Ready Player One: Book vs Film

 Image result for ready player one cover                                                           Image result for ready player one

 

Last week I sat down in my living room to watch Ready Player One. Twenty minutes in I was ready to throw in the towel, but decided to stick out the entire two hour running time in the hopes that things might improve. Things did not improve.

 

As soon as the credits rolled, I picked up my copy of Ernest Cline’s novel and began to read it for the third time in the hopes of scrubbing the events of the evening out of my mind. I began taking notes as I read, trying to pinpoint the exact reasons why I found myself so enraged by Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the book. In no specific order, here are my thoughts on Ready Player One the film vs the novel. Spoilers abound.

  1. Prior to watching, I had been told by several people that the movie was relatively enjoyable as long as you didn’t expect it to follow the book too closely. I took that to mean that there would be minor plot points that varied from the books in order to make the film flow a bit smoother. For example, in the Harry Potter films, I understood why they chose to omit the character of Peeves and most of the Quidditch games; if they didn’t every movie would be a long rambling mess. However, Spielberg seems to have taken the original source material for Cline’s novel, ripped out approximately thirty pages of it and used that to build his narrative. The heart of Ready Player One was completely lost in translation.
  2. Instead of a series of puzzles that require the characters to rely on their intelligence and problem-solving skills, we are instead treated to a MarioKart style opening wherein the “gunters” have to dodge giant dinosaurs and King Kong in order to make it through the first gate. The search for the Copper Key is where things began to go horribly wrong. It leaves out the equal playing field that James Halliday set up for all the users of OASIS. He placed the Copper Key on a planet where a) everyone had free and unlimited access to travel and b) there was no violence allowed. This essentially meant that no matter how strong and high-ranking your avatar was, the only thing that would allow you to reach the first key was your wit and your obsessive knowledge of obscure pop culture. In the film, it’s just another mindless car chase.
  3. Speaking of obscure pop culture, let’s talk about that. Ernest Cline’s novel delved so deeply into the realm of 1980’s music, television, film, and video games that one would need a submersible to follow after him. While reading the book, I found myself having to Google Japanese anime from the 1970’s. I had to familiarize myself with the fundamentals of text-based video games. When Wade or one of his fellow gunters finally solved one of the riddles, it was  genuinely impressive, because who the has the energy to devote their time and energy so completely to learning about this stuff? How many people can read a limerick and understand that it is referencing the limited edition cover of a thirty year old video game? In the novel, the difficulties that Parzival, Art3mis, and Aech face are actually difficult. When watching the film, all I saw was the growing trend of referencing things in a nostalgic way so that viewers will feel smart when they understand the references. Literally everyone watching this films knows the Tyrannosaurus from Jurassic Park. Or the Iron Giant. Or a DeLorean. There’s no challenge there. Spielberg dumbed down the pop culture references to the point where my six year old nephew could have found Halliday’s egg. It seems like he was so afraid of alienating any part of his audience, perhaps specifically the overseas audience, that he was unwilling to take even the smallest risk. Instead he chose to pander to the lowest common denominator.
  4. Let’s keep talking about pop culture. As I mentioned earlier, it takes a certain kind of individual to commit themselves so entirely towards one goal. In the novel, Parzival notes that he has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail something like 178 times. He’s beaten every classic video game. He’s watched every episode of every season of every series that was even remotely popular in the 1980’s. Multiple times. Who does that? Answer – a person who has become mentally unhinged. What Ready Player One fails to truly depict is that the people searching for Halliday’s Egg are deeply unhealthy individuals. Outside of the OASIS, where your avatar can be as handsome, fit, and powerful as the you wish, the actual people are described as overweight, sallow, and anti-social. Ernest Cline’s novel can be seen as a cautionary tale against people living their entire lives in a virtual reality. The film does attempt to address this by having the main characters interact in the real world far sooner than in the book, but at the end of the day this is still Hollywood. Wade isn’t exactly a fashion model, but he’s reasonably healthy and good-looking, and does not seem to be crippled by the type of shyness that exists when you never interact with a person in a real environment. Same goes for the other characters. For a group of people who live their entire lives in isolation, they’re remarkably well-rounded.
  5. My biggest problem with Spielberg’s interpretation of Ready Player One is that the stakes just don’t seem that high. Parzival and his fellow gunters are searching for the egg so they can get rich. There’s also the situation with the “Sixers” who are trying to find the egg so that they can use the OASIS to make a lot of money by selling advertising space and charging fees for users. This is all very sad and capitalistic and greedy. But also, so what? It would be like if everyone who was currently online went to digital war over net neutrality. If we won, awesome. But if we lost, it’s shitty but it’s not the end of the world. The film fails to convey the novel’s premise that the global society we now know and enjoy has fallen apart. Global warming is causing widespread famine. The rural parts of America are lawless Mad Max style wastelands. People are being sold into indentured servitude for failing to pay their bills. And in the midst of all this poverty, hunger, and destitution is an escape from reality in the land of the OASIS. Not only that, but it offers free school for the entire nation. Let me repeat that. It offers free school for the entire nation. So in Cline’s novel when Parzival and the others explain that if the Sixers get the egg it will have a drastic and negative impact on society as a whole, we as readers understand the stakes. In the film it comes across more like a millennial wet dream of sticking it to the man. To be fair, Spielberg includes the scene where Sorrento and his cronies blow up Wade’s housing unit and kill hundreds of people. But the scene has absolutely zero emotional weight because not five minutes later we are introduced to Samantha and the resistance and no one stops for even a moment to grieve for the lives lost. The romantic subplot of the novel becomes the driving force of the film. Other significant deaths from the book are omitted entirely, which only underlines the fact that Spielberg was willing to take absolutely no risks with his nice, safe, family-friendly motion picture. The final battle has all the urgency and intensity of a boss-fight in a video game. It’s frustrating if you lose, but it’s not the end of the world.
  6. I’ve ragged a lot on the film, so I need to take just a second to talk about the few aspects that didn’t piss me off. The scene that took place in The Shining was visually amazing. Implausible, since Aech would most definitely have been aware of the the film’s plot-line, but it looked really cool. Crap, turns out I can’t even give a compliment without unintentionally back-handing it. The movie looked very…pretty? Okay I give up.

