Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Nerd Culture is a stock that is currently rising. Everywhere you turn people are embracing retro nostalgia and pop-culture icons of yesteryear. Video games are mainstream. Dungeons & Dragons is mainstream. Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy – all genres that were once coveted only by the nerdiest among us are now celebrated en-masse. For proof of this, one needs to look no further then the smash box-office hit Ready Player One. This film is nothing more than a huge amalgamation of video games and retro pop-culture.

Of course, the film is based on a book of the same name. I first read this book about six months ago at the suggestion of my oldest son. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never heard of the novel. But upon taking up his suggestion, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

Let me say up front, that having both read the book and having viewed the film, they are very different. The film follows the basic plot of the novel, but strays off on its own path. While similar, the book and the film are two completely different experiences. I like the film just fine, but the book seems the have a charm that feels a bit more personal. It just works a bit better in my opinion. If I had to guess, I imagine that many of the differences had to do with licensing issues. It’s easier to get certain things in print that it is to get them on the big screen.

In a nutshell, the story of Ready Player One takes place about two decades in the future. War, pollution, and political unrest have turned the world into a pretty unpleasant place. To escape reality, a majority of the population retreat to a V.R. world called “The O.A.S.I.S”. This virtual world offers both entertainment and even job opportunities. When the founder of the O.A.S.I.S. dies, it is revealed that he has hidden a secret Easter Egg in his program. Whoever can find it will inherit his fortune and control of the O.A.S.I.S program. Of course, people go nuts looking for clues in hopes of winning the contest. Hunters begin studying every aspect of the creator’s life and interests in hopes of uncovering some clue that will lead them to the prize. This results in a resurgence of popularity in late 70’s and 80’s pop culture. However, five years after his death no one has come close. The biggest competitor still looking for the egg is the corporation that currently manages the O.A.S.I.S. Their hope is gain complete control of the virtual world so that they can monetize it. Eventually, one young man manages to uncover a clue that leads him on the path to claiming the egg. But the closer he gets to winning the more danger he finds himself in.

It is said that Richard Garriot, creator of the Ultima video games series (who’s book I recently reviewed here), partially served as the inspiration for James Halliday (the creator of The O.A.S.I.S). But honestly, I also suspect that D&D founder Gary Gygax was just as big of a muse. In fact, the book makes several mentions of Dungeon & Dragons. Naturally, this resulted in more than a few smiles from me as I thumbed through the novel.

If you’re like me and you tend to get hung up reading only specific authors or books from various fantasy series, it’s important to switch things up from time to time. Ready Player One is a great change of pace. As a child of the 80’s this book is a great nostalgic trip. I recommend reading it before going to see the film. This one is recommended.

Story: Entertaining and over-the-top. The writing style can be a bit iffy at times, but the book itself is largely enjoyable. The more versed you are in pop-culture the more you will get out of this one.

Recommended:  This book is a must-read for nerds and pop-culture fanatics. Retro grognards like me will find a lot to enjoy. That being said, the book has found a solid audience with mainstream readers as well.

Explore/Create – Richard Garriott

 

It’s been a little while since I posted a book review that wasn’t Star Wars related. In fact, I think my last one was a review of Stephen King’s Carrie back in November of last year. So, this time I wanted to change things up a bit and discuss an autobiography that I finished a few months ago: Explore/Create by Richard Garriott.

Richard Garriott is an American video game developer and entrepreneur. He is best known as the creator of the legendary Ultima games, a series of classic RPGs for the personal computer. He is also lesser known for being a private astronaut and all-around adventurer.

Even though I’ve not really discussed it on this site before, I’ve been a lifelong fan of the Ultima series. In fact, starting next month, I plan to spend a little time reviewing the series in full before jumping back into my regular backlog reviews. As a die-hard Ultima fan, I was shocked to discover that I had overlooked the fact that Garriott had authored a novel about his life and career. Somehow, I had missed the news that this book even existed. No sooner did I learn about it, I snapped up a digital copy and fired it up on my Kindle.

