Wheel of Time Graphic Novel: New Spring by Robert Jordan, adaptation by Chuck Dixon, art by Mike Miller, Harvey Tolibao, & Joseph Cooper

Read: 31 July, 2015

I’m still making my way through A Memory of Light, but I came across the New Spring graphic novel at the library and thought I would give it a try.

It’s been almost exactly a year since I first started the Wheel of Time series, beginning with the prequel (though it wasn’t published until the series was already well under way, I wanted to get the plot in order). So it’s been a while, enough time for the graphic novel to be a lovely refresher as I make my way through the culmination of the story.

I was reminded of how much I hadn’t grasped when I first read the prequel. The biggest example of this is the Aiel. Since the descriptions of them in the book compared them to demons and dark friends, and their faces were always covered, and their culture was entirely alien to all the POV characters in the book, I had assumed that they were something more like trollocs than people. It wasn’t until a subsequent book that I realized they were just meant to be another culture.

This made Lan’s chapters difficult to read. I just didn’t get them, I couldn’t picture the battles in my mind. With Moiraine, however, enough was familiar that I could find my footing pretty quickly.

Having now fully submerged myself in the Wheel of Time universe, I was able to pick up a lot more from the graphic novel. For example, I had completely forgotten that Moiraine had met Cadsuane, and knowing who Cadsuane is now, that encounter makes a lot more sense. (Same goes for Elaida.)

As for the graphic novel itself, it was fine. The art was mostly very clean (except for the last chapter and epilogue, where there’s a sudden change in style and drop in quality), and it was interesting to see how the characters were represented – even if the images don’t always agree with what I have in my head.

I also felt like the artwork was overly sexualized. Most of the women are too skinny for their organs, and they all have perfect pert breasts. It’s a little jarring to see characters who are identified almost exclusively by their intellects in the book to all be supermodels in the graphic novel.

This really comes through in Jordan’s e-mails, provided at the end of the book. In the e-mails, he is correcting errors made by the adaptation team, and frequently has to remind them to de-sexy the female characters. It’s unfortunate that, although he specifically mentions that there should not be any low necklines, and no off-the-shoulder dresses, on several occasions, and yet the final chapter (which I am given to understand was drawn after Jordan’s death) includes them anyway. I guess because he wasn’t there to to reign in the impulse for sexifying any more? It’s a shame.

That said, I did really like the way that channelling was depicted. I’ve occasionally wondered how a graphic/movie adaptation could handle Weaving, given the way it’s described in the books, and I think they did a really good job.

The dialogue was okay. They did that weird thing that I’ve noticed in comic books where they bold certain words, and I really don’t understand it. My brain always wants to put more emphasis on those words because they are in bold, but then it interrupts the rhythm of speech.

I noticed some typos, or perhaps just very poor word choices that made the dialogue more confusing that it needed to be. I think, though I may be wrong, that this occurred more frequently in the final chapter – where the artwork suffered as well. I suspect the two are related.

In all, I found it an interesting little exercise, as someone who has read most of the Wheel of Time series, to get to revisit part of the story in a different format. I couldn’t recommend it to someone who hadn’t already read the book, however. There’s just too much going on, too many subplots, and the graphic novel just doesn’t really do a very good job of providing backstory. I understand the constraints of the format, but I do think that the adaptation team could have done a better job.

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    Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

    Read: 22 July, 2015

    Anyone who has been following my book reviews for a while knows that I am rather fascinated by Christian fundamentalism, particularly of the Quiverfull variety. So far, I’ve covered Kathryn Joyce’s groundbreaking Quiverfull, as well as the Duggars’ (who popularized the movement through their reality show on the TLC channel) 20 and Counting. I also regularly read blogs like Love, Joy, FeminismBroken DaughtersDefeating the Dragons, and Cynthia Jeub’s new blog. And, of course, Vyckie Garrison’s No Longer Quivering that started it all.

