Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Babblings

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Nitty Gritty: Ready Player One is the greatest easter egg hunt ever created. Created by a dying genesis obsessed with the 80s pop culture. He plants the egg in the virtual reality simulation OASIS. In OASIS you ca ben anything, anyone and do anything. For many its as addictive as crack and just as enjoyable as sex.

Wade Watts, or  Parzival as he is known online, is a gunter, or egg hunter, he devotes his life to finding Halliday's egg and collecting the prize. Billions and dollars and control over the OASIS. He spends his life immersed in the 80s. From the tv shows, the video games, the food, the music, everything in search of clues to the 3 keys that will unlock the gates that will lead to the egg.

He's not the only one hunting. He has set himself up against the rest of humanity and the IOI Sixers, a paramilitary unit of corporate egg hunters out to find the egg to control the OASIS with a capitalist fist. The fate of the humanity rests in the hands of a boy who only wants to go on a date with his online love, Art3mis, a fellow gunter and OASIS celebutant.  

Opening Line: "Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first hear about the contest." 

The Good: This is a book for everyone who sits down and remembers the 80s with fond memories. Most people agree it was the worst decade for fashion and that might be true, but it was the dawn of the Age of The Geek.

Any book that references Real Genesis is aces in my opinion. I seriously thought I was the only person in the world who has liked or even seen that movie. Its on my DVR back in the states and it is one of my favorite movies and I dare say I would hold it up against Val's Doc Holliday as one of his greatest roles. I love that Wade loves this movie, and I'm glad I'm not the sole fan.

Just as Rick Riordan took the things about ADHD and dyslexia and turned them into superpowers Cline has turned all the obsessions and habits of a nerd and made them bankable. Bankable in a virtual world, but still useful. All the time we spend in fantasy worlds and unplugged from the real world pay off in this tale. They pay off in a big way. The countless hours we spend with a controller in our hands is a good thing. A thing that helps get the prize, and ultimately get the girl.

The Bad: This book is soft core porn for all the white ubergeeks of the 80s. Reading this book you would think that no black person contributed anything or even participated in geek culture in the 80s. While I wasn't a teen like Halliday in the 80s I was a kid and therefore I remember the decade as fondly as Halliday does. However my 80s were a bit more colorful than what is portrayed in this book.

The erasure of black geeks is a constant uphill battle that blerds (black nerds) like myself have been fighting since we bought out first Ghostbusters lunchbox. We are ignored by the mainstream geek culture and picked on and bullied by our African American cohorts. Its a lonely place to be. We are always the sunflower seed in a pile of rice. Where was the Cosby Show, Reading Rainbow, Coming to American, The Golden Child, Beverly Hills Cops, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, The Jeffersons, Fat Albert, Family Matters, Different Strokes, 227, Amen, A Different World, Whitney Houston. Reading this book one would think the nerd world is a totally white space made available by and for white men.Yes Aech turns out to be African American, but Cline took care of that by giving Aech a white boy avatar in OASIS. A virtual space where someone could be a troll or a vampire if they so choose to be. So race or gender shouldn't and didn't really matter. Oh sure he gave us the token "its easier to be a white man" excuse for Aech, but I'm not buying it.

Cline completely and totally disregarded any contribution from black culture into geek lexicon. And it hurts.  

The info dumps abound through this book. Which in a fantasy book is sometimes needed, but not when your novel is based in the real world and you are referencing real things. Cline describes things as if he alone is the preserver of all things 80s geek related. As if he were the only geek in the 80s enjoying Labyrinth or Atari or Pacman. I can assure you I loved going to grab a slice of pizza and paying Pacman at the table. Granted I never played a perfect game, but I can still get down on a game if I have to. I think the book could have been streamlined without all the info dumps. 80% of them were wholly unnecessary to the movement of the plot. They seemed to just be dumped so Cline could show off his nerd knowledge. Well grants us nerds are known to show off for each other, but we never do it in full view of the normals. Its just not done. And Ready Player One is the reason why.

For all the buildup of the sinister nature of the Sixers I expected more of a fight out of them. I expected some Jason Bourne, James Bond, Lisbeth Salander antics from them. They blow up a trailer stack and kill one gunter. And those two actions are separated by nearly 200 pages of nothingness from them. I thought they would chase Wade around the real world and through the OASIS. But they didn't and I was disappointed that this turned from a great set up to just another 'chosen one' trope, where everything neatly and always worked out for the main character.