As far as autobiographies go, this book is a little odd. First, it focuses on two different aspects of Garriott’s life, his love of exploration and of artistic creation (hence the name of the novel “Explore/Create“). Each chapter is designated with one of those two labels. Chapters tagged as “Explore” focus on Richard Garriott’s real life adventures and amateur scientific excursions. For example, his experiences on the International Space Station, or his trips to Antarctica. Chapters labeled with the “Create” tag, are more geared towards stories about his game developments days.

With this in mind, readers who are only interested in Garriott’s career can skip any of the “Explore” chapters and just get right into the meat of what interests them the most. For me, I did read the entire book of course, but I personally took a greater interest in the stories and anecdotes regarding his work on Ultima and his career at Origin. I found some of his “Explore” adventures to be interesting, but often a bit braggadocios. Richard Garriott strikes me as the type of guy who enjoys his wealth and doesn’t mind flashing his status around. Which, is OK, I suppose. But it comes off as a little silly in print.

I believe all of the stories presented in the book are factual. I don’t think Garriott is spinning any tall tales here. But admittedly, some of them are presented in a very over-the-top fashion. For example, there’s a section early on in the book where he details an event involving a prowler on his property. The whole encounter actually ended with Mr. Garriott holding the trespasser at gunpoint while he waited for the Police to arrive. That is interesting enough on its own, but the way Garriott portrays it is just a little much… I believe the quote was something to the effect of “So then, I grabbed an Uzi and made my way up stairs!” I audibly snorted when I read the line.

I suppose such a grandiose presentation and having a bit of an ego comes with the territory. The man has certainly earned his lifestyle. And despite coming across as a bit of a blowhard, he seems to be a nice person. I’ve had a few dealings with him on Twitter over the years, we’ve sparred on political topics, etc – but despite our difference of opinion, Richard Garriott has always been civil and respectful. That’s more than I can say for some people.

In summary, this is a book that will appeal most to old school gamers, science nerds, and techies. There’s very little here that might inspire the average person to want to thumb through these pages. Once you crack the cover, the book itself is well done, but again, it is certainly not going to appeal to everyone.

Story: Interesting and insightful. It comes off as pretentious at times. By his own admission, Richard Garriott sometimes sounds like a privileged rich kid who lucked out and landed the career of his dreams. However, he also manages to be self critical and humble when appropriate. For those interested, this book provides lots of insider info on the indie game scene of the early 80s – interesting stuff.

Recommended:  For fans of Ultima and old school CRPGS. Science nerds and PC-culture fans.

 

Star Wars: Guardians of the Whills – Greg Rucka

The week is here! In a mere two days Star Wars: The Last Jedi will finally be released in theaters across the world. So, to celebrate I’m posting my review of the final “Rogue One” novel; Guardians of Whills.

This novel focuses on the characters of Chirrut and Baze, two characters that I found particularly interesting from the film, Rogue One. As a result, I had really high hopes for this novel. Sadly, of the three Rogue One tie-ins, this novel was my least favorite. But that being said, it’s still a decent read overall- just not as good as Catalyst or Rebel Rising. Of all the “young readers” releases, this book is one of the few actually seems to feel aimed towards a younger audience. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. But, I suppose I just expected to see these characters in a bit of a grittier setting and situation.

The novel itself is a quick read. It also does a pretty decent job of providing a little backstory to the world of Jedha as well as providing some interesting info into the Church of the Force. But again, I feel there is so much more content to be explored here that was left untouched. It’s a shame and I really hope that we see some more detail in the future regarding “The Whills” and just what role the Force plays outside of the Jedi and Sith. Who knows, maybe we’ll get some of our answers in a few days.

Story: Interesting. But there is so much untapped potential around these characters that remains largely ignored.

Recommended:  For hardcore fans and young children.

Star Wars: Rebel Rising – Beth Revis

December is here! And at the time of this writing, the new Star Wars movie is only two weeks away! My current goal is to get all caught up on “pre-Last Jedi” novels in time for the new film. That leaves me with two books to review between now and then. One of those books is this one, Rebel Rising.

To date, there’s been three main novels that tie-in directly to Rogue One. Catalyst, which I’ve already reviewed on this site, serves as a prequel.  Guardians of the Whills. (A novel I will be discussing next week). And finally, this book, Rebel Rising. This novel tells the backstory of Jyn Erso, the lead character from Rogue One.

