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What an enigma Britain will seem to historians when they look back on the second half of the twentieth century. Here is a country that fought and won a noble war, dismantled a mighty empire in a generally benign and enlightened way, created a far-seeing welfare state - in short, did nearly everything right - and then spent the rest of the century looking on itself as a chronic failure. The fact is that this is still the best place in the world for most things - to post a letter, go for a walk, watch television, buy a book, venture out for a drink, go to a museum, use the bank, get lost, seek help, or stand on a hillside and take in a view.
Bill Bryson, Notes From A Small Island, 1995
Time is to clock as mind is to brain. The clock or watch somehow contains the time. And yet time refuses to be bottled up like a genie stuffed in a lamp. Whether it flows as sand or turns on wheels within wheels, time escapes irretrievably, while we watch. Even when the bulbs of the hourglass shatter, when darkness withholds the shadow from the sundial, when the main-spring winds down so far that the clock hands hold still as death, time itself keeps on. The most we can hope a watch to do is mark that progress. And since time sets its own tempo, like a heartbeat or an ebb tide, timepieces don’t really keep time. They just keep up with it, if they’re able.
Dava Sobel, “Longitude - The True Story of a Long Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time”, 1996

Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless      

Interesting case of an article being completely correct, but for all the wrong reasons - replace the word Jung with the word Freud and almost every statement would still be true (except the bit about UFOs, but then Freud’s views on women were just as bizarre, so I’d count that as even), and don’t even get me started on the supposed validity of most psychological tests. As for psychology being an empirical science, even with the spurious benefits of neuroscience, the discipline is the product of just as much educated guesswork as this article (rightly) claims MBTI is.

Telephone

"What I like to do is take that video of David Lynch talking about the horror of watching films “on your fucking telephone” and watch it on my fucking telephone, and then I think about things like why, in Britain, we call the television the telly but we call the telephone the phone, and that maybe we should have called the television the vision, except of course that they were once called televisors, so we could have called it the visor, which is actually kind of nice, and in Spain they’re still called televisors so why the fuck not, and also it occurs to me that once upon a time people could listen to concerts over the telephone, and now we can make phone calls through our televisions, and given that “film,” “television” and “phone” are now words that denote spaces around things rather than the things they originally defined, I think I’ll watch a film on anything I like and all devices are now called “scopes” until further notice."

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book, really I did. I could not be more in the target audience if I tried - only 2 years older than Ernest Cline, the 1980s he grew up in and so obviously celebrates in “Ready Player One” was my 1980s (albeit from a UK perspective) - the Atari 2600, AD&D, Star Trek, dingy game arcades, Star Wars, MMORPGs, lots and LOTS of Monty Python… the list goes on. Hell, from this description alone, I’d so be playing in the OASIS:

"The Firefly universe was anchored in a sector adjacent to the Star Wars galaxy, with a detailed recreation of the Star Trek universe in the sector adjacent to that.”

But whilst I found it enjoyable (my favourite geek in-joke being Wil Wheaton and Cory Doctorow getting consistently re-elected as president and VP of the OASIS User Council), I couldn’t really warm to the book. To some extent, the problem might have been my over affiliation with the geek worlds Cline uses to describe his world of 2044 - perhaps (younger?) readers less familiar with not so obscure to me AD&D modules might find what is being described as compelling and interesting, but for me it all seemed a little obvious. And perhaps even a little lazy too - it’s all well and good dealing with perfect recreations of classic films and so on, but to say stuff like “their shape and color always reminded me of Doctor Who’s TARDIS” (without developing things a little further), whilst designed to show how 80s both Wade and his fellow OASIS denizens are, seems like the most lackadaisical application of a simile to me.

In terms of the writing overall, I was also never entirely convinced by Wade’s voice, especially when such phrases as “her entries were filled with self-deprecating humor and witty, sardonic asides” are put into his mouth as examples of his standard, everyday speech. Similarly, Wade’s supposed position as a top “gunter” and Halliday scholar is often sacrificed for the expediencies of plot - not getting the whole Zork/Frobozz thing seems like an odd lapse, over and above the fact it drives the story forward, and only serves to chip away at the convincing characterisation of the book’s protagonist. Having said that, maybe the problem is that having come up with his extremely ingenious premise, Cline finds it insanely difficult to consistently come up with plausible riddles (God knows I would) - so for example, whilst Art3mis’s linking of the last clue to Shakespeare is presented as being hugely revelatory to the other characters, surely the first thing any of them would have done would be to cut and paste the phrase into 2044’s equivalent of Google and find out where it came from…?

I know my next criticism might seem odd for a book mainly set in a wholly created virtual world, but I was troubled by Cline’s description of the “Real World” of 2044. Whilst entirely plausible in general, and redolent of William Gibson and his take on how the intersection of technology and society could conceivably pan out, this book doesn’t share his ability to create a world that feels realistic all the way down. Although Wade is a product of the Stacks, the book would have held together better if it had, like Gibson does, shown how tech use (or lack of it) differs at different levels of social spectrum - I found it hard to believe that either culturally or economically the very poorest people on the Earth (by which I mean your African subsistence farmer kind of poor) were all logged into the OASIS. Of course, Wade is an unreliable narrator at times, but rather than feeling like his mitigated POV, this lack of reality in the real world being described in the book seems to be a (wholly understandable) reflection of the author’s necessarily Western viewpoint. Not so much a problem when we are in the OASIS, but given a major character arc involves Wade’s movement towards living in the physical world, the undercooked nature of the real world of “Ready Player One” is jarring.

My final bone of contention is IOI - as the bad guys of the piece, they are too obviously THE BAD GUYS, their motivation for taking over OASIS being purely monetary. OK, that is the underlying raison d’être for most corporations, but no bad guys in history have ever stated that they are the bad guys - even the Nazis had what seemed to be perfectly acceptable justifications for their policies amongst those ordinary people who supported them. “IOI believed that Halliday never properly monetized his creation, and they wanted to remedy that” - how many companies do you know of have a marketing strategy that says in bald terms “we only want to make money out of you - suck it up!”, and how long do you think they’d stay in business if they did? If we are to believe this world Cline has created, for me I would have liked to have seen things from the other side of the propaganda curtain, as it were, because otherwise IOI seem to have as much depth as a moustachio-twirling villain of a Victorian melodrama (something which is only reinforced by the straightforward drone-ness of their avatars).

All of the above might make it sound that I didn’t like this book, but I did - it’s just that I didn’t like it as much as all that. Cline’s geek credentials are impeccable (although I’d argue the toss as to whether or not Car Wars was actually a role playing game, GURPS Autoduel notwithstanding) and his vast amount of film, game and book references provides a great deal of pleasure for the geek reader in spotting them all (my favourites being the Brazil-themed aliases Wade uses at one point). But to some extent I feel that this would work better as a film (aside from the fact that the IP/licensing issues for such a project would be insane), since a good actor would be able to imbue Wade with a little more depth and reality than Cline has been able to.

View all my reviews

t3chn0ir:

'Free winds and no tyranny for you, Freddie, sailor of the seas. You pay no rent, free to go where you please. Then go, go to that landless latitude and good luck. If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you'd be the first in the history of the world.' 

The Master (2012)

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