Final Thoughts: I want to give this a two just for the bad taste I got after realizing that my brand of nerdom was totally erased, but it was still an enjoyable read.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I just noticed! My bookshelf lacks a certain feminine touch

Believe me when I say I am an out and proud social justice warrior. Yes I know. We spend more time on our soapboxes than down in the trenches actually trying to change things, but I like to think I do my small part of griping and getting my hands dirty. Imagine my surprise when I went to pull a book off my shelf to read for the umpteenth time and I noticed a very ugly trend.

My bookshelf is a sausage fest. Excuse my vulgarity for a moment. I am a black woman that loves everything about being a girl. The glitter, the underpants, even the shoes and I support woman every chance I get and frankly for a raging feminist like me to have a bookshelf bulging at the seams of male writers left me flummoxed.

How could this have happened? When did it happen? How could I have not noticed? Me, who always makes a point of waxing poetic about the need for diversity in literature and pop culture has more male authors gracing her shelves than female.

Where did I go wrong? I think I may have gotten dazzled by the brilliant stories and the wonderful worlds and nuanced female characters of these male writers.

Well let's dissect some of my favorite books. The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. Colfer hit upon two of my treasured things. Bad boys and fairies. Artemis is a boy genius who turns his massive intellect on reclaiming the family fortune. He accomplishes this by defrauding The People, what we would call fairies, out of their gold. He does this with the help of the massive built and expertly trained Butler, no first name given. The most intriguing this about the series isn't Artemis, yes he is cute and yes he is smart, but Holly Short, Captain Holly Short is the standout for me. She is the only female in the LEP Recon unit. She is efficient, highly regarded in her line of work and very good at her job. Especially if it involves shuttle and solar flares. She is great at reading suspects and she always gets her man, or dwarf or pixie. Whomever the perp may be. And I can't talk about awesome female characters in the Fowl series without mentioning Opal Koboi. Sure she is the bad guy, but she is one of the better Moriarty reincarnations I've read in a good while. From the moment we meet her she is pulling Fowl's strings left and right, and even through time and space. She is maniacal and utterly diabolical with just the right amount of maybelline.

The Rangers Apprentice and Brotherband Chronicles by John Flanagan. I'm a fantasy girl through and through sure, but I do like what we in the business call low fantasy. Books set in alternative settings with little to no magic whatsoever. The Rangerverse fits snuggly into that category. I love that in this series girls don't have to prove to anyone that they can do anything a man can do and sometimes do it better. Its just accepted that woman are a vital part of life and that sometimes they can be called upon to defend their countries, or rescue wayward Oberjarls.

The Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson. I've heard it all. Savage rapes, sexual abuse, attempted murder, incest, child abuse and pedophilia just to name a few of the travesties committed against the female characters in the books, but I can't help but love and root for Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth is wickedly smart. Painfully smart even. She is calculating and exacting. Above all she is uncompromising. She has her own brand of morals and will not stray from them for anyone. Salander is a woman who has been brutalised beyond measure but she will never call herself a victim. Now I am not saying that woman who do aren't strong. That is a topic for a different blog, but I like her coping mechanisms. She didn't mope around, she duct taped the sucker and gave him a dose of his won medicine. Even Erica Berger is a great character that grew on me by the end of The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. She was smart, sassy and not afraid to have her cake and eat it too.  

Now don't misunderstand me, I read female writers. Some of my favorite writers are women. JK Rowling of course, she saved my life. Not as in she herself personal, but a copy of Harry Potter and Philosopher's Stone stopped me from eating a bullet from my father's gun. So she will always be on my top ten. I've got 4 fan fiction stories based on the Potterverse. Angie Sage, author of the Septimus Heap series and the newly penned Pathfinder series is just a joy to read. Her cast of characters almost rivals George Martin, with backstories just as extensive. And a great friend to have on facebook if you are so inclined. Mercedes Lackey, a prolific female in the fantasy genre, has been fascinating audiences for decades. Personally I am in love with her Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdom series. I'm a sucker for fairytales what can I say.