    There’s a sideshow aspect to my fascination, I suppose, because the lifestyle and beliefs really are weird. But far more than that, I think I feel so attracted to these narratives is because of how familiar they are. When I read Garrison’s early posts, I could see her brain working the way mine works, her conclusions trending in the same directions. Had I been exposed to fundamentalist Christianity at certain points of my life, I’m pretty sure that I could have – that I would have fallen into the same traps. So when I read these accounts, it’s with the relief of a narrow miss, and perhaps an inoculation.

    In any case, all this is just to say that I was very intrigued when I heard about Devoted, and I ordered it through my library immediately.

    The book follows Rachel Walker, the second daughter and currently eldest in-house, of a family with eleven children. She is responsible for cooking, laundry, cleaning, teaching, and caring for her younger siblings. She is a mom in all but status – a mom to an industrial-sized family. Things start to change for Rachel when a miscarriage throws her mother into a terrible depression just as Lauren comes back to town.

    I really enjoyed Devoted. At first, I wasn’t too sure about Rachel. I was glad that she wasn’t a transplanted feminist, nor does her epiphany processes seem too easy. She just seemed so very immature, and I worried that it might be due to Mathieu’s poor writing. About a quarter of the way through, however, I realized that quite the opposite was the case. Rachel was immature because of course she was, she has been sheltered her entire life, denied all opportunity to form thoughts of her own. Once she starts thinking, however, she develops beautifully, and it’s wonderful to see that process. Mathieu handles it exquisitely.

    I really enjoyed the depictions of both Lauren and Mark. It would have been very easy to have them there to serve the purpose of progressing Rachel – Lauren could have said all the right things, Mark could have swept her off her feet. In the hands of a lesser writer, that’s exactly what would have happened.

    But Lauren is flawed, and she is still going through the same process as Rachel, albeit farther along and on a different path. And that’s the best part of her character – that she and Rachel are growing differently, coming to different conclusions, yet they are able to learn together and support each other. Seeing Rachel assert herself and firmly explain to Lauren that she can’t go from being under her father’s protection to being under Lauren’s protection was wonderful and very moving.

    I enjoyed the little games Rachel plays with Mark, and his efforts to be conscientious despite her needs being so alien to him. (SPOILERS: I was also very glad that they never kissed or entered into any kind of relationship – I didn’t feel that Rachel was really ready for that yet, even by the end, and it would have seemed somewhat predatory for Mark to approach her in that way while she remains still so innocent and child-like. Developing their friendship, allowing Rachel to learn that it’s okay to be around boys, to be friends with boys, struck just the right tone.)

    Rachel’s experiences are, to use her word, complicated, but Mathieu wisely didn’t make them horrific, though I do think she could have covered the good times a little more – Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism makes a point of talking about her family’s closeness, her good memories, to balance the bad, and Devoted didn’t really have any of that. Apart from Ruth, it didn’t really seem like Rachel had any attachment to her siblings, not even the little ones. I think it would have made her decision to leave her family more painful, and her initial depression more relatable. But that is my only complaint in a book full of great characterization.

    I really enjoyed Devoted. Mathieu made a lot of great choices, and I really had the feeling that I was getting to know the characters – to the point of being a little sad when the book was over because I wouldn’t get to be in their lives any more. She’s managed to provide a lovely companion piece for Kathryn Joyce’s Quiverfull.

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      Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

      Read: 17 July, 2015

      Sixteen years after Leviticus Blue undermined the city’s banks with his Russian-commissioned Boneshaker machine, Seattle is a very different place. The boring caused a gas to be released from deep underground, corroding whatever it touched and raising the dead as “rotters.” A wall has been built around the city to keep the gas in, but it’s only a matter of time before it comes spilling out.

      In the meantime, Blue’s son, Zeke, ventures under the wall, into the Blight, hoping to find the truth about his father. After an earthquake traps him inside the city, his mother comes in the hopes of rescuing him.

