My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Probably two and a half stars, with a dash of generosity. I might change my mind. Review following shortly. Never been so glad to finish a recreational book. Ever.
This will be, as often happens with me, long and a little spoilery. Still, please read at your own risk if you haven’t read (or listened to) the book.
First of all, Wil Wheaton. I chose the audiobook largely because of him. I mean, okay, I never cared for Wesley Crusher (okay, I couldn’t stand him) (okay, I hated his precocious guts), but Wil himself is king of the geeks (or president, at least). Wil’s narration of this book is very nicely done – and it totally doesn’t hurt that he gets to read the occasional (not frequent enough, IMO) Star Trek reference. Or Wil Wheaton reference. However … I can’t help but wonder if, for me at least, it might have improved my opinion if I had read it, words on paper. I’ll come back to that.
The idea of the book is a beauty. It picks up on something nearly everyone knows about (DVD and, apparently, video game Easter eggs) and on something everyone has at least a tiny seed of a dream about (winning lots and lots of money), and on a tried-and-true enjoyable gimmick (the treasure hunt), and blends it all together with real or pseudo (depending on the reader’s age) nostalgia, a completely plausible excuse to get mileage out of all that time spent in front of TV and video game screens.
But I was disappointed. In some places, very disappointed.
Every review and blurb I’ve seen about the book celebrates the nostalgia, and to a certain degree that’s valid for me. I never memorized WarGames, but this made me want to see it again. I’ve been watching a lot of 80’s sitcoms on DVD lately – TV really was better then, in a lot of ways. And yes, I did indeed play D&D, and so the moment at the end of Halliday’s video that echoed a certain manual cover made me smile. Nothing else in the book made me as happy as: “Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Kodan Armada” – ! Yes, I did indeed say it along with him.
Keeping in mind, of course, that this story was a derivation of one man’s 80’s – Halliday’s, heavily based, I presume, on Ernest Cline’s – a good many things which were props and mainstays of my 80’s are glanced at or missing entirely. ST:TNG was barely mentioned, and I thought it was the biggest geek Thing of the decade. Except for one thing: Princess Bride. Which was completely absent. Really? Are you joking? To my knowledge I’ve never, ever, met anyone in geek circles who can’t (and doesn’t) quote at least a quarter of the screenplay. Inconc- er, “ridiculous”. Overall: nostalgia? Meh.
The writing … “Infodump” is what happens when plot is brought to a dead halt for a period of explanation – like traffic being held up at an intersection while a really boring parade passes by. The idea is to, whenever possible, weave necessary information seamlessly into the action and dialogue so that the reader knows what’s going on without being bored out of her mind. Ernest Cline? Not great at this. The beginning was pretty solid. Unfortunately, the smile that lingered on my face from the D&D and especially the Last Starfighter references Chapter Zero, refreshed briefly by the sardonic tone at the beginning of “what they should have told me”, was wiped away by a ham-handed diatribe against organized religion (my attitude: you and your characters can believe whatever you want, just don’t shove it up my nose) and – there it is. Big fat infodump, with the extra detraction of a jarringly bitter tone. The whole “life sucks” section put me off enough that I walked away from the book for several days.
After two full commutes spent listening to yet more info being dumped … if this had been in a different audio format I’d have been seriously tempted to chuck this particular CD or tape out the car window. It was around then that I decided that for every painful instance of egregious infodump I was taking off half a star from the rating I’d be giving this.
Another exasperating habit Cline has is Reality Show Recapping. Having Wade watching a blow-by-blow recap of the situation on the news – I know. I was there. Don’t tell me again. *headmeetdesk* Where was the man’s editor? The repetitiveness might not have been so grating on the page, but aloud it was just one headbanger after another. Hearing the whole damned scoreboard read out again and again and yet again was worse than listening to someone chomp on ice cubes. (I hate that.) In a table on a page it could be skimmed for relevant information.
Another problem I had: despite the fact that I’m not one of those who reads mystery novels to figure out the killer before the detective, and actually almost never do manage to do so, still – I was about two steps ahead of a lot of this book’s plot developments. Where Wade should look for the copper key? Aech’s secret? I called it. That’s not good. Yes, there were some surprises, but even they, in retrospect, were thoroughly telegraphed.
The characters were not built to become favorites of mine. Of themselves, they were entertaining, but my interest was almost academic, watching to see just what their challenges would be rather than how they would overcome them, much less whether. There was never much of a doubt as to whether, never much doubt about who would win (and even in what order). It was the writing that failed them, or me, or both. The “High Five” were in their late teens and early twenties, and acted like it – most of the time. They messed about and used foul language and were otherwise as un-endearing as the species is capable of … except when the plot demanded they speak or behave with more maturity and wherewithal (other than financial) than anything before made probable or believable.
And, obviously, I have no respect for someone who blows off a Shakespeare quote.
One last note: Art3emis’s female-shaped robot fired from its breasts?! Oh. My. God. Seriously, how many psychological connotations does that have?