I always wondered what happened to Peter Pan. Turned out he was busy writing 'Ready Player One'.
Having just finished it, I'm left with mixed feelings. One the one hand, it's a page-turning ride. With the final lines of each chapter, I wanted to know what happened next. Isn't that praise enough for what's just meant to be a bit of escapist genre fiction? Cline's not pretending to be writing The Brothers Karamazov.
So, what irks?
There's a formula going on here, so front and centre that I can feel myself being played. I feel exploited; ever so slightly dirty. And I can't think of a better way of putting what feels off about it than quoting Ursula Le Guin on Tolkien, that the "peculiar rhythm of the book, its continual alteration of distress and relief, threat and reassurance, tension and relaxation: this rocking-horse gait (which is precisely what makes the huge book readable to a child of nine or ten) may well not suit a jet-age adult."
And the thing about formulae is that they are so… well, formulaic. If you play ‘guess what’s next’ you’re not going to need that many lives. That the hero wins in the end and the pantomime baddie gets their comeuppance? Check. That victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat again and again? Check. That the macho avatar hides a geeky lesbian? Not so much check as pre-checked by the focus group of wokeness.
And I guess that’s part of my gripe. If we were living in some Orwellian society (whaddyamean ‘if’?), this is exactly the kind of brain tranquilliser they’d be feeding me keep me politically onside. I don’t feel I’m getting Ernest Cline so much as Ernest Cline’s view of what it is he thinks I think I want to hear. I want Ernie to stretch my envelope, not pander to me.
Part of the what leaves me uneasy is the amount of time the book spends in its game playing metaverse. Not that it’s a problem in itself, but the lack of impact of the real world on this false reality feels phoney in itself. There’s a sort of importance given to things in inverse proportion to what's really important. People die in the real world but I get a sense that the right motions are autistically gone through, but that's all they are - motions. Even more basically, does Parzival ever stop to piss? I wanted this to turn out to be a game within a game, for Wade Watts to be an avatar of an off-page protagonist and everyone else in the story to be constructs of the game. Only then could I buy Parzival’s continual will-he-won’t-he-fuck-me-he-has progress. I wanted that ending because there’s a level of escapism that’s just too much - think Alice versus heroin. Anything else stretches credulity.
But perhaps this just reflects that I am not the target audience. I’m not a teenager. I own a couple, standard issue models. And any other owner will know the drill. The coffee mugs that cease to be visible once they've been emptied, hence never need to be returned to the kitchen. The way world peace is easy but self organisation isn't. The floordrobe. For them the real world is a distraction from their screenlife, no matter how much you try yelling at them. Explain, and they just look at you like lions in the zoo look at you, dead-eyed, just waiting for you to stop talking. That’s behind my j’accuse up top. Peter Pan never grew up - and this feels like it’s written by a perpetual adolescent.
Of course, Spielberg went and turned this into a movie. But, remember, Speilberg's the guy that greenlit the ET game, regarded as the worst game ever released. Just saying.
2084. The world remains at war.
In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.
The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.
Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.
Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.
24 0s & a 2
Twenty-four slipstream stories. Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.