      With airships, fantastical machinery, and zombies, it’s hard to see where Boneshaker could go wrong. Unfortunately, there were a few key issues that prevented me from really liking the book. The first was the over use of coincidence. I can ignore it if it’s used only very occasionally, or if it gets the ball rolling, and it works in a series like The Wheel of Time where it’s explained by the world-building (in that case, it’s the pattern weaving itself toward certain outcomes). But in Boneshaker, major aspects of the plot were directed by coincidence – an earthquake that blocks an exit just when a character goes through a tunnel, an airship crashing into a tower just when a character happens to be inside it, another airship that just happens to be repaired and ready to take off when the characters need to escape, etc. Far too much of the plot relied on these big coincidences, and it stretched my ability to suspend disbelief.

      Overall, it gave the impression that Priest was writing on the fly, coming up with the plot as she went. Sadly, I found the characters suffered from the same problem; I found them very underdeveloped. They are always reacting, getting thrown about the city by circumstances as though they’ve paid for the tour. I was often confused by a decision, which seemed out of what I’d been able to construct of their character, until I realized that it was necessary to get them to the location of the next adventure, or to show us a new area of the city. (SPOILERS: Even the ending, when Briar and Zeke appear to decide to stay in the city where they’ve been miserable and have spent the last few days in a constant state of almost dying, seemed the author’s romanticised vision of the setting rather than anything the characters themselves would have chosen.)

      Many of the side characters seemed interesting at first, until they stuck around long enough for me to realize that Priest had chosen one interesting image for them, and that was it. They had cool armour, or an interesting look, or an implied backstory, but no depth. In fact, the only character that seemed to have any real personality was the setting. Which leads me to the book’s real strength: Seattle.

      There were some anachronisms, but the alternate history provided some cover there. I still always enjoy it when books have a sense of place, and the landmark details certainly did that. Priest also clearly put a good deal of thought into how the city might look in the Blight. The ambiance, with the need to wear gas masks and the moaning of the rotters, was fairly well done, and Priest certainly did a reasonably good job of building tension, except that I just didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. As long as I could tour the setting along with someone, I found that I really didn’t care much if it was Briar/Zeke, or if they were switched out midstream for some other “guide.”

      The mechanics of writing were mostly solid, but there were some very odd word choices that threw me. One that stood out in particular was the use of the word “for” instead of something more conventional, like “because.” It’s oddly archaic, and stands out from the text around it. I noticed the same thing in Huntress, and it bugged me there, too.

      My final gripe is about the ending. The plot structure is what could be described as an “onion” plot, in which the real goal is the discovery of a piece of information – in this case, what happened with the Boneshaker machine. The question is raised at the very beginning, with a reporter approaching Briar for information, and it is finally answered at the very end. Unfortunately, the answer that had all the characters guessing, and at least one character risking his life and the lives of others to uncover, was almost immediately obvious. I read the whole book knowing the ending’s big reveal, and my disappointment was dampened only by the fact that Priest seemed to care as little about it as I did. Sadly, it came with a missed opportunity, as I think that much more could have been made of the connection between Angeline’s daughter and Briar, if only the characters had had a little more depth to them.

      I found this to be a fun fluff book, and the setting is certainly interesting enough to make it worth reading. It could have been a lot better, though, and it’s a shame that the characters and plot weren’t able to better complement the location.

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        Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

        Room on the Broom is a delightful story about a witch riding around on a broom with her cat. Three times, she accidentally drops an item, and it is retrieved for her by a new animal who asks for a spot on the broom (and, of course, there is room). However, when the broom breaks, the witch is chased by a hungry dragon, until her new friends scare it away. They then make a new, and even better broom, together and fly off.

        I really enjoyed reading this to my son. The words are fantastic, with a very upbeat, musical rhythm that made it lots of fun to read. The characters are also distinctive enough that I found it very easy to come up with unique voices for each.

        The artwork looks simplistic, but gorgeous, at first, but there’s actually a fair bit going on in the background (usually to do with animals who react to the events of the story without being acknowledged by the text). The artwork is very colourful, and the character faces are expressive. My son enjoyed looking through them and telling me his own stories inspired by the background details.

        Room on the Broom is a well-rounded, quality children’s picture book.

