Ernest Cline’s second book, Armada, is almost as wonderful as his first book, Ready Player One. While plenty of folks on Amazon are giving it mediocre ratings, I think it’s because they don’t understand what Cline really did here.
Both books are scifi. Both books are heavily gamer influenced. Each moves fast. However RPO is complicated while Armada is straightforward. And that’s important, since RPO is missing the majority of self-referential human subtext – ala Lost – that Armada is filled with. The DHARMA Initiative has nothing on the Earth Defense Alliance. I mean, c’mon, even the EDA logo kicks DHARMA’s logo lameness.
I was born in 1965. Ernest Cline was born in 1972. The ten year period starting in the late 1970s made an indelible impression on each of us. We were too young for free love and Vietnam. But we were perfectly timed for the arc that started with Star Wars and drifted into adulthood with Star Trek: The Next Generation. And video games. And Memorex and cheesy 1980s TV and commercials (go to 25:45 in the video below for the Doublemint Twin Montage.)
It was simply awesome how many ways Cline could weave my late adolescence and early adulthood into a fast paced book about the potential end of humanity which takes place almost in real time as you are reading it (I think the book took place over – at most – a few days.) While I read the first 25 pages last Sunday, I read the rest of it this weekend. I finished it today, after an epic afternoon nap, in time to go to dinner. I should have timed things a little better so I could have watched Avengers: Age of Ultron with Amy this afternoon (somehow I’ve convinced her to watch it with me.)
If you haven’t read Ready Player One, do yourself a favor and grab it. If you have, grab Armada. Ignore the “I’m disappointed the second book wasn’t as good as the first book” reviews. It’s different – and revel in the difference.
I was totally fried and fighting off a cold yesterday so I decided to spend my digital sabbath on the couch watching Season 1 of Battlestar Galactica. I took a short break at lunch time to try to induce a diabetic coma while gorging on pancakes at Snooze (which necessitated me skipping dinner and going to bed at 7pm, which resulted in me being wide awake at 11pm, hence the blog post at 200am on Sunday morning.)
While mildly ironic that I would spend digital sabbath watching Battlestar Galactica, it was deeply awesome. I have no idea how I missed the re-imagining of the series in 2003. I vaguely remember seeing the original in junior high school around the time everyone was obsessed with Star Wars. But it didn’t make a deep impression on me and my brain tossed it in the storage bin of “other sci-fi stuff.”
Season 1 from 2003 was stunningly good. The mix of low-brow CGI, complex religious metaphors, classical government / military conflict, scary prescient singularity creatures (the evolved Cylons) who are masterful at manipulating the humans, and rich characters made this a joyful way to spend a day relaxing.
I’ve got Season 2 ahead of me but rather than binge watch it like I did today, I think I’ll space it out a little. And – no more five pancake lunches at Snooze. Egads.
William Hertling is currently my favorite “near term” science fiction writer. I just read a pre-release near-final draft of his newest book, The Last Firewall. It was spectacular. Simply awesome.
You can’t read it yet, but I’ll let you know when it’s available. In the mean time, go read the first two books in the trilogy.
They are also excellent and important for context for The Last Firewall. They are inexpensive. And they are about as close to reality while still being science fiction as you can get.
I define “near term science fiction” as stuff that will happen within the next 20 years. I used to read everything by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Neal Stephenson. Gibson’s Neuromancer and and Stephenson’s Snow Crash were – until recently – my two favorite books in this category. Suarez’s Daemon and Freedom (TM) replaced these at the top of my list, until Hertling showed up. Now I’d put Daemon and The Last Firewall tied for first.
Amy and I were talking about this in the car today. Gibson, Sterling, and Stephenson are amazing writers, but their books have become too high concept. There’s not enough love and excitement for the characters. And the science fiction is too abstract – still important, but not as accessible.
In contrast, Hertling and Suarez are just completely nailing it, as is Ramez Naam with his recent book Nexus. My tastes are now deeply rooted with these guys, along with Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross.
If I was writing science fiction, this would be what I was going for. And, if you want to understand the future, this is what you should be reading.
I received a bunch of great scifi suggestions from my post The Best Science Fiction Books of All Time. One of them was Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) which I gobbled down the past two days. The writer, Hugh Howey, has an inspirational arc which, if I ever get into writing scifi, I hope I follow.
I love post-apocalyptical Earth stories that just dump you into the middle, take off like a shot, and leave it to you to catch up as you slowly piece together what is going on. After a while, you get caught up to the current time and start trying to figure out how we got there. In the case of Wool, Howey stays one step ahead of you, feeding a little big of history a few pages before you need it, which gets you thinking down a new path for a while until just before you need a little more history, at which point he gives it to you.
After a hundred pages, I couldn’t put it down. We had friends staying over and I ended up on the couch, in a discussion, but sneaking pages when the conversation shifted away from me.
As I like to write no-spoiler book reviews, I loved the metaphor of the silo. If very effectively grounds the reality of the world that its citizens inhabit, while leaving open a series of horizontal questions about what the entirety of the world actually is. This doesn’t get answered in the first five books (which is what you get with the Omnibus edition) but the world does expand well beyond the silo.
I especially love the juxtaposition of politics (the mayor and the sheriff), IT, and mechanical in the arc of the story. Each of the three of these categories of people play critical roles and Hugh mines them extraordinarily well.
I’ve got book 6 and 7 on my Kindle. I’m going to read them after I read Rainbow’s End.
My post The Best Science Fiction Books of All Time from a few weeks ago got 100+ comments with some amazing suggestions. I’d read a bunch of them, but I discovered a lot of new things to read.
One that appeared over and over again that I hadn’t yet read was Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I gobbled it down last night and this morning while trying to shake the holiday cold that decided to inhabit my body.
Awesome. It exceeded my expectations. As I got into it, I saw threads of lots of other writers, including Asimov and Heinlein, woven through the book. But Card took the story and made it his own, combining it with a classical coming of age story that reminded me of plenty that I read when I was a kid. He wasn’t bashful about mixing young with old, kind with brutal, human with non-human, with a dash of politician in the mix. If you’ve read Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games Trilogy you can see where a lot of her ideas came from.
I calibrate scifi with the date published. Ender’s Game was published in 1985 so the PC was already out in the world. Card did a good job with the computer tech, although there was still too much paper communication for critical things. His computer gaming / war simulation stuff was fascinating and well done, in a way that was very accessible to a reader of any age. And his space travel – like most science fiction – was fine, but still a fantasy for the human race in 2012.
I just downloaded Speaker for the Dead and expect I’ll get to it in a couple of days after I read Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, another often recommended book that for some reason has slipped through my fingers so far.