Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Listen Up!

When I read John Schwartz' NYT essay about the audio books that he listens to while exercising, I immediately added Ready Player One to my TBR list.  According to Schwartz, Ready Player One was "the perfect marriage between author and reader".   The author, Ernest Cline, is a self described geek who is obsessed with '80s pop culture. The reader, Wil Wheaton, was one of the stars of the movie "Stand By Me", an 80s classic, and he is actually mentioned in the story.

Ready Player One is set in the 2040s in the Midwest United States.  The Great Recession has completed its third decade, and people desperate for a safe place to live have flocked to cities.  There, trailers, campers, and vans are stacked, 20 or 30 high, with a metal framing keeping them in place, and with several families occupying each.  Inside these trailers, each resident is voluntarily hooked into the OASIS.

The OASIS is the invention of James Halliday, and was said to have been launched in December of 2012.  The OASIS is something like Facebook, or if you have kids the age of mine, the Webkins' world, on steroids.  Each OASIS user would create an avatar, and do things through their avatar like explore outer space, go to school, or even fall in love with and marry another avatar, who he probably has never even met in real life.  Like a drug, the OASIS is addictive, and given the bleak state of reality, millions of users log into it each day to escape their lives.

Halliday was a reclusive billionaire who, like Cline, was obsessed with 1980s pop culture.  When he died, Halliday revealed a giant game in the OASIS, where people could try to piece together clues to solve riddles.  The ultimate prize for solving all of the riddles is control of the OASIS and Halliday's multi-billion dollar fortune.  The protagonist, who I haven't even mentioned yet, Wade Watts, joins the hunt for clues and spends every moment of his free time studying 1980s books, sitcoms, TV commercials, and especially video games in order to prepare for the challenge.

Wheaton's reading of the story is excellent.  He uses "up talk" so perfectly that although I was listening to the book on CD, I wanted to see the paper version to see if Cline actually had inserted  question marks where commas should be in his characters' conversations.  He did not.  I went on every extra errand that I could think of so that I could drive more in order to keep listening, but it still wasn't enough.  Yesterday, I checked the book out of the library so that I could read it too.

Now mind you, I have not spent more than $10.00 playing video games in my entire life.  I don't consider myself to be 80s obsessed.  But I could not get enough of Cline's book.  Cline has thought through the OASIS so thoroughly that I am wondering if he has applied for patents.  If he is half the geek that he claims to be, then he surely has.

I agree with Schwartz that sometimes the reader makes the audio book.  I've mentioned before that I thought I might not have liked a book as much if it hadn't been read in the right way.  With this in mind, I'm adding a new "label":  "Awesome Audio".  Just in case you haven't figured out how labels work yet, by clicking on "Awesome Audio" at the top of the column to your right, every review that I have tagged with that label will show up.  You can tell which labels I have used the most by the size of the font.  There are many more "NYT Notables" than there are "Recipes Included", for instance.

One thing that the audio listener will miss out on is Cline's own game.  Like Halliday, Cline is said to have left clues in both the paperback and hardcover versions of the book.  If the astute reader collects the clues and figures out the puzzle, there will be a video game challenge, and a DeLorean will go to the winner.  I did spot a couple of words or letters that appeared to have been marked.  Given my gaming skills however, I'm out.

As Schwartz mentions, writer John Scalzi has referred to Ready Player One as a "nerdgasm."  I couldn't agree more, and consider myself totally fulfilled.   Go. Get. It. And. Read.  Or better yet, Listen.  I'm also tagging this one as a Favorite.

One more down for the Support Your Library Challenge!

And Now, Back to Reading:  The Muslim Next Door by Sumbul Ali-Karamali.  At first, I was rushing through this one, because I wanted to be able to read Ready Player One instead.  Then I finally realized that I could put this book down, pick up RPO, and then return to this (approximately 36 hours later) when I finished RPO.

Next Up on CD: Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin

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