Unlike most others, I read Ernest Cline’s Armada before reading Ready Player One. The 2011 novel Ready Player One is one of the most popular sci-fi novels of the last decade or more. Armada… isn’t. Now, I liked Armada, though I knew it was considered a disappointment to many fans of Ready Player One. They’re two very similar books and I like them both. But yes, Ready Player One is the superior book in almost every way.
Ready Player One is a cyberpunk sci-fi epic full of 80s nostalgia and geek culture madness. The OASIS is a virtual reality game universe that everyone’s logged into. The game’s founder has left a scavenger hunt to his gamers, with a prize of billions of dollars to the one who reaches the end. Thing is, it’s been years and nobody’s ever gotten close to solving the hunt’s first clue. Then, when most have lost interest in the scavenger hunt but the most diehard enthusiasts, young gamer Wade Watts figures out the first clue. And so begins a mad dash to the finish line — it’s a race that seems fun at first, but turns deadly before long, with the entire future of the OASIS riding on the outcome.
It’s a pretty cool concept, but the thing that makes Ready Player One go is the pop culture stuff that invades the story. Think of it like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but with iconic sci-fi and videogame characters/places/weapons/etc. instead of cartoons. It’s wish-fulfillment fantasy for geeks and those raised on 80s pop culture – it’s all so cool that it left me wishing that the OASIS was real, because damn it’d be fun.
One of the things that got me to finally explore the worlds of Ernest Cline was that Steven Spielberg has decided to direct an adaptation of Ready Player One. I can’t wait to see how that turns out. The book can be great fun but we’re only left to imagine some of the iconic creations from our favorite films doing battle with each other. To see it all on the big screen? It could be the coolest, geekiest thing ever – I’m talking Avengers assemble cool. I do expect that some rights issues will prevent the film from using every mentioned creation from the book, but I’m still very excited to see how it all comes together. And plus, I mean, it’s Spielberg. The man helped shape the 80s. I can’t wait to see this movie.
Back to the book!
Cline and his characters are experts on the 80s but sometimes I just didn’t need to know everything he put into the book. But most of the time Ready Player One can be a total blast. The storyteller is passionate about his subject, and that matters. I may not always share Cline’s passions but I recognize them and so even the drawn-out sections of the book have a certain appeal to them.
It’s a fun, lively book and one I’m glad I made time for. There’s really no other book quite like it… except maybe Armada, I guess. Hmm. Okay, let me rephrase: there’s no author quite like Ernest Cline. Yes, that sounds about right. His books may not be for everyone; in fact, some readers might be completely lost in Cline’s world of geekdom and pop culture. I’m part of the target audience, I guess, and I liked what Cline did with both this and Armada. They’re entertaining, geeky books written by a geek with other geeks in mind. And that’s cool.
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens was announced, I remember a friend of mine who was big into the Star Wars Expanded Universe was quite upset. I didn’t understand why, but he told me it was because the new movies would completely erase the importance of the EU books published over the decades. And while it’s true that the EU books now operate on a different, alternate path for our favorite Star Wars characters (sort of like that alternate universe in Fringe where Walter’s evil and scowls all the time), I like to think that the EU books still matter. Even if they’re not canon (not sure if they ever were, technically), there’s still some great adventures in the EU and the storytellers deserve credit for keeping the universe alive.
Along with the rebooted timeline that came with the new movies we’re also getting new books that figure into the new vision of the post-Return of the Jedi universe. Right now dubbed Journey to The Force Awakens, these books help explain how the Empire never really died after the Emperor got thrown down that shaft, and also serve as a way of making Disney MORE MONEY.
Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath was the book I was most interested in, mostly because I love the guy’s website and I dig his style. The book follows a Rebel pilot named Norra, who has returned to her little-known planet Akiva to collect her son who she’d abandoned when she went off to war. The Empire has been dealt a blow after the destruction of the Death Star and the loss of Palpatine and Vader, but the Empire hopes to reclaim its glory in a counterattack. Unfortunately for Norra and her son, the Empire has chosen Akiva to be the place where the Empire’s remaining leaders meet to discuss their next course of action. Norra and her allies must alert the Rebel Alliance (now known as the New Republic), before the Empire claims Akiva and begins to retake this part of the galaxy.
Spread out among the pages are occasional Interludes to action and drama taking place across the galaxy. At first I didn’t take to this method of storytelling—it’s almost like short stories intercut throughout the novel to give the story more scope—but I came to enjoy and look forward to these sections. It’s here that Aftermath becomes a more mature Star Wars story, really detailing the aftermath of the war, the workings of the Empire, and the suffering of the people who now taste freedom after so long. Aftermath is a more political Star Wars story and actually brings the universe closer to a dystopian sort of vision, while still keeping the basic spirit intact. It’s cool.
The book is told in present tense style. Compared to Wendig’s other books, the prose can be a bit jerky at times here. I mostly enjoyed myself anyway, but there were some lines where I had to read twice, which took me out of the story. More on taking me out of the story: Wendig uses too many similes based around SW fantasy stuff and often times I didn’t know what he was referencing. Maybe a bigger Star Wars fan would know all this stuff by heart, but I had to hit up Google and search for some things to better understand the meaning of the line.
