2 Mar

Thirty years later. RIP Philip K. Dick.

Posted by Bryan White | Friday March 2, 2012 | Whimsy

Philip K. Dick by Robert CrumbI haven’t been as prolific lately as I’m typically known for. This time I have a pretty good excuse, though. It would seem my former place of employment saw fit to cut me loose so I  was without employment for a little while. No worries, though. I’m back at it already with a better job for more money. So fuck those fools, bro!

I’m known around these parts for being a horror guy. I was once interviewed by a local paper on the topic of horror lit and I explained to the interviewer that when it comes to the written word, I’m actually not all that into horror. Beyond the usual H.P. Lovecraft – which in a lot of ways is also science fiction – I just don’t get down with reading horror. Science fiction is more my speed. I learned today by way of Tor.com, publisher of fine science fiction and fantasy novels, that today is the 30th anniversary of the death of Philip K. Dick. Dick is a household name and an absolute monolith of sci-fi, spoken of in the same breath as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. Dick was no ordinary science fiction writer, though. He was as crazy as a shithouse rat and for a sci-fi author that’s a really advantageous thing. It takes a fractured mind to approach science fiction in a way that’s going to shake the foundations of the genre. Any joker can write half ass sci-fi about space ships and shit but like his contemporary, Frank Herbert, author of Dune, Dick’s best work could barely be classified as sci-fi in any traditional sense of the term. So here’s a primer on one of my favorite science fiction authors.

The Man In The High CastleThe Man In The High Castle
I once hijacked a conversation in a local book store between two dudes as one turned to the other and told his friend he always wanted to read PKD but didn’t know where to start.  His buddy reaches out to the shelf and pulls a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and hands it to him. I promptly interject that everybody goes to that one because it’s the book Blade Runner is based on and most people only know that one but that I think a better starting place is The Man In The High Castle. High Castle concerns the exploits of several characters living in a post World War 2 America where the Axis powers had won the war. The Germans control the eastern United States and the Japanese control the west but not all is good between the two powers. The Germans are secretly readying a plan to nuke Japan and caught up in the intrigue are numerous characters, many of whom create or sell fabrications or authentic pieces of American antiques which the Japanese occupiers hold in high regard. All the while, one character travels to Colorado to meet the author of a book banned in America which tells the story of an American where the Axis powers lost.

The Man In The High Castle is probably the purest example of Philip K. Dick available. It contains a mind-bending narrative that never slips into pure weirdo territory, features elements of Gnosticism and eastern mysticism and features a fictional analog of the author, himself, whose story within a story, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, offers a window out of the fiction and into our real world. It’s fascinating shit and as good a starting point as any, the way I see it.

On the other hand there’s VALIS. One of Dick’s final novels, the man certainly went out on a high note. And I do mean high. VALIS, a blurring of a fictional narrative and an autobiography of Dick’s own struggles with sanity, tells the story of Horselover Fat, who PKD admits early on is actually himself, even though Philip K. Dick appears as a separate character some ways into the novel. When Fat believes himself to be struck by a pink beam of light that fills him with strange knowledge about reality, he begins a quest to get to the bottom of what is happening to him. Clearly, he’s a man who is quickly slipping away into mental oblivion but through what are either strange coincidences or actual revelations from what Fat and his friends believe to be an intelligent satellite named VALIS which orbits the planet, Fat attempts to come to terms with his deteriorating mental state. That is, until his friends take in a weirdo arthouse movie starring a David  Bowie-style rock star that is loaded with hidden messages about VALIS. And that’s when shit gets real. If The Man In The High Castle is an even-keeled gateway drug to the world of Philip K. Dick, VALIS is PKD with the brakes removed. It is a harrowing look at a man struggling with the mental illness that had dogged him for much of his life not to mention a crumbling physical condition. In the end, it’s hard to even tell what VALIS is about if it’s about anything at all, but it serves more as an unfiltered look into the mid of the genius, warts and all. Like the best Dick novels, it warps reality and blurs the line between fact and fiction and it’s often hard to tell if you’re reading the diary of a madman or one of the most brilliantly twisted sci-fi novels ever written.