 

A friend recommended Ready Player One to me a few years ago, and I became an overnight fan. The book is fun, inventive, smart, and exciting. When I heard that the film was going to be directed by Steven Spielberg, I immediately felt uneasy. To be honest, I haven’t trusted Spielberg or his artistic vision since he Crystal Skull-fucked the Indiana Jones series. So there was definitely an element of bias when I sat down to watch Ready Player One last week. At the same time, I did try to give it a fair shot. In the end, I was remarkably disappointed. I do not think I will be re-watching that film any time soon. And to anyone who hasn’t read it yet, I cannot recommend the novel highly enough.

Book Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (2008)

Image result for people of the book

Review #52

In 1996, the city of Sarajevo is trying to recover after a brutal and devastating siege. Many of the city’s priceless artifacts have been destroyed by the bombings. One special book, however; was smuggled out. The Sarajevo haggadah, an illuminated book used by those of the Jewish faith at Passover, has made its way safely out of harms way. Rare book expert Hanna Heath is summoned from her home in Sydney to analyze and conserve this priceless and beautiful relic. Tucked inside its pages she finds several odd artifacts – an insect wing, a white hair, salt crystals, a wine stain. Author Geraldine Brooks creates a fictionalized history of the book tracing it back to its creation.

I was immensely pleased while I was reading this novel to discover that the Sarajevo haggadah is a genuine artifact that was smuggled out of a museum by its curator during the bombings of the mid-90’s. The book, believed to have been crafted around 1350, is one of the few examples of a Jewish manuscript that contains illuminated pages, since Jewish people at this time had strict laws against the making of “sacred images”. Furthermore, it contains an image of what appears to be an African woman dressed in traditional Jewish clothing, which has baffled historians for centuries.