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          Adventures in writing

          I haven’t done much writing of my own for a long time (blog posts and e-mails excluded). There’s always something getting in the way – a job, dirty dishes, children requiring attention…

          But over the last few years, I’ve slowly and tortuously managed to write a novel-length piece of fiction. This is a pretty Big Deal for me. Growing up, I always had my verbal/writing skills praised, and this was couched in terms of intelligence. Even as an 11 or 12 year old, I can remember a specific incident of putting a writing project away and deciding not to continue because I feared that it wasn’t perfect enough, that anyone who read it would decide that everyone had been wrong all along and I would be exposed as the unintelligent fraud I had always been. Since then, I’ve found writing extremely difficult. I would start a project, get midway through my first draft (which is about where the initial euphoria of inspiration starts to wear out), realize that what I was writing was the kind of thing only an unintelligent person would write, and give up.

          So being able to stick with a project for so long (and to actually reach an end, no less!) is a very big step for me.

          Even bigger was letting anyone see it.

          In addition to my concerns about appearing unintelligent, I also worried about what I might accidentally reveal about my private psyche. My main character is a lot like me, in both personality and formative experiences. Even though the situation she’s placed in is entirely fictional (there’s magic and vampires, so rather out of my realm of experience), her perceptions of those events are very much mine. And very much private. They are the things I would perhaps rather no one know that I secretly think about them.

          I had to close my eyes when I hit “send,” but I did it. And it took me a week after getting the first review back before I was finally able to open it and look.

          As worked up as I had made myself, the comments my reviewer left really weren’t that bad! Still, it’s quite a process to dissociate myself as I read. There are times when I play around with words or grammar, when I invent words that have the right feel for what I need, when I omit punctuation to convey a particular messiness of thought, that my reviewer didn’t grok at all. Worse, she thought them errors, and so I appear unintelligent.

          But I expected those feelings, and the week I took before opening her comments document was precisely intended to prepare myself, to get into the right frame of mind to read her comments impersonally.

          What I didn’t expect was her disbelief at several details of my main character’s past. These events, she writes (I paraphrase), wouldn’t happen like that. Couldn’t happen like that. Yet they would and could, and I know that because they did. The parts she found most unbelievable were the parts I had borrowed from my own experiences.

          I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I found it upsetting, so much as unsettling.

          In any case, I’m glad that I went through the exercise, as painful as it was. I feel looser now, somehow, like I’ve already been for a swim in the deep end so there’s nothing to fear from the kiddy pool. I’m already excited to work on a final draft, incorporating the comments I’ve received (and I need to re-write the denouement, which is bloody awful right now), and then to move on to something new.

          I’m also incredibly proud of myself just for finishing. Good or not, I did it, I wrote a novel. If I die tomorrow, my eulogy could honestly call me a novelist. I am brimming.

            Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

            Read: 29 June 2015

            As with Starship TroopersStranger offers up a buffet of thoughts and philosophies, provoking quite a bit of introspection, if not agreement. The premise of the novel is that a human born and raised on Mars is brought back to earth, juxtaposing human (mainly North American, but there are smatterings of Islam) culture to the fictional Martian way of thinking. Much of the difference, it seems, stems from humans having two biological sexes, while the Martians have only one.

            The problem, the same problem I had with Starship Troopers, is that some pretty awful things are presented as Truth, delivered by characters who are set up all-knowing (or close enough) Truth Tellers, without even so much as the balance of a dissenting voice. In Starship Troopers, what stood out the most for me was the proposition that we could solve our social ills by reinstating corporal punishment (from babyhood and into adulthood). Here, my big issue had to do with the novel’s attitudes toward women.

            Women are treated rather atrociously throughout the novel. There are brief moments where Heinlein seems close to acknowledging this, such as when he has Jill bristle at being called “little lady” by Digby (and Harshaw underlines the point by bringing it up again, mocking Digby by using the term himself). This comes so close to being a condemnation of the casual infantilizing of women that was so common in the 50s and 60s. The problem is that Digby is far from the only character who does this (and his “crime” seems to be more the awkward repetition of the phrase, rather than its use in the first place). Throughout the novel, women are referred to as “little girl” (and equivalent terms), and generally treated like some odd cross between child and servant.