A Scanner DarklyA Scanner Darkly
Phil was drug user. Many of the best artists are. This may have had a hand in the dissolution of his sanity but his experimentations with drugs shifted his view of the world and stimulated his imagination in ways that nothing else could have. Nobody could have written the shit that Dick did without the aid of some kind of illicit substance. A Scanner Darkly has a lot to do with that, as Dick’s own life at the time was spent mostly under the influence of speed and in the company of teenage drug addicts. The book has to do with Bob Arctor, a drug addict in Orange County, California in 1994, and a big fan of the powerful psychedeclic, Substance D. At the same time, Bob is an undercover agent with the cops, gathering evidence on users of Substance D and the distribution network. So that the two personalities never cross, Bob/Fred meet with his police bosses in a disguise that makes it impossible to tell who he is. Unfortunately, Bob/Fred is hopelessly hooked on Substance D and has a hard time distinguishing between his two personalities until they suffer a complete break and he is removed from his undercover gig and placed in a rehab facility to get clean. Even more unfortunate, Bob/Fred doesn’t realize that he’s still working for the cops as he’s supposed to find out where the money for this rehab clinic is coming from. All along he, and us the readers, wonder what the fuck is going on here? Clearly the product of a speed freak, A Scanner Darkly is Dick at his most paranoid and compelling. As is the recurring theme in Dick’s work, the entire story orbits the concept of what is real and what is not. Is anything real, for that matter? Read this and then check out Richard Linklater’s outstanding animated adaptation. It’s something.

While you’re at it, take some time to check out the exceptional Tank Riot podcast about Philip K. Dick!


14 Feb

Be My Suicidal Valentine!

Posted by Bryan White | Tuesday February 14, 2012 | News

Ah, yes. Valentine’s Day. Few holidays do I loathe more than this one. Why, you ask? My entire social media experience on this day can easily be summed up with the following image.

Forever Alone

My social circle seems to be constantly moaning about the lack of romance/ass in their lives and those of us who have found a way to manage functional romantic relationships tend to keep quiet about it on this day. On the same hand, though, as many of my peoples can’t help but Facebook their feelings for their other half/subjects of their polyamory so basically on Valentine’s Day I am bombarded by relationship status updates and a lot of complaining about how so and so will be eating pizza alone with nothing but Skyrim and a marathon beat sesh to occupy their evening.

Let it be known, however, that I am not a romance scrooge. While my evening will be dominated by repeat viewings of the same Cake Boss episode that my four year old daughter is presently obsessed with, I do have a mushy spot and this morning’s post from Rondal Scott over at Strange Kids Club hit me right in the schmaltz production centers of the heart with this tech demo/short zombie comedy from the students of the Media Design School in New Zealand. For a student film, it’s pretty badass. I present to you: Rotting Hill.

8 Feb

Let The Bullets Fly ain’t no Avatar

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday February 8, 2012 | News

I don’t know how this one slipped past me. I apologize, folks. I’m supposed to be on my toes about this shit. You’d think that a slapsticky wushu bullet opera starring Chow Yun Fat would throw up dozens of red flags on my radar and I’d be wired directly into its signal. I have failed you, Internet, and I am sorry.

Let The Bullets Fly has actually been out in Hong Kong for over a year now and thanks to a snappy trailer full of bang-bang and crazy weirdo shit from The Far East, it’s now beginning to make the rounds on the American movie fanboy sites. For instance, this trailer from the fanboyest of them all, Ain’t It Cool News, so expect to start seeing pullquotes from Quentin Tarantino and all the low-rent film school jackasses who worship him. I’m sure Eli Roth has already jizzed all over it on his Twitter feed seeing as how a dude ripped in half woders where his ass landed (the answer is in the trailer).

Set during a period of civil war in China, Let The Bullets Fly concerns numerous shady individuals vying for power in a time when organized crime flourished in China. Hijinx ensue and from the looks of it, a lot of people wind up shot in the head or at the very least punched in the face. I have a feeling that this flick is going to run wild in hip film fan circles.

6 Feb

The Death and Return of Superman in summary

Posted by Bryan White | Monday February 6, 2012 | Comics

Superman #75 - The Death of SupermanThis link comes from The Mysterious Troy Z, a Cinema S contributor whether he knows it or not.

It was October of 1992 and The Boston Globe confirmed some rumblings I’d heard from friends who rumored that DC was planning to kill off Superman and bring a halt to his titles. For good. Not one of us read any of the multitude of Superman titles available at the time as most of the guys were fanatic believers in the House of Ideas but a few of us had the taste to pick up a few DC books. Superman was never among them, though.

