So, the first book of the Benrik reading group and how apt that it centres around online shenanigans and the adventures of a group of friends who don’t meet in RL until the end!
Well, I enjoyed the book and romped through it fairly rapidly because it was, well, a romp. In some ways it felt a little bit like teen fiction, since it was a little bit simplistic and the appeal was all in the plot rather than in the skill of the writing. But of course most teenagers wouldn’t get the majority of the 80s references, so it’s kind of betwixt and between. And it’s not just the 80s references, it’s the whole appreciation of the history of gaming and an understanding of the fanaticism that certain games can generate. For me, growing up in the 70s and 80s, I can remember with great fondness the games developed for the Sinclair Spectrum (48K – whoo!) – it was very much a DIY culture, and games were created in people’s bedrooms with great wit and inventiveness. I suspect that teenagers take modern gaming for granted. Even as an adult I’m still a bit obsessed with certain types of games – when The Sims came out I bought a new computer just so that I could play it; the idea of becoming immersed in this controllable world still really appeals to me. That said, I’ve never played (and never wanted to play) Second Life – mainly because it seems like a place for people to hit on each other, and also because I’m pretty sure that other people will just fuck up the experience for me.
OASIS seems entirely plausible within the context of Ready Player One; the idea that a struggling education system would turn to online schools is probably going to be a reality within my lifetime – UK universities are already exploring delivering lectures via Second Life. I also liked the way that the book explored how class inequality would play out in a virtual environment – in theory such class distinctions shouldn’t exist, but of course they do – people will find a way to display wealth and Parzival’s basic skin for his avatar stands out to bullies just as much as a pair of non-branded trainers would in the real world. Similarly, the corporate involvement in the hunt for the egg felt right – their desire to dominate OASIS and the fact that killing competitors, hacking the school system’s data, and exploiting their workforce is their MO is completely plausible.
Some of the ideas in the book will probably work better if (when?) it’s filmed – the challenge of remembering every line of a film doesn’t read very well, but will probably look great. The quest itself started to feel a little bit repetitive after a while, and the arrival of a deus ex machina in the form of Ogden Morrow with his safe house seemed a bit of a lazy resolution to numerous problems that the heroes faced. The meeting between Parzival and Aech made me cringe a little bit, with it’s slightly cack-handed political correctness – ‘I’m totally cool with the fact that my friend is a girl, and a lesbian girl to boot’ but surely the bigger issue is that she lied in an environment where honesty is the only true currency of friendship. But still, nice to have a book with two strong female characters.
I am VERY curious about the easter egg within the book itself – though I’m not motivated to hunt for it, given that the competition is only open to Americans 😦
For me, this book was a bit of a change in direction from the kind of thing I usually read, and I enjoyed it for its pace and imagination – good choice Russ!!