Image result for sarajevo haggadah

An image from the Sarajevo Haggadah. The “African Moor” is in the foreground on the left.

Rare book expert Hanna Heath is thrilled when she is offered the chance to study and restore the Sarajevo Haggadah is preparation for its display in the National Museum. Feeling a stronger connection to books than people, Hanna is immediately intrigued by the rich and unique history of the manuscript. As she finds interesting items tucked into the book’s binding, the reader is then transported to the time and place in history when each particular curiosity was added to the book’s overall mystery. We meet a girl fleeing for her life from the Nazis who ends up finding refuge in a Muslim home. A Catholic priest who saves the book from the fires of the Inquisition. A Jewish family in Barcelona who struggle after being exiled from their home. And a young slave in Seville who is responsible for the book’s stunning illuminations. Each piece of history fits into the overall puzzle of the Sarajevo haggadah to form the picture of a society that is constantly torn apart and brought together by the differences of religion.

This is a fantastic premise for a novel, and I went in to The People of the Book with very high hopes. However, I found myself struggling to truly engage with the characters in Geraldine Brook’s novel. Hanna, as the anti-social and biting protagonist, isn’t given much to do besides marvel over wine-stained pages and lament the destruction of its original bindings. She meets with a variety of people who know more than she does, each of whom are able to further explain the various curiosities found between the pages.

As each mystery is explained, a chapter follows introducing the characters who interacted with the haggadah during that time in history. The difficulty is that each of these chapters are one-offs. We are introduced to these individuals, begin to understand and empathize with their lives, and then are abruptly pulled back to 1996 to hear more of Hanna’s defensive whining. Due to this back-and-forth, The People of the Book is strangely uneven and at times was downright tedious.

There is a pattern apparent in this novel of religion being a driving force for dividing or unifying people throughout the centuries. Too many people believe that the Jews and the Muslims have always been enemies, and forget that they were in fact allies and partners in many advanced civilizations. The Catholic Church persecuted the Jewish community for hundreds of years, and yet there were groups of devout Catholics that risked their lives to shelter and protect those not of their faith. From this perspective, The People of the Book shows that a seven-hundred year old manuscript can still have something to teach us about working together.

This is a book for book lovers. It’s interesting to note that I received my copy from the Toronto Public Library, and it was definitely in a well-loved condition. The spine was pulling away from the bindings, and the pages were dog-eared and stained. While reading this novel I couldn’t help myself from thinking of the history of this copy, where it had been and who had read it before me. Every book has more than one story to tell, after all.

My rating: 3/5

You can find The People of the Book here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Book Review: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #33) 2005.

Image result for going postal terry pratchett

Review #51

Moist Von Lipwig is dead. Sort of. At least, his alias is dead, hanged for committing crimes against the city of Ankh-Morpork. Yet somehow he finds himself alive and working in the government as Postmaster General. He finds the post office covered with pigeon droppings and undelivered mail. To make matter worse, he must compete against the Grand Trunks, which have a monopoly on communication in the city. And he thinks there may be someone trying to kill him. And there’s a possibility that he is hearing whispers coming from the abandoned letters piled up in the post office.

This month’s pick in my book club, Going Postal was my first foray into Terry Pratchett’s insanely popular Discworld series. Normally jumping into a series in the thirty-third installment would make me insufferably cringy, but I consoled myself that this novel is the first one centered around Moist Von Lipwig. Thankfully, this book takes place in a self-contained world, and I had no trouble adjusting to the world of Pratchett’s creation.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the city of Ankh-Morpork a a kind of Wild West outpost on the brink of becoming a civilized city. One rather amusing scene involves the protagonist in a rough and tumble bar, allotting points to the various patrons as they escalate their violent acts throughout the night. Central to the plot is the Grand Trunk company, which control a communication system known as the “clacks”. It took me quite awhile to visualize how these clacks work, but eventually I began to see it as a kind of telegraph system that uses light instead of cables to transmit messages across long distances. Pratchett uses the clacks and the greedy people who own it to illustrate the dangers of unchecked technological advancement. Published in 2005, this novel could easily be seen as a parallel to the rampant growth of the internet and the burgeoning “dot-com” bubble that would inevitably crash and leave many in dire straits.