Among the punishments of living on the seacoast of New Hampshire at the time, we had one choice of comic shop within driving distance as all the shops that opened near us closed within a few months and were the characteristically dark caves of people who no idea about comics trying to capitalize on the sudden collectible status of comic books at the time. Chris’ Cards and Comics was the only one that managed to stay open – unless we decided to drive double the distance to Paperback Bazaar – and remains open to this day in the very same scuzzy strip mall in Seabrook, New Hampshire. I walked in, grabbed my sub and then swallowed hard as I grabbed a copy of Superman #75 off the special display, closely guarded by the shop’s owner, Chris, that declared that I would pay no less than $10 for a sealed copy. Let’s go over that again. Ten dollars. Books were still reasonably priced around $1.25 to $1.50 at the time so to shell out $10 for this book was kind of insane but in spite of never really following Superman, I wanted to see how they brought this all to an end and according to my friends, not one of them was going to rip their copy open since it was highly collectible. Boy, were they going to be pissed.

They actually bagged and boarded their sealed copies of the book. I ripped mine open in the car, horrifying them all, and promptly wrapped the memorial Superman arm band around the sleeve of my flight jacket, where it remained for the rest of the winter and let me tell you, winter in New Hampshire lasts a long, long time. The above video is actually pretty unkind to the death of Superman, which is a suitably epic death story. Doomsday was, in fact, pretty fucking stupid and I really wished it had been Lex Luthor that had done the job, but what do you want? It was the 90’s and everyone was still reeling from the complete lack of taste in pop culture brought on by the dread decade, the 80’s. The comic market was also feverishly trying to keep up with the demand for new books and in spite of what you may think, comic book creative teams are actually the losing team when it comes to coming up with new characters. Their parade of fly by night characters come and go far more often than heroes and villains who actually stick around. So Doomsday being a Hulk-style destruction engine with spiny-points is really no surprise. Superman #75 just isn’t that bad and I was actually a little bummed in the end. I mean, it’s fucking Superman!

In the end, the book had the desired effect. People who didn’t even give a shit about comics snatched up multiples of the millions of copies shipped and the whole thing sold out overnight. Overnight. Comics do not sell out. Like, ever. What these speculators didn’t know, however, was that they were playing a role in the destabilization of the entire comic book market. Market value for Death of Superman skyrocketed almost immediately. I know that at one point shortly after the book was impossible to find in shops, unbagged copies were selling for as much as $50 and sealed books were going for as much as $300 and then the bottom fell out. As Max Landis discusses in that video, DC pissed all over their creation and revealed their hand over the course of the next 12 months with some wingnut, hyper convoluted story about how Superman was just resting all that time. Comic fans recoiled in horror. Speculators couldn’t sell their stacks of sealed books fast enough and almost as quickly as it rose in value, sealed copies of Superman #75 plummeted to a point where they were selling a little below cover price just to get them out of storage. This stupid marketing move by DC nearly destroyed the entire comic book market.

So even though I think Landis is a little cruel to Superman #75, he’s pretty much spot on with his analysis of the Reign of the Supermen and Rebirth of Superman – which actually had the balls to ship in a sealed bag with a gimmick cover. Props for Mandy Moore, Elijah Wood and Simon Pegg. Hilarious video. I’d like to hear his thoughts on Red and Blue Superman.

30 Jan

Grand Guignol: The roots of horror cinema

Posted by Bryan White | Monday January 30, 2012 | Whimsy

Grand Guignol posterHorror has been with the human race pretty  much since our origin as a species. Fear lives deep in the reptilian brain and we’ve always used storytelling to help us deal with the shit that freaks us out. As our means of telling stories progressed, horror travelled with us and it was a natural progression from the spoken word, to the written word to the projected image. Almost as soon as film was used to tell stories, horror made its grand entrance to that medium with Georges Melies’ 1896 film The Haunted Castle but between the advent of film and the printed word, horror was taken to the stage in varying degrees of grue. The stage was no stranger to violent imagery. Shakespeare’s greatest works are propelled by gory violence but at a theater in the Pigalle district of Paris, The Grand Guignol made gory violence its specialty.

Le Theatre du Grand Guignol, translated, means The Big Puppet Show and was intended by its owner and creator, Oscar Metenier, to be a space for the emerging naturalist theater performances, which downplayed the stylized deliveries of dialog by the casts, taking place in realistic settings in a world that audiences recognized. Metenier had ideas that were bold and scared the crap out of theater managers due to their explicit nature. In order to realize his vision, he was going to have to own his own space and in 1897, that’s just what he did. Guignol refers to a sort of social satire done in a Punch & Judy method but the plays which took place at The Grand Guignol were anything but.

