About 20 years ago, I had a coworker that I really liked (at a job that, looking back, I actually sort of liked). One day we were engaged in what I feAbout 20 years ago, I had a coworker that I really liked (at a job that, looking back, I actually sort of liked). One day we were engaged in what I felt was a particularly smart round of repartee, and were holding court in front of some of our regular customers when one of the customers, a teenage girl, asked my coworker if he always spoke in Mallrats quotes. Apparently, his side of the conversation we were having consisted solely of quotes - from a then-not-quite-as-cult-as-now Kevin Smith movie called Mallrats. The betrayal I felt was astounding. I could not believe a person would sublet his wit and opinions to a set of co-opted pop culture references. (I also felt strange to have had it happen around me without my being aware of it.)
About 10 years ago, I had a coworker that I really liked (at a job that, looking back, was good at the end but a total waste of time). And he and I were engaged at what was definitely smart repartee, when he looked at me funny and paused. And then asked me what the last thing I said was "from." It had happened again, with the scenario tweaked this time. But results were the same. Perhaps having some experience with this unpleasant turn, I wasn't betrayed this time around. But I felt conspicuous and awkward. The best way I can explain it is as if he and I had been speaking to each other across different dimensions that seemed to overlap, but didn't. One in which everyone was experiencing a totally individualized, separate reality from everyone else but didn't realize it. Everyone else thought everybody was on the same page, incredibly, either edited out or oblivious to the cues that others were constantly giving off that we weren't.
Which reminds me of another, perhaps better story, "The Prince of Gosplan" by Viktor Pelevin (or "Is That You?" - an episode of Adventure Time). But, that's besides the point.
Ready Player One: A dumb but damn fun book. Combining the best parts of The Hunger Games* with the part in Harry Potter where they're hunting down horcruxes (horcruces?), with liberal doses of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and paranoid, dystopia genre pieces. Will make a great movie. Something for everyone. For me it was the They Might Be Giants reference afforded equal weight against a Star Wars reference. And Ultra Man and Voltron appearing on opposite sides of a space operatic melee of multiversal proportions.
But just as Ready Player One has something to service anyone's specialized geek g-spot, it has many more oversaturated references than anyone can really handle. How many Star Wars references are needed?** Yes, it's fun coming across the Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones references. And knowing the New Order remix well, etc. But you get two or three per page in spots and it gets overwhelming. I initially thought this was going to be the point, from the many, rapid-fire footnotes n the introductory chapter - suggesting a flip-back-and-forth tour de force like Pale Fire or Infinite Jest (albeit significantly lower brow).
And Ready Player One is not good by non-young adult fiction standards; it is not good from a literary standpoint. This is the millennials' greatest gift (and also their handicapping limitation): Their generation tends to produce incredibly gifted scenario writers*** but is manufactured like light consumer goods. Nothing is meant to stand the test of time, nothing is artistic or literary. They/we have Joss Whedon, but too few Woody Allens.
They/we also have too much pessimism. I suppose all dystopian authors are accused of pessimism. (I doubt Kafka and Bulgakov and Dick and Lem were great at parties, themselves.) But, seriously? To think the height of human culture has already come and gone, and that it was the pop culture of the 1980s? Seriously?!
Look, the 80s are one of those arresting decades, much like the 50s or 20s. They maintain a permanent allure and we enjoy synth pop and new appropriations of art deco and juvenile delinquency. But they were not that great to live through. Admittedly, I was a child. But they were not the best of times. Read anything written in that decade. Listen to anything recorded in that decade. It was fear or its opposite number: blind, deliberate oblivion. People in the 80s were desperate to get away from it as soon as possible and acted as such. That's why everything seemed so urgent: People were literally in a hurry to get to the next stage in societal progress.****
I get the hypocrisy in my sitting here, criticizing Ready Player One for its negative tone when I am an insufferably critical person myself (especially in reviews). I only say these things because they have to be said. It would be far easier for me to fill up this window with platitudes about how much I loved Ready Player One or how great Ready Player One is. That's pretty much what the thousands of reviews already do. No. Someone needs to discuss the book's problems and call it what it is: What a Goodreads user I follow used to call "Straight to the Hips Fiction." Dumb but damn fun. It's necessary to criticize Ready Player One because it's so easy to fall in love with it.
I did love this book. And I hated to see it end. And I look forward to the movie and will see it opening weekend, most likely. You should read this book, too. But you should be forewarned not to expect it to be much from a literary standpoint. Just strap in for dumb fun and enjoy the ride.