It is obvious that Pratchett is a great lover of the written word. The idea that words have a certain power of their own, and that they can only fulfill their destiny by being read, is a running current that underlines Going Postal. As a great lover of the written word myself, I loved the scene when von Lipwig delivers a letter after fifty years to a surprising and heartwarming conclusion.

Many readers have compared Terry Pratchett’s works to those of Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. I must say that I definitely agree with this opinion. Pratchett writes with a wild irreverence and wit that reminded me of Hitchhiker’s Guide. He also has a similar tendency to using absolutely ridiculous names for his characters. The protagonist, Moist Von Lipwig, is just the tip of that particular iceberg. Also present are Adora Bella Dearheart, Devious Collabone, Greenyham, and countless others.

Pratchett’s particular breed of satire isn’t for everyone. I truly enjoyed parts of this novel, but overall I found myself struggling to care about the fates of these characters. It was all just a bit too silly for my taste.

My rating: 3/5

You can find Going Postal here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Halfway There! A Look Back at the First Fifty Books of 2018

Earlier this week I posted the fiftieth book review to this blog. I am proud to say that I am officially halfway towards my goal of reading one hundred new books this year! I celebrated by taking a break and re-reading Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series, but now I’m back on schedule and will be posting more book reviews later this week! Before I do that, I wanted to take a moment and reflect back on the past five months and share some of the things I’ve learned and noticed while writing reviews for this website.

For the first time since university, I find myself in a position where I’m actually expected to say something relevant about what I am reading. This has had the unexpected consequence of taking something that I generally use as a relaxation tool and turning it into a more mindful exercise. I had to start keeping notes on the books that I read, so that I had something to use as an outline when writing reviews. I’ve had to set myself daily page minimums to ensure that I reach certain goals on time. Since I am currently only working part time (Hey Canada, where’s my working visa!) this has not been especially difficult, and I’ve been able to hit the halfway point of fifty books well ahead of schedule. I am interested to learn how my current reading pace will be effected when (if?) I am ever able to go back to work full time. One positive that I’ve noticed is that I feel as if I’ve accomplished something at the end of the day when I’ve hit my page minimum, or finished a book, or completed and published a review. This website has helped to give me a small amount of motivation during the endless immigration process. Plus, the added bonus is that now my endless reading feels less like a waste of time.

I’ve also begun to note and keep track of my own reading patterns. I’ve always been drawn to the fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres, but I recently did a quick tally and realized that nearly half of all the books reviewed for this site fall into one of those three genres. The next largest category was historical fiction, with nine reviews written. Since part of my goal this year has been to expand my reading boundaries, I’m going to try to branch out a little more into contemporary fiction and nonfiction. However, I expect that fantasy and horror will continue to dominate. A reader’s choice of book can tell a lot about their state of mind. I’ve been increasingly isolated and lonely this past year, so it comes as no surprise that I would gravitate towards novels that function largely as escapism.

Because of the fact that most of the books I read are in the same genre, I’m finding it difficult to write reviews without coming across as repetitive. I’m trying to improve my writing skills by use of this website, and this is where I am running into difficulties. I also noticed I’ve given the vast majority of books a ranking of 3/5 or higher. There are two reasons for this. First, I typically only read books if they have a Goodreads rating of 3.5 or higher. So in a way I guess I’m skewing the odds a bit there. Also, it takes a lot for me to truly dislike a book, and the only reason I will rate it very low is if it is either horribly racist, utterly nonsensical, or just plain boring. In the coming days, I am hoping to learn how to review and rank the novels that I review with a more discerning eye. As it is, I read for pure enjoyment and I derive enjoyment from nearly everything I read.

