I haven’t done a “what I’ve been reading” post for a very long time, and there are a few book recommendations I’d like to pass along. Cool? Cool.
The first is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, a novel that’s both been received with wide acclaim AND has quite a bit to do with us MMO players. The conceit is that it’s a dystopian future where the world has gone to pot and most everyone now lives in an online world called OASIS. OASIS consists of many themed planets (including MMO conversions like Azeroth) that function as learning environments, homes, businesses, and games. One day the creator of OASIS dies and leaves behind a contest to find three hidden keys and gates — the person who does so will inherit OASIS’s parent company and billions of dollars.
The interesting catch to this contest is that the creator was obsessed with his childhood in the 80s, and left behind an 80s-themed “almanac” as a clue. Because of this, contest participants have become obsessed with 80s culture and brought about an 80s revival in the 2040s.
What follows is an entertaining romp through cyberspace, MMOs, and plenty of references to 80s movies, TV shows, video games, and other pop culture lore. Since it all takes place in this huge MMO, it’s not uncommon for people to be flying X-Wings, stomping around as MechaGodzilla, and diving into classic D&D dungeons while leveling up.
This is one of those books that I really hope gets made into a movie some day. There’s a lot of affection for geek and 80s culture, and if you’re into these things you’ll be delighted with it. My only nitpick is that sometimes the writing isn’t as smooth as it could’ve been — I often caught myself thinking, “This is exactly how I write” and I usually expect better from what I read.
I’ve also been doing a lot of diving into Kindle-only books, since many of them are cheap ($0.99 cheap) and sometimes surprisingly good. One that I found and highly recommend is The Academy by Zachary Rawlins. It’s best described as Hogwarts-meets-The Matrix, but it’s more than that. It starts out with an average teenager who gets attacked by werewolves and wakes up in a special academy dedicated to training superpower-sensitive warriors and scientists. The thing is that their powers come from being able to handle nanotechnology with inherent abilities, so it’s not so much magical as it is high-tech.
The Academy is extremely rough around the edges — it needs another pass by a good editor to catch typos and spacing errors, and the lead character isn’t engaging at all. What does make this gripping, and it is, is how interesting this world is and how atypical everyone is in it. At first glance, it’s setting the scene for the good guys (the Academy-trained Operatives) versus witches and werewolves and the like. But the good guys aren’t so good and often are just one shade above pure evil, and it’s hard figuring out who’s trustworthy and who’s just using who. Also, everyone is divided between houses and major factions, all of which are vying for new recruits from the Academy, which means that your friend today might be your enemy tomorrow. Or your enemy now, except you just don’t know it.
It’s the first part of a series, and I think the second comes out in the spring, so I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.