I found this book to be much more interesting than I initially anticipated. It follow’s Jyn’s life from the moment she is rescued by Saw Gerrara to the very instant she is joins the Rebel Alliance. The author does a fantastic job of letting us peek into Jyn’s mind and thereby helping us better understand her character. In the film, Jyn’s persona appears very conflicted and complicated. In some ways, her motives felt contradictory. I had always suspected this was simply the result of the rumored last-minute script change and reshoots in Rogue One, and perhaps it is. But even if that’s the case, this book does a marvelous job of reconciling that, and really brings a level of depth to her character that, in my opinion, was badly needed.

Despite being marketed as a young-adult novel, I found this book to feel more like a piece of adult fiction. It’s very well written, and even touches on some very complex themes. So, if you’re concerned about the maturity level of this novel, don’t let that inhibit you. Rebel Rising is a welcome addition to the Star Wars canon.

Story: Masterfully written, informative, and it helps improve upon one of the series newest characters. Very well done.

Recommended:  For all Star Wars fans, but especially those partial to Rogue One.

Star Wars: Thrawn – Timothy Zahn

My review of Timothy Zahn’s return to Star Wars is here! Having long been a fan-favorite from the old Expanded Universe, the character of Thrawn is back! That’s right, the Star Wars Story Group has officially brought Thrawn into the Star Wars canon. The character was reintroduced in the third season of Star Wars Rebels. This book, serves as his new official backstory.

For fans of the old EU, Thrawn is a long time favorite. Thankfully, not much has changed about the character. His introduction in this novel nearly mirrors that of his original origin story “Mist Encounter”. Some tweaks and refinements to that “legend” have been made, however. Personally, I find these changes to be welcome additions. For those who may not know, the character of Thrawn is an alien who’s origins lie outside of the galaxy, in a place called the “Unknown Regions”. The emperor has a great interest in the Unknown Regions and thus, takes an interest in Thrawn. Thrawn is recruited into the Imperial Navy where he becomes one of the Empire’s leading tacticians. This novel covers all aspects of his career, from his training all the way to the moment he is promoted to Grand Admiral. All in all, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable book. Personally, I enjoyed it much more that the old Heir to the Empire trilogy or even his previous origin story, Outbound Flight.

The story itself it well written and reads much like a military thriller. Thrawn’s portrayal here matches what fans of the original EU books would come to expect. He’s cool and calculating. Intelligent and always in control. This book also does a great job of humanizing him in some ways. Allowing fans to see past his historical portrayal as a villain In my opinion, this book serves as the perfect introduction to this wonderful character.

It seems that Disney has lots of plan’s for Thrawn. He continues to be a main character in the fourth season of Star Wars Rebels, he also has his own comic book on the horizon, not to mention a second novel in the works that’s due to for a 2018 release.

I can’t wait to see how Disney and Zahn continue to work together to further develop and use this character in the new Star Wars canon. It doesn’t matter if you’re an old fan of Thrawn from the EU or if you were recently introduced to him through Rebels, this book is certainly worth a look.

Story: Excellent reintroduction of a fan-favorite character. Well written, great pacing and plenty of action.

Recommended:  For all Star Wars fans

Star Wars: Tales From A Galaxy Far, Far Away – Aliens (volume one) – Landry Walker

November is here! The release of Star Wars Episode VIII is now only a month away and… I’ve been slacking with my Star Wars reading. So, my goal is to get all caught up by the time the new movie comes out. This includes both novels and comics. This little push begins today with a new book review: Tales From A Galaxy Far, Far Away – Aliens.

