I hate it when I read a book that's beautifully written, but has a clumsy plot. I was seduced by the writing while I was reading it, and it wasn't unt...moreI hate it when I read a book that's beautifully written, but has a clumsy plot. I was seduced by the writing while I was reading it, and it wasn't until after I finished that I started realizing how many problems I had with it. In this alternate history/SF world, people's guilt over their mistakes or crimes manifests as animals that are emotionally or psychically attached to them, sort of like having an albatross hung around your neck, except living and not so corpsey. This was interesting to me, since becoming a Zoo is all about feeling guilt and not about whether you're really culpable of whatever you feel guilty about. Zinzi gained her Sloth because her brother died over something she did, which makes sense (her whole background makes sense, even). But she went to prison for it, convicted either of murder or manslaughter, and that doesn't fit at all with her memories of the event. It bugged me that this was never explained, because it made her prison time (an important part of how she's treated in the book) seem irrational.
Mostly I felt like I wasn't getting the right kind of clues about where the story was going. The book starts with one of Zinzi's clients (she specializes in finding lost things) being gruesomely murdered, and because the crime scene is described in such detail, and Zinzi herself is temporarily suspected of doing it, it seems like finding the murderer, or finding out why the woman was killed, is what the plot will be about. But it isn't. The story immediately veers away into a missing-persons' investigation, and then *that's* derailed by a return to the murder, which is important after all. But the murder thing is just a distraction from the missing-person story, which is still the important one, except that it's really a cover for something else. The whole plot felt like it was there to give the beautiful writing a framework to hang on.
And boy, is this beautiful. Beukes is amazing at describing places and characterizing people. Even when I didn't like her characters, and even when I thought their motivations were unrealistic, I was still impressed by how easy it was to envision everything that was going on. One of the most elegant and horrifying moments is when Zinzi and her supplier/employer/loan shark pull an email scam on a sweet, generous couple. Zinzi's job is normally to write the emails, but if a potential victim insists on meeting the orphan/rape victim/lost tribal princess, she has to play that role in person. It was sickening and infuriating not only for what it was, but because Beukes did an amazing job in showing how easy it was for Zinzi and her boss to take advantage of innocents.
Once again I'm not sure how to rate a book like this. I know I gave it way more credit, and stuck with it to the end, because I'm a sucker for really good writing. But that's the same as saying I didn't like the plot. So I'd give it 2.5 stars if I could, but I'll mark it up rather than down.(less)
So disappointing. The premise of a treasure hunt inside a gigantic immersive online environment is interesting. I like the idea of the people of 2044...moreSo disappointing. The premise of a treasure hunt inside a gigantic immersive online environment is interesting. I like the idea of the people of 2044 being fixated on '80s culture for clues to solving the puzzle. The execution simply doesn't live up to the promise. The writing goes like this:
...and so forth. I honestly don't know who the intended audience is. The author overexplains all the '80s references as if he expects readers to be too young or too disconnected from geek culture not to get them, but my experience with SF fandom is that no element of fandom, however old, ever completely dies out; all of us old farts who were teens in the '80s (and, interesting fact, the creator of the book's treasure hunt has the same birth year I do) make sure the young sprouts experience all the golden oldies. This is a first novel, and I make allowances for first novels, but this stretches my tolerance quite a bit.
More difficult for me to get past was the poorly-conceived dystopian future from which the story arises; to the bugaboos of environmental destruction, overpopulation, and economic collapse is added the fear of giant, evil corporations. This despite the fact that the guy who set up the enormous online multiverse AND created the treasure hunt did so by creating an enormous corporation of his own. His online creation is lauded (in one of those massive infodumps) as being so egalitarian because they don't charge anything for access, just for the things you buy inside it, but the corporation couldn't have set it up in the first place without needing a grundle of cash. (My computer programmer friends will fall on the floor laughing at the idea that all of those virtual items people buy are pure profit for the company because they "don't cost anything to make.") Every time I started to get interested in the story, I came up against some background element that only made sense in a tautological way--it is because it's said to be so.
But what really killed it for me, what caused me to finally give up about halfway through, has always been a deal-breaker for me in any work of speculative fiction. I don't like books that seem to exist independently of the great body of work that has explored the same issues or ideas. In this case, it's as if the author has never heard of Tad Williams' Otherland or (despite the hero's homage to Stephenson) The Diamond Age and Snow Crash. These books (I except Stephenson's more recent book Reamde because it was released the same year as Ready Player One) raised and evaluated issues with virtual reality, and yet Ready Player One does a lot of unnecessary reinventing of the cybernetic wheel. And yes, I do think this is a valid criticism; science fiction is interconnected to a degree that trumps any other genre, except possibly experimental literary fiction. There's an expectation that readers will be familiar with concepts raised elsewhere and have more than a passing familiarity with other SF novels. Ready Player One doesn't do much more than revisit ideas that other authors have explored, and the addition of a high-tech fantasy quest (an admittedly very cool idea) isn't enough to elevate it beyond the ordinary.(less)
I picked up this book at the library because I'd liked the Retrieval Artist series and wanted to read the story that started it all. It was a huge sur...moreI picked up this book at the library because I'd liked the Retrieval Artist series and wanted to read the story that started it all. It was a huge surprise to discover that somehow, the library had deleted the book's record from the system without removing the book from the shelf...which meant it was for sale. Total cost to me for a practically unused and fairly rare book, fifty cents. I have trouble maintaining my sorrow when good books get sold off when I'm the beneficiary of the cutbacks.
Story collections, like albums, are usually uneven in...quality isn't exactly the word, I guess. Better to say that I almost never love all the stories in a collection. This one is no exception. Rusch's science fiction has a bleakness I enjoy, probably because it comes out of human nature rather than a dystopian future, and that gives it a different feel than, say, a Philip K. Dick or Richard Matheson story. I expected not to love "The Retrieval Artist" simply because I've read the rest of the series, where the story's concept has been fleshed out, and it was exactly what I expected. "Present" is funny and very naughty, "Dancers Like Children" and "Alien Influences" were sad and creepy, but the rest didn't really do it for me. On the whole, I'm glad to have the book, but I think I preferred her collection Millennium Babies more.(less)
One of my very favorite books, full of Jasper Fforde's trademark insanity. In a world where people's ability to see color is both limited and a mark o...moreOne of my very favorite books, full of Jasper Fforde's trademark insanity. In a world where people's ability to see color is both limited and a mark of social status, Eddie Russett is trapped by the conventions of his society (which is a sort of Victorian/Edwardian mashup, and very fun) and the fact that he's easily led by everyone around him. He meets a girl named Jane, a Grey (entirely achromatic) (and yes, Fforde did go there: some other Greys are named Zane and Dorian) whose brash and violent behavior is so atypical for the bottom-of-the-social-ladder Greys that he's drawn to her.
This is the point where I can't explain any more of the plot without just retelling the story, but Eddie's journey takes him from being a sort of Arthur Dent semi-hero to someone who takes control of his life and becomes a force who intends, with Jane, to oppose the society/government that artificially maintains the divides between those who can see and those who can't. I have been anxiously waiting for a sequel to this book ever since it was published, and much as I like The Last Dragonslayer, I admit to feeling some resentment that it is not that long-desired sequel.(less)