Ready Player One

ready-player-one-book-cover-389x600So, definitely not a book from my childhood as I read it only five years ago, but Ernest Cline’s fantastic dystopian novel contains so much 80’s nostalgia that I felt it deserved it’s own special post.

I have no idea how I heard of the novel as it is a debut, thus it can’t be that I’d read other works by the author. I also bought it in hardback so I must have really wanted to read it. I finished it and immediately read it again, right after buying copies for my pop culture loving friends and family (those my age especially). What makes the book so wonderful is that you don’t have to get all the allusions to 80’s pop culture to understand the story. In fact, I added the novel as an independent study for my grade 10 students, and they have thoroughly enjoyed it also. For us children of the 80’s, the pop culture references are a delight as you can’t help but get a little thrill each time you recognize one. I remembered vividly the scene from War Games and the swallows from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Joust also features prominently and I couldn’t help but remember flying that friggin’ ostrich around with a joystick.  If you’re interested, the wonderful educational site, Schmoop, catalogues them all for us here.

Cline has created a vivid world and an underdog hero you can’t help but root for. The story is set in 2044 and the world has succumbed to decay and an environmental crisis. A la the Matrix, citizens escape into a more welcoming and idealized world in the OASIS, a virtual reality world created by James Halliday, an eccentric billionaire and 80’s pop culture fan. In his will, Halliday leaves his vast fortune to the first person to discover the Easter Egg he has hidden in the OASIS. Millions set out to find it but as the years go by with no progress, only the most devoted remain determined in their search.

Our hero, Wade, is an 18 year old orphan when we meet him, and he has devoted his entire life to searching for the Easter Egg, just have many others including a well-organized and well-funded conglomerate which is determined to find it before anyone else. When Wade is the first player to find the copper key (after beating the game of Joust), he becomes a target as all set out to beat him to the end.

As leery as I am about film adaptations especially of a novel I love, I can’t think of a more perfect person to take on the film version than Steven Spielberg, himself an 80’s geek. Cline is also the screenwriter so I’m feeling pretty good about this one, despite a niggling feeling it will be CGI and action heavy. Those lucky enough to attend the panel at Comic Con this past week were given a first look at the film which premiers March 30th. This will be one I see opening weekend.

Happy Anniversary Harry

harryYes I know I’m a bit late.  I was completely convinced that the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was July 17th. As a devoted Potter fan, I knew I had to commemorate the anniversary in some way so I sat down to write only to realize that June 26th was the anniversary date. Totally missed it! I think July 17th was the release of Deathly Hallows; definitely a memorable occasion for me, so I see where that came from but still annoyed at myself for missing it. Twenty years! I can’t believe it’s been twenty years. Where did that go? Anyway, better late than never I guess.

Every Harry Potter fan has their “I remember when” story I’m sure. You know, “I remember how/why/when I discovered the series”? And sorry, but I don’t count the films. I’m a purist. The films are a whole other world and a whole different set of stories. Really, the film Prisoner of Azkaban completely glosses over the Marauders, which is definitely what made that book so great. What I find sad now is that it’s not easy for Harry Potter newbies to discover the books without being influenced by the merchandising juggernaut that is Warner Brothers.

While I would like to say that I picked up Philosopher’s Stone in 1997 and waited in anticipation for the next installment, it wasn’t until 2000 that I actually discovered Harry and the magical world. Still it was before the first movie came out, so I had my own visions of the characters and Hogwarts rather than those Warner Brothers created for us.

gobletIt was my boss who introduced me to the series, however unintentionally. He sent me in search of the Goblet of Fire for his son who was demanding to read it. My boss, never one to deny his son, set me on the hunt for the sold out book, which had only been released a week ago. Keep in mind now, that this was the infancy of the internet and a time when “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” carried some credence. I hadn’t heard of the boy wizard at that point, but a bit of research piqued my curiosity as I was having a devil of a time finding a copy. Once I tracked it to an independent bookseller in Toronto, I found myself reserving two copies and hoofing it down there to pick them up. Of course I also had to get the first three books as I couldn’t read the fourth one first. So, successful in my search, I presented boss’ son with his copy of Goblet of Fire and said “we can read it together”. Ha, fat chance. I was finished all four books inside of five days. He was still only half way through Goblet. Yep, I was hooked.

I believe the true success of the Harry Potter series is a result of a combination of things. Yes, it’s a great story which I thoroughly enjoy (over and over and over again) but it also benefited from the “right place right time” phenomenon. The internet was in its infancy. Smart phones and iPads did not exist; even the iPod hadn’t been released yet. There were no social media sites and people were just discovering a whole new world of others with the same interest. The fandom was born and grew on a young internet. People could come together for the first time (anonymously for the most part) and immerse themselves in a whole new world. People from all over the world could talk about the books and play in the magical world while they waited for Order of the Phoenix to be released (three years it took!!). Somewhere in there the films came out but they were a blip in the already rabid book fandom.