This is another young readers release. It is actually a collection of short stories. Most of the stories compiled in this book were originally available for purchase separately. But eventually they were collected into one volume and published together at a low price. This book contains the following tales:

High Noon on Jakku –  (Featuring Constable Zuvio – a minor character who’s scene was cut from The Force Awakens)

The Face of Evil – (Featuring a Frigosian doctor – a background extra seen in The Force Awakens)

True Love – (Featuring Unkar Plutt – a minor character from The Force Awakens)

All Creatures Great and Small – (Featuring Bobbajo – a background character from The Force Awakens)

A Recipe for Death – (A murder mystery that takes place in Maz Kanata’s castle)

The Crimson Corsair and The Lost Treasure of Count Dooku – (Featuring The Crimson Corsair – a minor character from The Force Awakens)

Unlike most of the “young reader” novels set in the Star Wars universe, which tend to be surprisingly mature, this book is very much aimed at children. While all of the stories contained within the book are interesting to a point, even for adults, they are largely silly and simple. For example, A Recipe for Death is a ridiculous and immature “whodunit” tale. But, even though some of the stories included in this collection are silly, they are short and largely entertaining.

The gems of the collection are High Noon on Jakku and The Crimson Corsair. The later features a VERY interesting tie-in to the Clone Wars that I hope to see explored in later stories. I recommend at least both of these tales to any serious Star Wars fan.

All in all, the stories in this book are a must have for hardcore fans or for children who really like The Force Awakens. More casual readers will likely find the collection to be immature and pointless.

Story: The short stories in the book range from excellent to sub-par. They are short enough to be read individually in one sitting.

Recommended:  For hardcore fans and young children.

Carrie – Stephen King

Before moving on other things, I wanted to take a moment to post another book review. Having finished up Parasite Eve a few days before Halloween, I found myself wanting something else to read that was still in the spirit of the season. This time of year, I usually find myself curling up on the couch with my favorite novel of all time, Dracula. But this time, I decided I wanted to go in a different direction. When one thinks of horror novels, Stephen King is often the first author that comes to mind. I’ve always been a casual fan of King’s work. In my youth, I’ve read a number of King’s books. The Stand, It, Needful Things, The Shining, etc. I’ve also enjoyed his short stories quite a bit. But, there’s a ton of his novels that I’ve never taken the time to read.

So, I found myself browsing his library on Halloween morning looking for something to keep me in the spooky mood of the day. Then, the thought occurred to me to read through Stephen King’s works much like I do with the games I review on this site. So, beginning with this post, I’ll be reading and reviewing all of Stephen King’s works by order of publication. So, for that reason, I loaded up his debut novel “Carrie” on my Kindle Paperwhite and settled in under my blanket. This was not my first reading of the novel. I initially read “Carrie” maybe ten years ago. But to be honest, I only remembered the basic gist of it. Many of the finer details were lost over the years.

The story of “Carrie” is a classic. The novel focuses on the character of Carrie White. A chubby teen girl who is the epitome of social misfits. She’s awkward, riddled with acne, and she’s the daughter of an EXTREMELY religious single mother. The story begins with a scene of extreme bullying at the hands of her schoolmates. It is shortly after this event that Carrie realizes that she has telekinetic powers. As the story proceeds, the continued hazing and abuse by both her schoolmates and mother drive Carrie over the edge, resulting in a murderous rage.

The concept of the novel is quite original and riveting. This was true when the novel was published in 1974 and is still true today. The book itself is masterfully written. In fact, it’s difficult to believe that this was an author’s debut outing. With this in mind, no one can deny King’s claim to the throne as one of America’s modern literary geniuses.

The book itself is told through a mixture of both standard storytelling, mock newspaper clippings, scientific articles, and interviews of those who witnessed the events portrayed in the books. The ultimately conclusion of the story is laid bare early on, but the details leading up to the finale keep the reader glued to the pages. Again, it’s masterfully done.

If you’ve never read a Stephen King book, this is a fine place to start. It’s a relatively short read and it’s very approachable. Despite being his earliest novel, it’s still one of his best. Not to mention, it’s perfect for this time of year.

 

Story: Unique and well written. The perfect introduction to Stephen King.

Recommended:  For mature readers who enjoy chilling tales and paranormal phenomena.