When I picked up Aftermath, I expected to learn some things about The Force Awakens and the new characters featured in the film. ‘Journey to the Force Awakens’ seems to suggest as much. FYI: going in with those expectations could lead to disappointment. Instead of being a Prologue to The Force Awakens, Aftermath is more of an extended Epilogue to Return of the Jedi. There’s no Kylo Ren, Rey, or Finn to be found here (though there is the planet Jakku!). Also, returning fan favorites are kept to supporting roles. Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar get the most to do, Han and Chewie get a cameo that seems to set up the next book, and most other heroes/villains just get mentioned from time to time. Aftermath is a side-story, a thriller built around new characters that are left in the rubble of the conflict from Return of the Jedi. It does serve to help build up the new universe that leads to The Force Awakens but it’s not exactly a teaser of things to come.
I liked Aftermath. It’s not what I expected and the prose occasionally lacks polish, but I had a good deal of fun reading the book. The added scope provided in the Interludes was a nice surprise. The characters are complex and memorable—and as a plus, none of them are instantly comparable to other existing Star Wars characters. These are original characters, part Wendig-part SW, and I enjoyed spending the book with them. I’ll definitely be checking out Aftermath’s 2016 sequel, Life Debt.
This review has been cross-posted to Goodreads.
31 Days of Horror: Film #31 ARMY OF DARKNESS
It sucks that after doing a month-long horror countdown, the final entry ends up being posted more than a day late. I was stuck elsewhere and it just couldn’t be helped. Sorry about that.
Movie #31 was always going to be Army of Darkness. I spaced out the Evil Dead trilogy in October with the intention of watching Army of Darkness directly before the premiere of Ash vs. Evil Dead.
Army of Darkness is the lightest entry in the Evil Dead trilogy. The first film is a nasty horror movie. The second film is a horror comedy. Army of Darkness is a medieval fantasy with horror elements and a goofy sense of humor. It's complete lunacy and I love it. I’m not even sure it qualifies as a ‘horror film’ exactly, but it’s the end of the Evil Dead trilogy, so it qualifies for this countdown, at least.
In Army of Darkness, idiot hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) is transported back to medieval times and is treated as a prophesied hero, one who has come to deliver the people from the clutches of evil. Ash decides to help out, but he ends up making everything much, much worse.
The medieval comedy is a concept that film often returns to but rarely gets right. For every Army of Darkness and Monty Python’s Holy Grail there is a Black Knight and a Your Highness. I’m not really sure what the attraction is. Army of Darkness thankfully skirts much of the culture clash comedy, instead letting the film work on the merits of its hero and villains. Ash may call the knights and peasants a bunch of “primitive screwheads” but that says more about him than it does about them.
I love this film. It’s hilarious, every other line in the script is quotable, Sam Raimi’s visual style has rarely been so hyper and magnetic, and Bruce Campbell is at his very best. Army of Darkness had a big influence on me about ten or fifteen years ago when I was just beginning to write longer stories and mess around with genre. The film's sense of humor crept into a lot of the stuff I was writing at the time. Now it’s a more indirect influence, like how I appreciate the hero that’s something of a moron, and the kind of “anything goes” approach to entertaining an audience.
Others loved Army of Darkness, too. For years after its 1993 release, fans have been clamoring for more. Raimi and Campbell alternated between giving fans hope, killing that hope, and just shrugging their shoulders like they didn’t know what was going on. I think, after a while, that both Campbell and Raimi grew tired of the idea of another Evil Dead film.
Then came the news that we weren’t getting Evil Dead 4 (or Army of Darkness 2?), but rather a TV series called Ash vs. Evil Dead. I don’t know about the rest of you, but that news made me giddy with excitement. Bruce returns to the lead role, Raimi’s on board as a producer (and directed the first episode), and the trailers all seemed to suggest it was going to be just what we were all hoping for.
The show premiered on Halloween night. Was it worth the wait?
Yes. Holy shit, yes. Ash vs. Evil Dead is both hilarious and creepy, with plenty of the series’ trademark gore and monster effects. The plot is surprising and yet it feels comfortably familiar, like, I hadn’t expected them to go in this direction, but it makes perfect sense now. And it’s just fantastic to see Campbell back as Ash again. The first episode is one of the most entertaining hours of television I’ve watched in a long time. I cannot wait for more.
If you’re a fan of Army of Darkness or any of the other films in the Evil Dead series, you gotta check out the new show. It’s on Starz, so that means not everyone’s going to be able to watch it right away. I’ve already seen the first episode twice. I’ll watch it again when I snatch the Season 1 Blu-ray. For a fan like me, it’s been a long wait, but the new series really delivers the goods.
. . . And so that ends my 31 Days of Horror! If I do this again next year (big if!), I’m going to schedule the movies and reveal the schedule in September, that way you might be able to watch the movies on the same day and join in on the discussion afterwards. That’d be cool. But until then! Stay groovy.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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