The Harry Potter phenomenon as it’s been called won’t happen again as our world has changed far too much in the past 17 years. Everything so frantic and fragmented now as we are bombarded daily by tweets here and notifications there. Really it’s a talent just to keep up!

I still amazes me that it’s been ten years since the release of Deathly Hallows. Ten years. I miss Harry, and I miss the anticipation of the next installment in his story. We know how it all turns out now. His story is over and ten years later it’s still hard to accept that we have said goodbye to these characters.

Yes, twenty years have passed since the boy wizard began to take the world by storm and J.K. Rowling went from welfare mum to a woman richer than the queen. An incredible story for both of them.

Happy Anniversary. You’ve both definitely made your mark in history.

I Love a Book That Keeps Me Up All Night

skinWell, I was hoping to finish The Arc Trilogy by Jesse Daro before writing about it, but I’m still only half way through part 3, and I wanted to get something out before I left on holiday, so here we are.

The Trilogy was recommended to me on Good Reads, and after failing to find it on Kobo, I headed over to Amazon where I had success. Not ideal, as it meant I had to read on the iPad but small sacrifices. Now, a heads up before you go any further; it’s a young adult series, so if that’s not your thing, no need to read any further. Personally I enjoy reading young adult as the stories are usually fast-paced, plus I love to know what my students are reading and I love to find books to recommend to them.

So, Book 1 of the trilogy (Skins) sucked me in immediately probably because it opened with “The bullet struck Naomi from behind, spraying blood onto the chipped blue-and-white tiles above the kitchen sink, thickest at the center and spackling upward in a thinning arc, like a Jackson Pollock painting”. Nothing like starting with a bang (sorry…). The story continues as it begins, and I was up far to late. But hey, it’s summer break so who cares.

The story is an easy read without being juvenile, and the world-building is vivid. The main character, Seth is well-developed and proves to be an entertaining narrator. He also happens to be a Werekin, a warrior descendant of an alien race who can transform at will into a jaguar. I know, I know stop rolling your eyes. Warriors, alien races, fighting animals, all over done yes, yes. Somehow, I wasn’t thinking that as I read it. Probably because of Seth. He’s such a genuine character. Actually, he reminded me of Syd in Alex London’s Proxy (go, read, right now). Independent, quick-witted, observant and completely sympathetic.

On the run his whole life, Seth has just lost the closest thing he has to a mother (the above-mentioned Naomi of the splattering brain), whose dying words send him to his natural mother. Once there, Seth realizes he’s out of options and has no choice but to stay with “mom” and her new family. Meanwhile it’s getting more and more difficult to keep his secret as he starts high school, meets the boy next door and realizes no one is to be trusted. Add in an I-want-to-take-over-the-world despot and a growing resistance and you’ll find yourself wondering what can possibly happen next.

Each character is fully developed and we are never told what they are like, we are shown (a basic but often over-looked necessity of a good story). I quickly grew to care about them and never found myself skipping or skimming as has been a practice of mine lately (due to some of the drivel I’ve been subjecting myself to).

Eventhough I didn’t devour Parts 2 (Blood) and 3 (Bone) as quickly as I did Part 1, they are equally as entertaining, and I’m quite anxious to see how everything turns out. Everyone better survive!!

Update

I really hate that I haven’t been using my site.  It’s actually been over a year!  And it’s not like I haven’t been reading or had things to write about.  Sigh, life just gets away from you but there really are no excuses.  I have plans for what I what to write about so now I just need to get on a roll and make it a routine.

skinSo what is everyone reading?  I am currently in the middle of a great series called The Arc Trilogy by Jessie Daro.  It’s been a long time since i’ve had a book I couldn’t put down.  Part one was devoured in a day.  It’s young adult so may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s a unique an compelling story.

I’ve also starting to realize (being as old school as I am, I’m a little slow on the uptake) how many books are self-published or only published digitally now.  It appears to be a lot easier to get your book out there and into the hands of the masses.  Not necessarily a good thing judging by some of the stuff I’ve found out there, but I’ve also discovered some great reads which probably would never have seen the light of day.  Good Reads has proven to be a great help in this area.  It’s also made me think of digging my old novel out and finishing it off.  Would be great to see people reading it.

So, hope to make my presence more of a common occurrence in the next few months.  The world of books really is a wonderful world to play in!