            But the true shocker is when Jill claims that, 9 times out of 10, women are at least partially to blame if they get raped. This is presented as instructional, teaching Mike (the “man from Mars”) about The Way Things Are, and the statement is never challenged. It is simply dropped as a logical and accurate observation, one that anyone other than a cultural newborn like Mike would know, if they gave it any thought.

            Even once we get to the nest stage of the novel, where Mike becomes a messiah figure leading his disciples in what is presented as a perfect human state, when the male and female characters are at their most equal, the banter still reveals deep prejudices. As do the assumptions made by the characters, and how many of the duties are arranged (it is women who do the bulk of the “service” work, such as running Harshaw’s bath).

            The problem, as with the issue of corporal punishment in Starship Troopers, is that Heinlein presents himself as a philosophical forward thinker, capable of seeing through the cultural prejudices that blind most people. And yet, when it comes to certain issues, he seems just as unwilling to consider alternatives as anyone else.

            The issue of homosexuality in Strangers (and in Heinlein’s broader body of work) is a much more complicated discussion. On the surface, Strangers seems as indisposed to challenge the social mores of the 50s and 60s with regards to homosexuality as it is with regards to women.

            There main pull-quotes are:

            1. Jill is very concerned that Mike, being from genderless Mars, might not know not to accept advances from gay men, so she issues a rule against it. She is relieved that Mike chooses men for his inner circle who are very masculine (and women who are very feminine), emphasizing both her ideal of sexual binarism and her distaste for homosexuality.
            2. When Mike allows Jill to see women through a man’s eyes – as sexual objects – she is relieved to find that she goes back to viewing women in a non-sexual way once she sees them through her own eyes again. The narrator says that “to have discovered in herself Lesbian tendencies would have been too much.” While the argument might be made that this is all from Jill’s perspective, a remnant of her somewhat conservative upbringing, the view is never challenged (even though Jill’s views in other areas are being challenged in nearly every scene in which she appears – first by Harshaw, then by Mike).
            3. When Ben tells Harshaw of his visit to the nest, he is forced to admit that, in the nest, men kiss men. This, he assures Harshaw, is “not a pansy gesture.” Harshaw then talks about the Kiss of Brotherhood, and a fair amount of effort is put into reassuring themselves and the reader that there is nothing homosexual about the expressions of physical intimacy between men in the context of Water Brothers.

            But then there are hints of a more accepting perspective. Jill is no Lesbian, we are assured, yet her Kiss of Brotherhood with Patty is described as “greedy.” Not only that, but men are expressing physical intimacy with each other, and frequently doing so while completely naked. Like I said, it’s a complicated issue, and one that I don’t feel prepared to parse out. I did manage to find a good article on Strange Horizons that tackles the issue. 

            My final complaint about the novel is that Harshaw feels far too much like an author insert. He is an outsider, a prime mover, and he is a dispenser of wisdom through nearly the whole book. His role is almost exclusively to drop down into the other characters’ lives, tell them everything they’ve been doing wrong, deliver snippets of great wisdom, and swoop back into the sky. Pages upon pages are devoted to his rants, and all the other characters fawn over his superior logic and wisdom. At one point, a character exclaims that Harshaw is the only person to be capable of groking Mike’s mysteries without first having learned to speak Martian. It’s not until the very end that he is taken by surprise, and then it’s only to pump up Mike’s own specialness and to set Harshaw up as his spiritual successor.

            The novel feels rather uneven, divided into two (arguably three) very clear parts that struggle to fit together as a whole. Still, I found the novel very interesting and thought-provoking, despite its flaws.

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              Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

              Read: 27 June, 2015

              Bird by Bird is another book about writing, based in large part on the classes Lamott teaches (the conceit fades in and out, but by the end she addresses her readers directly as if they were students who had just completed her course). The style reminded me more of Writing Down the Bones, rather than Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction, in that it was more of a pep talk, more about attitude, rather than the actual mechanics of writing. And pep talk it certainly was. In fact, if I were to summarize the thesis of the book, it would be: “Keep at it, don’t be discouraged, you can survive this!”

