Book 52 of 52(!): "Ready Player One" and "Armada", by Ernest Cline

Finally, the end of my year!  52 books done – one a week!  And to wrap things up, I’m finishing with one of the most critically acclaimed and bestselling novels of last year – and its more recent sequel, just for good measure.

Both of these books, “Ready Player One” and “Armada”, are built around a science fiction premise, but mainly are homages to all things eighties, with tons of references to pop culture, video games, movies, television shows, songs, and more.  Here’s a brief summary of each:

In “Ready Player One”, it’s the future, and the world’s gone to hell.  Most people escape into the OASIS, a virtual reality where there are almost no limits on what you can do.  The billionaire founder of OASIS died a decade previously, and left his fortune hidden as an “easter egg” somewhere in OASIS.  The protagonist decides to find this easter egg – but he’ll have to hurry, since an evil corporation bent on monetizing OASIS is also after the egg!

In “Armada”, the main character is amazed to see a spaceship hovering over his school – and not just any spaceship, but one of the ships from his favorite online game! As it turns out, this online game has been created by the government, secretly training people all over the world to fight the oncoming alien hordes!  It’s a situation straight out of a bad B-movie – and, in fact, it seems a little too contrived…

Both of the books are great, with one glaring flaw – others have pointed out that, while Cline excels at many aspects of writing, his female characters are flat and exist basically so the male leads can have someone to flirt with.  At some points, it almost feels like a fan fiction for men to indulge in their “damsel in distress” fantasies.

But despite that single weak point, the rest of the story is great, the references are EVERYWHERE, and the books definitely have a solid, strong plotline.  I’m glad I read them!

And now, on to 2016!

Time to read: 2-3 hours each.

"I don’t need flesh to be human."

I often wonder how many geniuses really exist.

Look around you, next time you’re out in public.  People everywhere, streaming by, bustling about on the worthless minutiae of their everyday lives.  No one challenges them.  There’s no dire, life or death need.  Their requirements for survival are filled, they busy themselves with the tiny, unimportant, trivial details.

They possess no roaring storm to transform their tiny flame of genius into a roaring inferno.  So instead, that little flame gutters and eventually extinguishes itself.

I look around at these others with dismay, sadness, because I used to be like them.

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Book 51 of 52: "The $64 Tomato" by William Alexander

Author’s note: this is the last Monday of the year – shouldn’t this be book 52?  Strange.  I’ll do one more book this week, then.

Gardening.  No, not gardening, farming.  It always feels like a great hobby, the purest way to give back to Nature, create the freshest and healthiest food, and save money on a grocery bill.  What could be better than growing your own fruits and vegetables, with nothing but sunlight, soil, and water, and eating them all year round?

This, at least, is how William Alexander feels at the beginning of his book, and I have to say that I echo his sentiment.  However, as he soon discovers when he actually purchases some farmland and starts growing, Nature has other plans.
Well, he doesn’t buy a farm.  He buys a house on a huge plot of land, and decides to become a “gentleman farmer.”  Still, a noble goal.  However, as we follow along with Alexander’s (mis)adventures, we find out how synthetic pesticides are a bleak necessity, just how much work goes into producing even a simple tomato.

Deer.  Bugs.  Storms.  Watering.  A million little curses, all of them conspiring against a farmer.  “The $64 Tomato” is hilariously funny in some parts, but it also leaves me with a newfound respect for farmers, for the struggle they must face every time they try and earn food from Nature.

Time to read: 1.5 hours.


Slumped back into the sagging bench seat at the airport, I gazed around at the rush of humanity around me as music blared into my ears through my headphones.  I did my best to keep my eyes moving, trying not to linger too much on any one face in case they caught my covert attention.

It certainly was a busy time at the airport, I noted, adding sourly a moment later that this was probably why my flight ended up being delayed as well.  Stuck in this place for another couple of hours, waiting for them to finally call over the half-incomprehensible intercom that the plane had finally arrived and was ready for boarding.

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Abducted! – Part 2

Continued from Part 1, here.

Twenty minutes or so, I had to admit that we were thoroughly, hopelessly lost.

When I glanced over at Elena, the language barrier between us didn’t prevent me from seeing that she felt the same way.  I could read it in the hunch of her shoulders, the padding of her feet where she’d previously hopped along, excited to be free.

“Pretty dull, isn’t it?” I remarked, more just to fill the silence than because she’d understand.

Glancing back at me, she commented something back, although I couldn’t understand a word.

No, wait – I caught one of the curse words she’d taught me in there.  I grinned, and she smiled sympathetically back.
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Abducted! – Part 1

Feeling thoroughly disoriented, I struggled up to my feet, looking around.  Good lord, I must have had more to drink at the bar than I remembered.

As I looked around, however, still rubbing at the back of my head, I started to realize that something else was very wrong.

I stood in the middle of a small room, with white walls, floor, and ceiling.  The room appeared brightly lit, although I couldn’t tell where the light actually came from.  Were the walls themselves glowing?

More importantly to me, however, was the fact that I saw no door in the walls.

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Book 49 of 52: "Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon" by Mark Hodder

I think I’m getting my fill of steampunk fantasy this year!

For anyone who’s been following along, I’ve been reading all of Mark Hodder’s Burton & Swinbourne series, although I haven’t read them in order.  The true order is:

The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon
The Secret of Abdu El-Yezdi
The Return of the Discontinued Man
The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats

I, however, have read them in the following order: 5-2-1-3-6.  I haven’t found book 4 yet.

This makes things confusing…
Still, this book is just as good as the others – although be ready for a complex, multi-faceted plot that can be very tough to follow at times.  In Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon, for example, the beginning of each chapter takes place forty-some odd years in the future, which can be jarring, since it’s the same characters.  In essence, each chapter starts with a flash-forward, and then jumps “back” to the present.

Sound confusing?

Still, it all does come together at the end, wrapping up all the threads, but leaving the final ending open and ambiguous.  If you want to be surprised, don’t read on!

The whole series started off with the history “fracturing”, thanks to interference from a time traveler, Edward Oxford.  This man jumped backwards in time from the future, and accidentally killed the child Queen Victoria in the past.  This split off the time stream.

To fix this, Edward tried jumping back a couple more times, trying to run into himself and stop his past self from interfering (and thus keeping the Queen alive).  He doesn’t succeed, but further mucks things up.

Eventually, our hero, Richard Francis Burton, realizes just what happened, and he realizes that it’s his job to go back to the time/date of the assassination and “close the loop”, so to say.  He has to stop Edward Oxford from killing the queen, erasing his own existence as time snaps back to the right path.

So back he goes, steadies his rifle, and takes a shot…

…and instead of hitting Edward, he kills Queen Victoria.

That’s right.  This entire loop wasn’t caused by Edward at all, but by Burton himself.  His interference in the past created his own alternate self, which went on several adventures, only to eventually be sent back to create its own timeline.

Confusing, no?

Time to read: 4.5 hours.  These steampunk books can get very heavy and dense.

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