 

Parasite Eve (Novel) – Hideaki Sena

Happy Halloween! Since we’ve already discussed a few creepy games, I thought I’d end October this year with a couple of scary book reviews. I’ve often talked about my plans to include more non-Star Wars book reviews to the site so what better way to start than with a Halloween theme? Plus, this book actually dove-tails into the next game that I’m going to review. I’m talking about Parasite Eve, a very popular Playstation game from 1998. Many gamers will be familiar with the title. But did you know that the game is actually the sequel to a Japanese horror novel? Well, once I learned this I decided to pick up an english language version of the book so I would have the full backstory going into the game.

Up front, I’m going to tell you that this review is going to be very spoiler-filled. There’s not really a way I can find to discuss this book without ruining the story. So, if you’d prefer to read the novel completely blind, this is your warning….

Parasite Eve is a strange book. In a nutshell, the whole concept of the novel is that the mitochondria in our cells are actually intelligent parasites that have been using humanity for a symbiotic relationship while they wait for mankind to become powerful enough to be worthy of a takeover. The book follows a scientist who loses his wife in a car accident. The mitochondria in his body influence him subconsciously to donate her kidneys for research. At the same time, the mitochondria in the body of a young girl who recently received another kidney transplant, influence her to stop taking her medication, causing her new donor kidney to be rejected.  The idea here is that she will ultimately receive the dead wife’s kidney… because you see, the body chemistry of the two women is perfect for breeding a new human/mitochondria hybrid that will take over humanity and rule the world. It’s actually quite a bit more complicated than that, but that’s close enough. Weird, huh?

The premise is actually pretty interesting and for the most part the book is very well done. However, it does tend to get very dry and technical at times. I feel like the author actually has a real background in the field and decided to share his knowledge in the form of a horror novel. In doing so, he tends to over-explain and use a tad too much technical jargon for my taste. In many places, it tends to drag the story down. Then again, being a translated a novel, a good portion of this might have a lot to do with localization. It’s always difficult to translate a novel from one language to another and keep the same flow and momentum as the original author. With that in mind, I find the pacing of the book to be easy to forgive.

Even so, the book has a weird feel to it. It starts off odd, but very believable. The theory of a self-aware mitochondria is certainly fantastic and science fiction, but it’s presented in a way that’s believable. Then, literally in the turn of a page, we drive right off the cliff into complete Japanese weirdness. The story goes from science-based fiction to a total acid trip of monstrous proportions. There are literally giant vaginas made of rebellious mitochondria trying to eat people – completely out of nowhere. It was not at all what I was expecting.  It is the sum of every weird alien anime you’ve ever seen put to paper.

That being said, it was quite an interesting read. I found it to be oddly appropriate for the season, albeit a bit more disgusting that actually frightening.  I’ve certainly never come across anything like it.

All in all, this is not a book that I can recommend for the general public. But perhaps fans of the video game series would be take interest in the novel. The games were tremendously popular, so I’m very curious now to see how the story presented in this book can continue in game form.

Story: Very unique and interesting concept. A bit laggy at times, but considering it is a translated novel, very well done. Certainly a refreshing concept, but ultimately a gross and horrific story. Not for everyone.

Recommended:  For fans of the Parasite Eve series and folks who like Japanese alien manga. But general readers might have a hard time digesting this one.

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Parasite Eve (Novel) –  Parasite Eve  –  Parasite Eve II   –  The 3rd Birthday

Star Wars: Ahsoka – E. K. Johnston

I know… It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Star Wars novel and I’m actually accumulating quite a backlog. But, as per my October tradition, my family always takes a vacation during Fall Break and that gives me plenty of off-the-grid time to catch up on reading. This time, I managed to read a few different books! So expect some book reviews in the coming days.  While I was away, the fourth season of Star Wars Rebels premiered. With that in mind, I felt like this would be the perfect time to read and review one of my neglected novels: Ahsoka.

For casual fans, the character of Ahsoka may not gin up a lot of excitement. After all, the character debuted in the dismal Star Wars Clone Wars animated movie. (That alone is a death sentence for her in the mind of many fans). In that film, she was introduced as a young Padawan assigned to Anakin Skywalker. The character carried over to the Clone Wars animated series. It was there that the character of Ashsoka matured and really developed into a fan favorite. If you’re not one of the fans that gave the Clone Wars series a chance, it may be hard to imagine just how the annoying little girl from the animated film turned out to be one of the coolest characters in the Star Wars universe, but trust me. It happened.  It was for this reason, that fan’s rejoiced when Ahsoka was eventually unveiled as a key figure in the formation of the early rebellion in the Star Wars Rebels animated series.