              I enjoyed the book, and I mostly liked Lamott’s writing, but I didn’t feel like I got as much out of it as I had from Writing Down the Bones. Goldberg’s book make me keep putting it down to go write, and I’m still using many of its prompts. Bird by Bird never really gave me that feeling. As I finished the final page, I did feel like I wanted to pick up my writing project and work on it for a bit, but it wasn’t the frantic feeling I got from Bones.

              Still, I found Lamott’s writing to be interesting, if not truly engaging, and the book is full of little gems, little pericopes that I thoroughly enjoyed. I doubt that this is a book that will stick with me, but I did enjoy the ride while it lasted.

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                Wheel of Time #13: Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan

                Read: 23 May, 2015

                Where The Gathering Storm mostly focused on Rand and Egwene, Towers of Midnight brings us back to Perrin and Mat. Sanderson has explained that, while Jordan had originally intended only one more book, Sanderson felt that the material really needed three. And the divide in focus between these two books shows that they had originally been planned to be one. We saw the same problem in George R.R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons. And, as in Martin’s books, I felt it gave the two books an uneven feel.

                That’s certainly not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. Cruel as it may be to say, and sad as the precipitating event was, I find myself glad that Sanderson took over the series. I find that his version of the characters are more compelling, and are capable of a greater range of emotions. And while some of the very uncomfortable gender dynamics remain (I don’t think it would have been possible to eliminate them entirely, given the worldbuilding and characters Sanderson had to work with), they’ve been quite muted. The greatest change, though, is in the pacing. The books are just as long, but so much more exciting to read!

                I have little to say about Towers of Midnight in particular, though. Things happen, the resolutions are all much as anticipated. In fact, I can only recall one moment in the book that bothered me. (SPOILERS: It was Noal’s death, which felt so meaningless. Mat tried so hard to come up with a phrasing that would protect his party from the Eelfin and Aelfin, yet left a gaping loophole. Noal was only put in the position of having to sacrifice himself because of this absurd mistake. Not only that, but we then learn that the time he bought the rest of the party was unneeded in the first place because Mat had the key to get out of Eelfinn/Aelfinn lands the whole time anyway! He was a somewhat interesting background character who just died, seemingly for no reason at all.)

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                  Kon Kon Kokon, vol.1 by Koge-Donbo

                  Read: 20 May, 2015

                  A friend was moving some time ago (an embarrassingly long time ago) and offloaded a bunch of books – including a rather large collection of manga. Of course, this all sat in a closet until my recent major purge effort. I’ve gotten rid of several dozens of books in the last few days, but there are some that I wanted to read quickly before giving them away. The manga, which only takes 20 minutes or so per book, seemed like something I could at least skim through before the collection passed on to its next owners.

                  I should probably preface this review by saying that I don’t generally read manga. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever read manga before. So I’m sure that a lot of the conventions went right over my head, or maybe I just didn’t get it, I don’t know.

                  The description on the back of the book tells us that this is a story of a young man, Ren, who very desperately wants to be the Cool Guy in school. He is met by a fox-girl, Kokon, who claims that he saved her many years previously and she has now come to repay him.

                  So that’s the synopsis, and it’s perfectly fine. It has the potential to be interesting (which is why I picked the book out of the box to begin with). The problem is that these two plot points – Ren’s desire to be cool and Kokon’s desire to repay him – are mentioned over and over again on almost every page. With every new thing that happens, Ren freaks out that this will make him uncool, Kokon repeats her desire to repay him, things work out, Ren is gratified to learn that the awkward situation actually made him look cooler. Over and over again.

                  The story telling is far too hyperactive for my tastes. Every emotion is presented as extreme. Meeting someone new leads to an inner monologue of questions: “Who is she?? Where does she come from?? Will she find out that I’m secretly a total nerd?? Will meeting her make me look uncool??”

                  I can accept that some of this might be due to poor translation, but I suspect that it’s just bad storytelling.