In order to achieve that goal, I’m thinking of taking requests for book reviews. I would open a new link on the homepage by which people could then leave a comment leaving the title and author of a book they would like to see reviewed by oneyearonehundredbooks. It’s just a thought, and I would have to figure out how to set that up, as one more thing that I have learned is that I am stunningly bad at website design.

I’m really looking forward to the next fifty books, and seeing what new adventures the rest of the year will bring. To those reading this, thank you for your continued support.

Happy reading everyone!

Ashley

 

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (2018)

Image result for hazel wood book

Review #50

Alice and her mother Ella have spent most of their lives on the run, moving from town to town in hopes of outrunning the streak of bad luck that seems to plague them. When they receive word that Alice’s grandmother, a celebrated writer of fairy tales, has passed away, they think that perhaps their troubles are behind them. But when Alice and Ella finally begin setting down roots in New York City, Alice begins seeing visions from her past walking around the city streets. When her mother goes missing, leaving behind only a message to “Stay away from the Hazel Wood”, Alice must journey into the dark and twisted world of her grandmother’s fairy tales in order to get her mother back.

I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, this debut novel by author Melissa Albert combines lyrical prose with modern slang in a way that comes across as charming rather than jarring. I enjoyed the descriptions of twisted forests and monstrous creatures that were occasionally interrupted by references to modern technology. It was a bit like reading Alice in Wonderland if Alice had been equipped with the latest iPhone.

The basic premise of The Hazel Wood is that Alice’s grandmother stumbled upon a magical fairy tale realm known as the Hinterland. She explored the area, gathering the tales of its various creatures, and later published their stories as a book. By doing so, she unknowingly opened a gateway by which the fairy-tale characters gained the ability to cross over into our land. It is the idea of words building worlds, of something that is inherently fictional becoming increasingly solid as it feeds off the collective interest of its fans. The Hazel Wood is at its strongest when focused on this premise.

Unfortunately, it takes a frustrating amount of exposition before the reader is introduced to the fairy tale world at all. There are large sections where the novel reads more as a the mystery novel than fantasy. And it also functions as a “buddy road-trip” story, as Alice and her friend Ellery head off in search of the hidden Hazel Wood. These different elements work well in their separate spheres, but fail to come together as a cohesive unit.

I won’t comment too much on the ending of the novel, except to say that it felt very rushed and unfinished. When you read three hundred pages of a girl attempting to get to an enchanted fairy tale realm, and then spent barely fifty pages in said realm, you come away feeling a little bit cheated.

My rating: 3.5/5

You can find The Hazel Wood here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman (2018)

Image result for the home for unwanted girls

Review #49

 

When she discovers that she is pregnant, fifteen year old Maggie Hughes finds herself trapped by the expectations of her parents and the rigid Catholicism of her small Quebec town. She is forced to give up her baby to an orphanage, thereby surrendering all legal rights to her infant daughter, Elodie. When the the French-Canadian government seeks to funnel more money into the Catholic church by turning all Quebec orphanages into mental asylums, Elodie is labeled as mentally deficient and is effectively committed to a life of brutality and neglect.

I had no idea going into this novel that it was historical fiction, and I became increasingly horrified as I learned that the events described in The Home for Unwanted Girls are based in reality. In the 1950’s the provincial government, led by staunch Catholic governor Maurice Duplessis, was highly reliant on the Church for most of its social welfare programs. Upon discovering that more federal funds were being allocated towards the care of mental patients than towards orphans, his reaction was to reassign all orphanages in Quebec as insane asylums. The children, who were already considered an unwanted burden on society due to the fact that the majority of them were born out of wedlock, were falsely labeled as suffering from mental illnesses. They were no longer allowed to go to school, and there were widespread reports of physical, mental, and sexual abuse by the doctors and nuns running the mental asylums. These practices were discovered in the 1960’s, but the Catholic Church has never admitted or apologized for its actions. (Wiki)