In fact, this book actually fills in the gap between those two animated series. The story found in “Ahsoka” tells the tale of Ahsoka Tano after the events of Episode III, leading right into the events of Star Wars Rebels – and it’s masterfully done.

This book is a junior novel. Meaning, it was written for younger readers. For this reason, it won’t appear on the official time in the front cover of your latest adult Star Wars novel. But, the contents of the book are canon and just because it is aimed at younger readers doesn’t mean that it’s a book for children. Both the subject matter and the writing are just as good as any adult science fiction novel you will come across. The main difference being, it’s a short read. It’s about half the size of a standard novel.

Until this book, I’ve always been somewhat indifferent to the character of Ahsoka. I wasn’t a fan at first, but over the course of the Clone Wars television series, she started to grow on me. By the time she appeared in Rebels, I had warmed up to the character considerably. But now, after reading this novel, I find myself feeling much more “fanboyish” about the character. It’s really an excellent read. If you’re curious how Ahsoka got her white light sabers or just how she managed to join the rebellion, this book will provide the answers that you seek.

Not only that, but this novel also serves as a soft introduction for the mysterious Inquisitor characters that have also become a fan favorite since their introduction in Star Wars Rebels. In a nutshell, I enjoyed this book much more than I expected to. I truly thought this was going to be one of those reads that I would have to force my way through. But once I cracked it open, I couldn’t put it down. It read through it in under 24 hours. I recommend it.

Story: Surprisingly well done! It covers Ahsoka Tano’s adventures between the Clone Wars and Rebels in a masterful way. This book really does a fine job of detailing the character’s changes between these two crucial eras. The plot is engaging and action driven.

Recommended:  For most Star Wars fanatics. Especially for Clone Wars/Rebels fans.

Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End – Chuck Wendig

February 2017 saw the release of the final novel in the Star Wars Aftermath trilogy; Empire’s End. This is the series that bridges the gap (somewhat) between Episode VI and Episode VII. Over course of the these three books, we’ve been introduced to new characters as well as been able to peek in on a few of our favorite personas from original trilogy.

In retrospect, I was a bit cold on the original Aftermath. I didn’t care much for many of the new characters introduced, and I didn’t like the way the story seemed to jump all over the place. With the release of “Life Debt”, I began to feel a little more at home in Wendig’s post-ROTJ era, but still had my reservations. Now, I’m happy to say that I’ve actually come to enjoy several of the new characters he’s introduced. To me, Empire’s End is easily the best of the three novels in the series.

Those curious about the secret identity of Supreme Leader Snoke in Episode VII, will still be disappointed. Despite what many readers suspected to be a major tease regarding that character’s origins – nothing about the character is actually revealed. What we DO get in this story is a lot of background info on the planet of Jakku, as well as the Emperor’s plans post-mortum. It seems like Lucasfilm will be unlikely to give us any major revelations outside of the actual films,  but we’re certainly getting plenty of hints and breadcrumbs.  But YES – in this novel, you will finally see the fall of the Imperial Remnant and the reigns of power being handed to the New Republic. This alone, makes this novel worthy of your attention.

I’ve been an open critic of Chuck Wendig’s writing style in the past, and I’m happy to say that he seems to have really toned it down in this novel. This books reads much more like a started fantasy novel in terms of verbiage and standardized punctuation. To me, this one actually feels like it was written by a professional author and not some amateur who’s looking to make his name by being different and daring.

If you’re a serious fan of Star Wars and you love to consume every morsel of new information out there. This book is a need-to-have.

Story: The bulk of this book follows the characters that we’ve come to know from the other Aftermath novels, as well as longtime fan favorites. This story, when combined with the other three books, puts a nice end-cap on the events that occurred in Return of the Jedi, and helps set the stage for what we eventually see in The Force Awakens. However, even thoug ha lot of answers can be found here, fans are still left asking plenty of questions.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS.