Tag Archives: avatars

‘Ready Player One’ a #5star review

Before I begin, a warning to all non-gamers – tune out now.

ready player oneOkay, for those of you left, let me begin by saying that ‘Ready Player One’, by Ernest Cline, is the first non-Indie novel I have read in a very long time. I broke my unwritten rule about supporting only Indies because I’d heard the story was brilliant. It is. It’s a tour de force of imagination, but not for everyone.

Why? Because it’s all about gaming. MUDs, consoles, MMORPGs, VR, you name it. There’s even an homage to all things 80’s thrown in to season the mix. But if all those acronyms mean nothing to you, then neither will the plot because gaming provides the structure and mindset that makes the plot compelling.

And it is a compelling story. Set in the 2040s, ‘Ready Player One’ paints a dystopian picture of a world in which we left things too late. Climate Change is no longer a theory to be disputed, it is a reality to be endured, and for the majority of America’s population, that means living in abject poverty.

With the real world so grim, most people escape to the virtual reality of the OASIS, which is like our internet on steroids. VR immersion rigs – goggles, haptic gloves and suits – and cheap OASIS access mean that even the very poor can escape reality, at least to some extent.

But as with all good stories, there is a villain of the piece, and in the case of ‘Ready Player One’, that villain is a corporation known as IOI.IOI want to control OASIS because by doing so they would gain control of vast swathes of the world’s population.

Standing against this corporate threat are a bunch of teenaged geeks – Parzival, Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto – called gunters. The action, however, unfolds on both the VR and real world planes, blurring the lines of both.

Is the plot innovative and new? Um, yes and no. At its core, the story is about the fight between good and evil, which is as old as human time itself. But how it’s done is why the story is so compelling. Being able to empathize with all of the main characters also helps.

The main character is an avatar called Parzival. The young man behind Parzival is Wade, an orphan who lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriends in a ‘stack’. Stacks are trailer parks that have been built upwards rather than outwards [to save space] and they provide shelter to the very poor.

Wade can access the OASIS because at the beginning of the story, he is a school-age boy and all school-age children are provided basic access for free – so they can attend virtual schools on a virtual planet called LUDUS.

As always, of course, money talks, even in a virtual reality, so we become invested in Wade’s life because he is the stereotypical geek. The big difference between him, and say someone like me, is that Wade/Parzival is one of the smartest geeks around. Luckily, his insecurities make us love him even as we wish we were more like him. -cough-

And then there is the gentle love story I mentioned. It’s there, and it’s an integral part of the story, but it is not the integral part of the story, the pivot around which all else revolves. If you need a comparison, think Chani and Paul Muad’ib from the Dune saga.

For me, the love story in ‘Ready Player One’ struck just the right balance because it provided a change of pace when needed, as well as motivation for parts of Wade’s character development. All without ever overshadowing the science fiction element. Then again, I may be a bit old-fashioned when it comes to science fiction and romance.

And finally a word about the writing. Here too, the word that springs to mind is balance. At its core, science fiction [like its cousin Fantasy] is all about world building, so info. dumps are almost inevitable. The trick, then, is to balance the info. dumps with the action so the reader wants to keep reading.

As you can imagine, balancing two such conflicting elements, whilst also juggling character development, social commentary and that hint of romance, is one heck of a job. Ernest Cline, the author of ‘Ready Player One’ manages to keep all his balls [pun intended] in the air…most of the time.

I think I only really became aware of the info. dumps once or twice during the entire story, and even then, I was interested enough in the world to feel no resentment.

This was a story I enjoyed from start to finish, and it saddens me to think that such quintessential science fiction has been largely ignored by the establishment. It did win the Prometheus Award in 2012, but for my money, it should have won the Hugo and Nebula awards as well. It didn’t, but perhaps, as with The Martian, Ready Player One will gain the recognition it deserves when/if Steven Spielberg turns it into a movie.

In the meantime, why not read the book? Honestly, if you have ever played a video game, of any sort, then this novel is a must read.

cheers

Meeks

 


2080 – a short story

Emmi lay rigid with misery. Her eyes were closed but tears still leaked into the biofluid in which she lay. She couldn’t feel them anymore because the electrodes attached to her temples had switched off the moment she keyed the quit switch but she knew they were there because her throat ached in that awful way it does when you want to cry.

Long moments passed as the biofluid slowly drained away and was replaced by warmed air, except that it was never quite warm enough. When Emmi had complained about feeling cold the support tech had explained that that was a built in safety factor so users would know when it was safe to remove the breather tube but she remained unconvinced. How many alerts did they need? The tank always chimed when enough fluid had drained away and then that smarmy computerised voice would state the obvious just in case you were asleep or deaf. Having that first touch of air cold was just overkill and she hated it.

Of course Emmi hated having to leave the tank at the best of times and bitterly resented the two hour limit that framed her life. She understood why the manufacturers would impose that limit. They must have lost millions after those early models had allowed addicts to starve to death but it was ridiculous to impose such arbitrary limits on people like herself. At one hundred and twenty-two just exactly how many years did they think she had left? If she wanted to die online then she should be allowed to do so. But not today. Today she had fled back to the real world with half an hour still to go.

As Emmi’s face and chest began to tingle with goosebumps she lifted one shaking hand and pulled the airtube from her mouth. Like a genie escaping from a bottle her angry sobs filled the coffin-like tank with flat, animal noises. They sounded horrible even to her own ears but at least they were real and today she needed the slap of reality to validate what she had done, or not done. Yet even with her stroke-garbled sobs to remind her of who she really was the need aching in her groin was still intense.

The advertising blurb tip-toed around that aspect of the biofluid with the propriety of a 1950’s matron. “Trillions of nano particles giving that life-like sensation” was one of their favourite phrases. Cybering was closer to the mark, not that anyone under ninety called it that anymore. The young laughingly called digital sex ‘stimming’.

Brehak had not said anything about stimming. He had been all seductive touches and soft murmurs and she had found herself paralyzed with indecision. And shocked by how much she had wanted to abandon herself to the moment. She hadn’t felt that way in decades. Yet even as his fingers had begun peeling away the layers of soft black leather covering her body a part of her had known that letting him continue was madness. And wrong. Wrong in a way that only someone from her lost generation could understand.

The young called it OR, online reality and they frolicked in their digital bodies as happily as newborn lambs once frolicked in their meadows of lush spring grass. But of course there were few places on earth where lambs frolicked anywhere any more. Most lived and died in multi-story manufactories that recycled everything from poop to farts in an effort to keep the weather from getting even worse. Top restaurants had to pay a small fortune for free-range meat because it cost thousands of credits to let lambs out onto domed meadows free of pollution.

Maybe that was why the young embraced OR so fervently, because it was the only place where they could live in a way her own generation had once taken for granted.

I’m a dinosaur. That’s what I am, a rich, bloody dinosaur.”

The garbled sounds coming from Emmi’s throat were almost drowned out by the sound of servos as the lid of her tank slowly retracted to reveal the anxious faces of her personal attendants Gem and Mira.

“Is Madame unwell?” Gem asked in that strange, archaic diction he favoured.

“Nngh,” Emmi said with a slight shake of her head. “Gowgh!”

“Madame wants to get out of there you great fool,” Mira said as she reached down into the tank and gently wiped the last of the biofluid from Emmi’s face.

There was another soft whir as the mirror foam base rose up level with the top of the tank.

Mira wrapped warmed towels around Emmi’s naked body before stepping back to allow Gem to lift her out.

Since her stroke five years before Emmi had had to get used to being handled like a lump of meat – there was nothing sexual about her wrinkled, useless carcass after all – but she was still grateful for Mira’s understanding, especially today when her sense of self was already in tatters. How could she have come so close to forgetting who she really was? Ktah might be young and beautiful but Ktah was not real. Neither was Brehak for that matter but whoever animated that avatar was young. Had to be. Probably one hundred years younger than her.

A shudder of revulsion made Emmi’s body twitch and squirm as Gem lowered her into the gentle bubbles of her bed. She settled into the mirrorfoam and warm water with a sigh. She might be a dinosaur who had outstayed its welcome but she was a dinosaur with principles. That was who she was and that was who she would stay. Ktah would have to be deleted. Maybe she should try a male avatar. That should be safe enough…


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