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7 Jan

Happy 100th Birthday, Charles Addams!

Posted by Bryan White | Saturday January 7, 2012 | News

Happy 100th birthday, Charles Addams!

Charles and Barbara Addams, 1955I’m really shitty when it comes to remembering dates. I have a few keys dates committed to memory: Birthdays of both my wife and daughter and my anniversary. These are key and forgetting them would be catastrophic. You learn this through the magic of sitcoms at an early age and when the time comes, you make sure that you don’t forget them. Otherwise, I forget everything else. Parent’s birthdays. Brother and Sister’s birthdays. Close friends. Everybody’s. Were it not for Facebook, I’d never remember. I never forget names and faces but, for the life of me, dates elude me. Today I leaned on Google to remind me that it was Charles Addams’ birthday. A fact that I’m sure Facebook would have told me had Charles Addams had one. But he doesn’t. On account of him being dead since the 80’s.

When it came to monstrous 60’s sitcoms you had your choice of either The Munsters or The Addams Family. I was an Addams Family guy. This preference had a lot to do mostly with Morticia Addams (rather Carolyn Jones’ proto-goth presentation of Morticia) and John Astin’s portrayal of Gomez Addams bleeding equal parts Barnabas Collins and Groucho Marx. The genesis of all of this, however, was cartoonist, Charles Addams.

The Addams FamilyFor 50 years, Addams was a cartoonist for The New Yorker where, beginning in 1938, he contributed his first Addams Family cartoon. Addams was known for contributing other toons and strips but his true legacy lies in this morbid family of fiends. The Addams Family style was distinct. Rudimentary black and white illustrations existed in a single panel, sometimes with a quote, always saturated with subtle yet extremely black humor. Each panel was a single, unrelated image with no continuity between them. As a matter of fact, The Addams Family as we know them, existed without names until the sitcom premiered nor is their monstrous nature ever truly revealed. This was Addams’ style. Even his non-Addams Family toons were bizarre and contained gruesome and fantastic qualities.

Today is the birthday of  Charles Addams. He would have been 100.

5 Jan

The best of 2011 – The final word

Posted by Bryan White | Thursday January 5, 2012 | News

I’m always late with these year end wrap ups and I almost didn’t do one because looking back, back when I was in the mid-December funk, I couldn’t think of much that I liked in 2011 and of the stuff that I liked, I couldn’t find the words, but there has been a good deal of talk about 2011’s genre offerings over on the old Facebook between us networked movie bloggers and while most of the most of the bloggers are collectively jizzing on the indie darlings of last year’s film fest circuit,  I didn’t see any of that shit. Nor do I think I would have given a rat’s ass about any of it anyway. Seriously. If I have to hear one more rave review of ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ I’m going to fucking punch someone. So here’s my lowbrow wrap up of 2011’s best trash and cheap thrills.

Fubar: Balls to the Wall ReviewFUBAR: Balls to the Wall
A lot of Americans love to make sideways jokes about Canada for reasons that I have a hard time putting into words. I work with a dude from Canada and he takes a lot of heat for the fact of his nationality. Not mean spirited heat, mind you, just the usual shit about clubbing baby seals. Thing is, I think Canada is the shit! They’re just like America only not so fat and stupid. They have an ace in the hole, too. Through some kind of historical lottery, Canadians manage to be born with a ridiculous comic potential and even though a lot of the cultural comedy goes right over my head, for instance, dudes from Calgary getting a right proper ribbing from dudes from Vancouver. I don’t get it but I do get a few things and this year one of my top picks was the righteous Canadian riff on Wayne’s World, FUBAR: Balls to the Wall. If any comic duo is heir apparent to the thrones of Bob and Doug McKenzie, it’s Terry and Deaner. FUBAR follows a loose plot about two rocker burnouts who move to the oil fields of Alberta to find what they think is a big paycheck for easy work and while that happens for them, everything else doesn’t really go as planned. It was ruthlessly funny from start to finish as the two dudes can’t spend their paychecks fast enough, a cancer scare produces hilarious results and the bonds of friendship are tested when the town pump comes between them. Good stuff. Total sleeper. Should be an indie comedy classic. Its director, Michael Dowse, has chops and for that I want to see Take Me Home Tonight and cannot wait for his violent hockey comedy, Goon.