                  The artwork is fine. It doesn’t stand out, but it isn’t terrible, either. The main problem I had was keeping the characters straight, since they all rather look alike.

                  I was intrigued by the concept of mythological creatures coming into a “real world” setting, but Kon Kon Kokon just fell flat for me.

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                    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

                    Read: 15 May, 2015

                    When the inventor of a revolutionary virtual universe (OASIS) dies, he wills his vast fortune and control over the OASIS to the first person who can find the ultimate easter egg.

                    The novel is an unabashed ’80s field trip, or “nostalgia-porn” as some reviewers are putting it. If people who were kids/teenagers in the ’80s generally thought something was cool, it’s likely mentioned somewhere in this book (plus a few nerdgasms from later decades). Want to see an X-wing fighting a Firefly? Done. Want to see if a Leopardon could beat a Mechagodzilla? Covered.

                    Of course, the book was written by the fantasies of a nerdy white boy, which is a shame. There was/is so much more to nerd culture that that demographic seems to have completely missed (and, being the group with the most media attention, they’ve managed to really control the narrative of nerd-dom as being a thing that belonged entirely to white boys in the pure Golden Days, which others are only now trying to infiltrate). Surely, despite the image of nerds manufactured by media like Revenge of the Nerds, Cline could have imaged a distant future where even women would have a place. Instead, the default characters are all white men.

                    Aside from the default, there’s a Love Interest, two Samurai-obsessed Japanese boys (no surprise there), and three background mother-figures who are dead by the end of the third act (so the MC can have a little angst). It rather struck a nerve since, as a geek girl, the only role my friends could slot me into was the Love Interest. This meant that I had to be perfect – I had to be beautiful, I had to be funny, I had to be completely knowledgeable about every single little piece of trivia, and I had to do it all in a way that never made me “intimidating”. You know, all the things Art3mis is in Ready Player One. Of course, this was impossible. And every time I failed to live up to the Love Interest ideal, my right to membership in the clique was questioned. I couldn’t be a friend, so if I couldn’t be the perfect Love Interest, what was I even doing there? It was exhausting having to put in so much work just so that I could play some games and feel like I belonged for a little while.

                    (SPOILERS: Yes, I know about Aech. I’m not really counting her/him, though, since the reveal happens right at the end, and it felt like he/she was just a “have POC/Woman in book” achievement for the author. Because Aech is a white male through the entire book save for one small part – after which she/he returns to being a white male – I count the character as such.)

                    So, fine, that was kind of the reality for the ’80s and ’90s. The geeky girls had to fit that mould, or they had to learn to work their hobbies into their “totally normal, totally not a geek” social circles (which many did, as I discovered far too late for my child-self’s peace of mind). So I can buy the idea that a white guy who grew up in the ’80s just wouldn’t have noticed all the nerdy POCs and women around him if they weren’t love interests, but this novel is set decades into the future. Why is this still the case? Particularly when women and POC gamers are becoming so much more visible now? It’s frustrating.

                    The off-hand transphobia was rather jarring as well. When Wade is talking to Art3mis about her meatspace identity, he mentions something about hoping she’s really a woman. Then clarifies that he means “a human female who has never had a sex-change operation.” I mean, just, why?

                    There’s more, of course. It’s the Revenge of the Nerds demographic, where stalking a woman gets her to fall in love with you, where the Love Interest has to be perfect in every way except at the one skill – playing video games – that the protagonist most closely identifies with (lest she be intimidating, of course!), or that the Love Interest must be gorgeous but very insecure about her appearance (but don’t worry, she’s still gorgeous!! That’s extremely important and must be dwelled upon!!).

                    It’s frustrating, because I really enjoyed the book. I loved the nostalgia (that was my childhood, too), I loved the set up of meeting someone in cyber-space and not being quite sure how to take it offline (my spouse and I met online – in fact, our most recent Date Night was spent playing Ironclad Tactics), and I loved the sheer “IDGAF ’cause this is just cool” playfulness. But at every turn, I felt like I was being written out of my own childhood, and it’s just rather depressing.

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