Should I forgo reading books by men even if they have great female leads and female characters even though I champion female writers? Does it make me a bad feminist to have more male writers on my bookshelf than women? Is NOW going to revoke my feminist card? What's a girl to do? How do I reconcile reading more male authors than female authors?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Babblings

Mortal Heart By Robin LaFevers

The Nitty Gritty: The thrilling conclusion to His Fair Assassins' series. Annith has watched as sister after sister has been sent out to met out the death that Mortain has handed down. When the abbess sees fit to lock Annith away as the convent's seer she has had enough. She steals away under the cover of darkness to seek out Mortain's will for her life and just maybe become a true handmaiden of death.

Breton is on the edge of a precipice. The French are at their door and they are leave a trail of bodies in their wake. France is intent on having Breton under their banner. When trickery, backstabbing and politically manoeuvring don't work they move up to full scale invasion and occupation. The young duchess is going to have to rely on the old gods and their servants if she is to hold on to her duchy and save her people from certain annihilation.  

Opening Line: "For most, the bleak dark months when the black storms come howling out of the north is a tome of grimness and sorrow as people await the arrival of winter, which brings death, hunger bitter cold in its wake." 

The Good: Death has a heart. Mortain was the knockout highlight of this book. A god walking among mortals is always a hit for me. He was the tall, dark and lurking type but that is sort of a turn on. He wasn't a bad boy like his hellequinn which made him all the more appealing.

Each of the three heroines has suffered in her own unique way. They are broken toys and Death helps put them back together again. Its a background story for the ages frankly. We never get to see female characters with pasts like these. Well we do if they are utterly insane like Poison Ivy or Harley Quinn, but high functioning women who become the heroes in their own tales are few and far in between.

I really like the mythos that LaFevers creates with her gods in this historical fantasy. Its original enough that she won't be lumped in with Rick Riodan but its close enough to the Greek or Roman mythos thats is familiar to her audience.

The Bad:  The novel wandered through the countryside of Brittany like a drunken mercenary on a binge, and it was not a good time to be frank. This book is 553 pages long and it did not have to be. It really didn't We could have lost 200 pages of this book and still be satisfied. Annith blunders from one storyline to the next and LaFevers is really heavy handed with the plot in the beginning. As subtle as the Beast in a suit as it were.

I mean I'm not sure with anyone else but I called out her lineage before the 100th page. It was as clear as the nose on my face so I'm not sure why we had to wait nearly 300 pages till we got to the true. The reveal wasn't as grand as the previous 300 pages lead us to believe. There was little fanfare except Annith's completely overblown reaction. Then her very quick turn around once she has the information. She is like a revolving door of a emotions simply for the sake of tension. There were other ways for tension to be squeezed from this book than that. Annith could have gone into the French court. She had the blonde hair and the cloistering from the outside world to have pulled it off. It was only until the last 50 pages that her purpose became clear. For she was just taking up space for the fist 450 pages. And then it was almost like Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The book would have ended the same without Annith in it. Her big win could have been won but any other highly skilled archer. There was nothing in this book that she accomplished that couldn't have been done by another. Unlike Dark Triumph.
It takes a 100 pages before she even leaves the convent. Frankly I wanted to strangle her and get the hell on with it.

And frankly we never did learn what really happened to Matelaine. Sure Annith goes in search of the truth, but she never gets it and then it just doesn't matter. After all her blustering and emotional turmoil over her death she sure gets over it fairly quickly without much ado.

The insta-love while not totally sugary sweet was apparent when Balthazar ambushed her in the forest. There was no back and forth. The impossible dance between the could and should. The will they or won't they. They meet on page 116 and instantly you know he is the love interest. LaFevers tries to make him mysterious and I sort of fell for it. Maybe for 10 pages. Then is just became grating. They denied themselves just because.

All these things were used in the place of real tension. Its like Robin had energy for only one book but she had already committed to writing a trilogy. Most authors get it right with the first or the last book, but she got it with the middle book.

Overall Thoughts on the Series: Dark Triumph is the stronger book of the series. The love affair seemed more natural and free flowing than Mortal Heart and Grave Mercy. I feel this three books could be condensed into one book, and it would have been a hit out of the park.