasped my hands more tightly. “You deserve to live a better life than that.” (Queen Leda to Helen, p. 87)
  • “She said that until she met you, she thought she was the only woman alive who’d ever wanted something more than a husband, a family, and a hearth fire. Was she wrong?” (Milo to Helen, p. 256)

Review: Although I can definitely say this tale was intended for someone much younger than I, I must give credit where credit is due: this is a wonderful little novel. I’ve always gotten a kick out of historical fiction, and reading about a young girl’s struggle to make a mark on the world is something I think we can all identify with. We all grew up wanting to be the President, did we not? Helen sees the cookie-cutter mold laid out for her future and doesn’t want a piece of it. The characters are vibrant and well-fleshed out; you truly feel for Helen and her plights. Her friends are loyal and imaginative, though the prophesizing Eunike comes off as a mere plot device. In spite of that, however, there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot; it’s written more as a journal, detailing her day-to-day experiences and travels. There is a sequel, though, and if I can get my hands on it, I’ll definitely review it as well!

Rating: ★★★½

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