Turns out I’m a pretty big fan of James Wan. I like the first Saw flick, I like his Death Wish riff (actually based on the first of Brian Garfield’s novels, which were the basis for the Bronson franchise), Death Sentence and no one was more surprised than me when Insidious actually scared the pants off me. Literally. One minute my pants are on. The next minute they’re in heap next to me and I find myself gripped with fear. It also gave me nightmares. THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN. Ever. Sure, Insidious goes off the rails in the third act and loses its footing but the setup and conflict is positively fucking gripping. The finale was enough to be a deal breaker for a lot of people but I didn’t feel that way at all. Wan was remarkably restrained in his novel approach to the haunted house flick and as I’ve been saying all along, that’s the only way you’re really going to scare people. There were a couple of cheap jump scares but for the most part, Wan’s set ups were enough to let your imagination do the heavy lifting. Insidious left a strong impression on me. I recommend it to everyone.

The Disco Exorcist ReviewThe Disco Exorcist
Yeah, yeah. Get it out of your systems, skeptics. For the third year in a row, a Richard Griffin movie makes my best of the year list and for the third year in a row I’m sure some sour grapes asshole will call me some kind of shill for Griffin because every one of his movies winds up on my favorites lists. The Disco Exorcist turned out to be scaled way back from its original plan to be shot on nasty old 8mm film stock but it turned out that aesthetic authenticity was, in fact, a disposable commodity seeing as how the flick, from former Cinema S contributor Tony Nunes, was exceptionally fucking funny and, dare I say, smart. The gang’s all here, finally affording Griffin regular, Michael Reed, his moment to shine as a womanizing king of disco who scorns an insecure crazy bitch with a direct line to the dark side in favor of a night with his favorite porn star. Brandon Aponte also turns in one of the funniest characters of the movie, for once not playing an over the top mobster and horror movie drag queen supreme Babette Bombshell turns up mostly out of costume in one of the movie’s funniest scenes. Like most Griffin flicks, the irreverent gags come fast and furious and to its merit, the film leaps forward in terms of film craft, making huge gains over the previous feature, Atomic Brain Invasion, a top pick from 2010. It’s hilarious and unexpectedly sexy.

Red StateRed State
I never mentioned this but back when Kevin Smith was in the early stages of promoting what would turn out to be his final feature, he opened up his home to movie bloggers since a lot of movie bloggers had this idea that he hated reviewers and chief among them, movie bloggers (like me). To prove the naysayers wrong, his invitation was extended to bloggers big and small and among those invited to his place to see the film was myself. Basically I bugged the shit out of him on Twitter until he pulled me in. I got the details and was about to book a flight to Los Angeles when it turned out that a bunch of writers, pissed off that they didn’t get the invite, called foul, acting like inviting writers to his house to watch the movie was some kind of bribe for good press, and they changed the terms. Maybe it was a bribe. I was certainly captured by the novelty of it all. No longer was it in Smith’s house, though. It was at a screening room in Hollywood and Kevin would not be in attendance. With the novelty of this offer gone, I backed out and sent my friend Wes from American Nonfiction to see it and write about it. He liked it. Months later I saw the movie. I liked it, too. Quite a bit, in fact. Word out of early screenings was that Smith’s horror movie was not actually a horror movie and was some kind of weird siege flick but upon inspection, I came to the conclusion that in spite of what so many writers claimed, Red State was actually a horror movie. In every sense of the term. I’m not sure what everyone was expecting but my shock, surprise and good vibes about the movie seemed to be the common reception. Unsuspecting victims. Morbid and absurd circumstances. A morally ambiguous third party. It definitely felt like the small movie that it set out to be but it was also extremely hard to accept the fact that it was directed by Kevin Smith. The camera actually moves! Shots are tight and expertly composed and there is no sign of Jason Mewes anywhere to be found! I didn’t expect it to hit my best of list but I can’t help it. Red State was the shit!

Hobo With A Shotgun ReviewHobo With A Shotgun
This list isn’t any sort of order but if I had to put one title at the top of the list, Hobo With A Shotgun might be it. I have a strong aversion to hype, even when that hype is about something I’m likely to appreciate. Hobo With A Shotgun, an expansion on the fake trailer that won that Alamo Grindhouse contest, was on the receiving end of a lot of hype. