November 17, 2015

A Writer Searching for his Depth: Earnest Cline's "Armada"

This book came out in the shadow of the long awaited new book by Harper Lee. Perhaps it is better that it did because much hope existed for Cline after the success of Ready Player One.

I like that first book, noting that Cline has an ear for action. What he misses is that both of those books were maybe a little heavy on the exposition. I had actually liked that first book so much that I preordered this book months in advance and received it on the release day. I read it quickly, and with each page I was madder and more disappointed. I had seen the headlines of some of the early reviews, but I didn’t want to read them because I didn’t want them to ruin the book for me. The headlines could be charitably be called “mixed”. I was getting madder because so much of this book rehashes so much of the first book.

There is so much focus on nerdy popular culture that it gets in the way of the story. And I say this as a member of who should be the target audience - early middle age, white, grew up with the technology and the culture. I didn’t write a review at that time because I was worried about throwing up a review that reflected my fresh hot anger at Cline and running head into an army of fanboys. The problem is that I’m writing this and thinking about the book and getting madder.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a cool conceit. The video games we have been raised with are actually training for the alien invasion. We’re using them to train the best to fight the … buggers. OK, so maybe it’s not wholly original but you can still read both The Forever War and Old Man’s War, right. But it’s also just copying himself. Instead of the games being a reflection of the world, they are the world. Big change - Jazzhands.

The real problem is that Cline doesn’t write characters well. It doesn’t have to be a character driven book, but caring about who they are and what they do and how their relationships develop are important to me. It's like my whole problem with Neil Stephenson: Cool world, what are you going to do about it. In Armada the main character *spoiler alert, yo* goes his whole life thinking his dad’s dead only to be reunited with him so that they can use their superior video game skills to defend earth. I felt nothing at the reunion scene. Such a disappointing use of the world he built.

In the end, the book (much like the previous one) is like a video game itself - a medium trying to find its depth despite the promise of what it can do. Video games are getting there. I hope Cline will too.

An Interesting Artifact: Gareth Roberts adapts Douglas Adams in "Shada"

I am vaguely aware that there exists a whole world of in-universe Doctor Who texts and series prior to the reboot that is going on now. When I was a lad at the library, I remember one of the racks of paperbacks always had Doctor Who books, the cover picture looking like some off version of Gene Wilder from his 70’s heyday. That was not why I bought this book

I bought this book because of the name on the cover - not Gareth Roberts, not Doctor Who, but Douglas Adams. I was unaware that he had a record putting together screenplays for the Doctor Who series, but I guess it makes sense that the Hitchhiker's Guide had to come from somewhere.

The problem was that reading it didn’t really feel like a Douglas Adams doing Doctor Who book, but it felt more contemporary. I was about halfway through when I had to look at the front and see that is was much more contemporary - Roberts adapted this book much closer to now than when Adams was tragically struck dead by a treadmill.

So it did feel more contemporary - I read into it the manic edge of Tennant, who is my favorite Doctor of the current crop - and there were some references that struck me as anachronistic for the late 70s. But for the most part this was a fun romp and and enjoyable read; it is just an interesting artifact.

November 16, 2015

On The Perfect Storm

I first read this book when I picked it up as a mass market paperback at the grocery store in the 90s when I was going on a beach vacation. I subsequently watched the movie later because I had read the book.

I think my memory of the movie clouded my memory of the book, since it elides so much of what Junger does in the book, which I reread as a book on tape. What Junger does is teach the reader about fishing on the Atlantic and weather patterns. Neither are sexy, so he uses the story of the ship that disappeared, the Andrea Gail, as a hook into these subjects.

What Junger also did was dissuade me from becoming a fisherman - years before the deadliest catch.