Author Joanna Goodman, a native of Montreal, does not shy away from the dark history surrounding this time period. The situation of Maggie and her daughter is one of incarceration. Maggie is trapped by the social structures of the time period, she is never asked if she wants to keep her child and she is denied all legal rights to her daughter after she is born. The child, Elodie, is a victim of a terrible crime. As she grows older and begins to question the system that does not seem to care for her or any of the other motherless children, she is met with violence, lies, and derision. The nuns see Elodie as a product of sin, and treat her as such. Modern supporters of the Catholic Church will have a difficult time reading this novel.

As heart-wrenching as the passages from Elodie’s perspective were, I wish there had been more of them. Of the approximately four hundred pages, I would estimate that only one hundred or so were devoted to telling Elodie’s story. The rest are given over to her mother, Maggie, as she attempts to reconcile her past with her future. This is not to say that Maggie’s story is not compelling, it just feels that a book entitled The Home for Unwanted Girls would spend more time with the girl who is told she is unwanted.

Good historical fiction can be just as useful as a nonfiction history book in teaching us about a specific time and place. Joanna Goodman’s novel did just that, it sparked my curiosity and encouraged me to learn more about the the “asylum orphanages” of Quebec. I later spoke with a friend of mine, a Canadian Catholic whose ancestors came from French Canada, if he had ever heard of the events described in this novel. He had absolutely no idea. Perhaps this time period is being left out of the history books, in which case, The Home for Unwanted Girls is certainly an eye opener.

Sometimes it feels as though nearly all historical fiction novels are centered around either the second World War or the British monarchy. It was a refreshing change of pace to encounter a story set in a time period that I was unfamiliar with. I definitely came away from Joanna Goodman’s novel feeling as thought I’d learned about something important.

My rating: 4/5

You can find this novel here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper (2018)

Image result for force of nature jane harper

Review #48

A group of five women venture into the bushland outside of Melbourne for a corporate retreat. Three days later, only four of them return. One woman, Alice Russell, has disappeared. But did she leave of her own volition, or did she encounter some danger in the Australian forest? Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk is deeply invested in finding Alice, as she has important information regarding an ongoing investigation. However, he finds that each of the other four woman on the retreat have a different story to tell about their time in the wilderness.

I have a strange love/hate relationship with detective novels. Too often they are predictable and filled with cliched characters that operate as cardboard cutouts. Readers can expect a surly detective with a grim past. If his partner happens to be a woman, there’s an unspoken quasi- romantic connection between two of them. All the supporting characters speak from a script that seems designed to throw up red herrings. And yet, there are times when these basic tropes can either be turned on their heads, or given new life through deft writing that can make this somewhat tired and overused genre feel fresh again. Jane Harper’s second novel, Force of Nature, is definitely in the latter category.

I’ll keep this review short and sweet as to avoid any spoilers. Part of the narrative is devoted to Detective Falk and his partner as they join in the search for the missing Alice Russell. Interspersed are chapters from the perspectives of each of the four other women in the wilderness retreat as they go through the events leading up to Alice’s disappearance. I found the chapters from the women’s perspective to be more entertaining; they are all so comically unsuited to the outdoors and so utterly incompatible with one other it almost feels like a reality prank television show. After they venture off course and become increasingly lost and frightened, we can see how their conflicting personalities combined with a survival situation could have resulted in violence.

Novels like these are a guilty pleasure of mine. They do not necessarily enrich the mind in any particular way. I didn’t really learn anything from Force of Nature that caused me ponder its plot or themes in the days after reading it. However, it was a highly enjoyable diversion that kept me guessing from start to finish. Which is exactly what I was looking for at the time.

My rating: 4/5

You can find Force of Nature here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!