*Though it pains me to say such a thing, there was something alluring about The Hunger Games, but luckily there was Battle Royale for that. **The answer, whatever it may be, is definitely not in the dozens, as this book has. ***There is no term for "show-runner" in earlier installments of the language. It entered the public vocabulary recently, to explain how serendipitous story arcs in base entertainment are maintained across extreme amounts of time (see: Breaking Bad, Doctor Who, The Walking Dead, etc.). ****It's a work in progress....more
In 2015, It Can't Happen Here may not be as enduring a critique of American social and political power as Elmer Gantry. Still, ICHH is undoubtedly oneIn 2015, It Can't Happen Here may not be as enduring a critique of American social and political power as Elmer Gantry. Still, ICHH is undoubtedly one of Lewis's most memorable works. As literature, it isn't as good as Babbitt or Main Street, but it has much more staying power. The reader easily cross references what s/he knows about Huey Long, the Depression years, the KKK/Know-Nothings, Father Coughlin, and the rise of fascism in Europe against the events of the book. In fact, anyone with an interest in history will enjoy trying to place Lewis's exact moment in time, as contemporary-to-1935 media personalities, politicians, and writers mingle with Lewis's fictional characters and their recollections of of recent events - the Spanish American War, the Coolidge and Hoover administrations, Woodrow Wilson's transformation from academic to wartime president.
It Can't Happen Here presages the later work of writers like Gore Vidal and Doctorow. And while the other Sinclair (Upton) was doing much the same thing as Lewis at approximately the same time with his Lanny Budd series of political novels, ICHH is far more entertaining than Upton Sinclair's Pulitzer Prize winning Dragon's Teeth.
I do wish I had an annotated version, or a companion essay bringing me up to speed on what was happening in the particular months when Lewis was writing. It's easy enough to contextualize the events of the pre-war years that brought America to the do-or-die stakes of 1935-6. But it is a little hard to cut out what one knows about the years after 1936-7, things that thankfully played out differently than Lewis's fears.
The reader will also note how Lewis's apprehension of living in the developing terror of the 1930s contrasts with the post-epochal dystopias of Orwell and Koestler. It challenges our overly simplistic version of events conveyed by the History Channel and our public school educations when at least some Americans were so fully aware of the horrors of fascism that Lewis was able to give his protagonist a nightmare eerily similar to Elie Weisel's or Solzhenitzin's real ones. If there were contemporary watchdogs like Lewis (and Einstein and others from other disciplines) waving the red flag, how did we descend into perpetual war in the manner we did. Hindsight can create unfair reflections, but still... Our great grandfathers could have listened and maybe we'd be in a better world today.
This is ultimately what makes Lewis one of my favorite American authors. His conscience is one to be admired and his example should be followed. It Can't Happen Here is not Lewis at his literary best, but it is Lewis at his cautionary apogee. A great book, recommended for students and observers in all times and all walks of life....more
Prelude to Mars is an omnibus of early Arthur C Clarke material - two novels, a novella, and a dozen or so short stories. Despite considering myself aPrelude to Mars is an omnibus of early Arthur C Clarke material - two novels, a novella, and a dozen or so short stories. Despite considering myself a lifelong fan, I was astonished to find not only unexpected variety, but one of Clarke's better novels (Sands of Mars). I can't say whether I'm embarrassed I haven't known about these works until now or if I should celebrate the fact that twenty years of fandom isn't enough to exhaust the treasure trove of this author's oeuvre. Obscure gems are still out there in thrift stores and used book shops and the local library.
Among the more noteworthy stories are "The Parasite" and "Exile of the Eons." The former shows Clarke's often overlooked versatility. Clarke suggests several times in this period his interest in Poe. But it is a later American, H P Lovecraft, who seems to emerge. American literature may have really been on the author's mind at this time, as the motif of suspended animation as practical, one-way time travel evokes "Rip Van Winkle" (in "Exile" and others). The idea (expressed in the latter as well as Sands of Mars) that one's colonial offspring may one day exceed the greatness of the parent society may well be a reflection on the fin de siècle of empire, open to interpretation as America ascending. Or I may be in a sentimental mood... Neverthess, both stories are chilling - unexpected fare from an author capable of swashbuckling adventures as well as hard science fiction, but seldom fantasy and never horror.
Of course, science fiction's greatest liability is the inevitability of later being invalidated by actual, subsequent scientific reality. That's why the best science fiction writers are philosophers at heart, experts in the formation of durable koans. How else would a 60+ year old collection of premises utterly devastated by errors in their predictions* make for edge-of-your-seat reading in the 21st century?
Prelude to Mars holds two specific pleasures in store for Clarke fans: One, readers will enjoy watching the author's greatest ideas mature. Central features of 2001, 2010 and the Rama series appear in prototype form. Two, readers will find some of Clarke's more literary output in Sands of Mars. Clarke succeeds in making compelling, likable characters (one of the author's notable weaknesses; most Arthur C Clarke books are populated by flaccid, 2-D stereotypes going through stock motions in much more vibrant worlds (it's those worlds we're interested in, not the generically handsome playboy scientists somnambulating within them)). The principal characters in Sands of Mars rank alongside those of Rama and Childhood's End for the designation of Clarke's best creations.
This is a great anthology - easily worth the $2.00 it's bound to cost at the used book store when you eventually come across it.
*Atomic propulsion and... (ahem) flora and fauna on Mars. Oh well......more