The great and venerated Vern once said that the movie "Juno" was more of a MySpace friend request than a movie. This wonderfully encapsulates a certai...moreThe great and venerated Vern once said that the movie "Juno" was more of a MySpace friend request than a movie. This wonderfully encapsulates a certain navel-gazing that is our cultural pastime. We aren't interested in conflict, certainly not when we can indulge in mutual admiration of shared nostalgia. And fiction without conflict, or largely stripped of it, is facile. "Juno", to its credit, actually subverts this to rewarding ends; at first Ellen Page is glad to pal around with Jason Bateman, a real cool bro who grooves on gory Herschell Gordon Lewis flicks and slow-dancing to Mott the Hoople, but underneath his amiable mask lurks a horrifying coldness. In "Ready Player One", however, geeking out is the surest way to prove that you're one of the good guys; after all, nobody who whiles away the afternoon playing old arcade games on an emulator or who has committed every line in "Point Break" to memory could possibly be anything but a pure, freedom-loving soul. Villainy is not a potential lurking in every human heart, it's reserved for the faceless minions of rampant corporate capitalism. Boo, hiss!
And geeking out is one thing, sure. I don't know if you, dear hypothetical reader, have noticed, but I must confess that I'm a bit of a nerd, too. (Tell no one!) But our protagonist here often comes across as an awful misanthropic little snot, with his raging contempt for anyone for anyone who lacks his pop-cultural-awareness bonafides, and the way he constantly proclaims his nerdy-Jack-Reacher-like proficiency in all dorky pursuits. One comes to think that a few swirlies and an Indian burn might do this little punk a world of good. And all this doesn't seem like its intentionally supposed to be abrasive; instead it's like we're supposed to think "Oh dude, he's seen all the Star Trek series several times over? Wow, he's so cool..."
So, this is a fast, fun, fluffy read, but it's definitely skippable.(less)
I genuinely liked this, certainly far more than I expected to. In the acknowledgements Brooks praises George A Romero, director of Night of the Living...moreI genuinely liked this, certainly far more than I expected to. In the acknowledgements Brooks praises George A Romero, director of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, and that's not just lip service; such is his love for those movies that he inhabits their world thoroughly, mapping out the chronology of a zombie epidemic in obsessive detail. Reading it, I can imagine that this fannish devotion would have driven him to write the book even if there were no publishing deal. It would be more than a little silly if Brooks didn't seem to take it entirely seriously.
Which is not to say that this is a humorless book. Romero's vision of a world overrun by the living dead got much of its spark from his keen, timely (and... not infrequently clunky) eye for satire. Brooks would not have succeeded had he not brought this to the table as well, and the world we see in the early days of the plague is unmistakably our own. An echo-chamber media industry that sows the seeds of panic? Pharmaceuticals rushed to market with minimal government oversight? Natural disaster ignored by overpaid bureaucrats? None of that sounds familiar to me! The post-war world smacks a bit of a liberal utopian fantasy (though sure, there's trouble in paradise, and things aren't coming up roses for everyone around the world), and Brooks doesn't always have a subtle touch; the lowliest of the survivors is, I think, a stand-in for FEMA director Michael Brown, and his job in the new hippie-dippie paradise is gathering up cow-patties for use as alternative fuel. Zing!
So, it's a book without a protagonist, and perhaps there's less suspense when you know for a fact that the characters you meet will survive. I didn't mind. I found the logistics of global war to be pretty gripping stuff, and I thought that the tales of the survivors succeeded as stories in and of themselves. Two vignettes go for little twist endings that didn't entirely work but didn't derail things either. Ah, but these quibbles are just so much opinionated blather! Let's end the book report here.(less)