Saturday, 22 January 2022

'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline

Contains spoilers

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.

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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

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.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

End of Term Report

Another year down, a year in which writing science fiction, at least of the dystopian near-future variety, has seemed a little pointless, given yesterday's dystopian near-future is covered daily in the newspapers.  But what else to do, methinks?

This year's numbers are, well, big: 530 submissions, 18 acceptances, 397 flat refusals, and 56 replies with some message of hope.  Or messages like this: 

"I'm sorry, I found this story unsavory and unpleasant with a disturbing ending.  I think at certain points it was attempting to be clever or rough-edged but was just distasteful.  Written with undeniable skill, it is nonetheless full of nasty, evil people.  While it is a good set-up, unfortunately they win, going against the sort of story we prefer, where evil doesn't win."

Guess you can't please all of the people all of the time.  (Nasty, evil people?  Some of my favourite characters.  Actually, I'm rather proud of that critique - how na├»ve and limiting to want good to triumph every time...)

So, let's review:

  • 'The Loimaa Protocol', was taken by The Chorochronos Archives in March.  The one review on Goodreads rates my contribution, a reprint of my most recent entry in 'The Best of British Science Fiction', as five stars, with the three word summary 'Dreary, buildup, strong'.  Go figure.
  • 'The Pizza Bug', a previously unpublished flash, was taken in May and appeared in September, in Handmade Horror.
  • 'General Katutian Surveys her Triumph', a drabble, sold in May to Martian Magazine (for the second time, but this time they changed their minds and actually published it).  It hit the interweb in October.
  • 'Roadkill', a sci-fi horror that's been knocking around in various forms for years (originally as a screenplay I entered in a competition; Stephen Frears apparently liked it and it was allegedly wanted by the National Film and Television School before BSE closed the countryside in 1996) was accepted for The Needle Drops... in May.  It’s available.  Go buy it.
  • May also saw 'Nobody Sees the Cleaner', a new flash about a dwarf pulling off a bank robbery, taken for Die Laughing: An Anthology of Humorous Mysteries, which came out at the end of July.
  • The Fool, a reprint, was taken by the forthcoming Grandpa's Deep-Space Diner in June.
  • 'The Hundred Dollar Fortune', a new story about a time-travelling, fortune-telling orang pendek, will be coming out in the second volume of Cryptids Emerging in February. It sold in June.
  • Daikaijuzine bought 'My Avatar has an Avatar', previously published in Daily Science Fiction, in July
  • JayHenge, who took 'The Fool' in June, took another reprint, 'The Star of Jingdezhen', for Phantasmical Contraptions & More Errors the following month.
  • August saw Bourbon Penn take 'The Disappearing', an unpublished weird fiction which had been shortlisted by another publisher two or three years before who then went into hiatus without ever having accepted or rejected it; I decided to cut my losses by sending it back out. I'm glad the ever-interesting Bourbon Penn picked it up. It appears later this year, I understand.
  • 'Arlecchino', an unpublished horror short about an aging clown, was taken by Dark Dispatch in September for their forthcoming anthology of identity horror stories.
  • I don't like a year in which I fail to get something into Daily Science Fiction. They took 'School Project', a time-travelling eco-sci-fi tale, in September - but have just passed on another at the second round stage after sitting on it for three months, which marks a return to the frustrating norm.
  • 'Karl, I Hope You Don’t Read This Letter', another time-travelling flash, was taken by Etherea in October and appeared soon after.
  • 'Inktomi and the Skyship', a science-fantasy with a hint of horror, hasn't yet appeared in Wyldblood, but it will. It sold in October.
  • 'Tesla luvs Waymo 4Ever', a drabble reprint, was another sale to Martian Magazine in October. It's also the 100-word version of the 4000-word 'Driverless', which appeared in 'Murder and Machinery' last year.
  • November saw another reprint sale: 'Death of a Medicine Man', a mystery thriller with a hint of the occult, to TexArcana.
  • 'Gordon Knott', a drabble, was taken by Black Ink in November. I can't say sold, because this was an unpaid gig. Despite this being a few weeks ago, I obviously regarded this as being so perfunctory that I'd forgotten it and am still sending the story out. However, as their website returns a 404 error, maybe that's the best thing...
  • And lastly, 'The Photograph', a gothic(ish) horror set in a world where the rule of physics are slightly different, was taken by Crow Toes Quarterly in November and is due out... today.

All eighteen sales actually cover a period under eight months, illustrating the feast and famine nature of this game.  It was a somewhat frustrating start to the year, with nothing selling for almost three months, once an abortive sale to Exterus was chalked off early on.  But, eleven of them are new stories, and four of them well above flash-length, with a good proportion sold at semi-pro rates or better.

But there have been the usual frustrations as well. Remember I was slowly reeling Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores in with a story for which they'd asked for rewrites three times?  Well, in the end that slipped away.  That rejection came on 1 March, a dies horribilis on which I also received rejections from Asimov's, Apex and two from PodCastle, with rejections from F&SF and Flash Fiction Online the day before, amongst several others.  None of them unexpected; I would just like to breathe in between.

As for the rest? The obligatory two silver honorables and two unvarnished honorables from the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award and, no, I haven't finished that novel yet...

#

Click on the images or search for these on Amazon.
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

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.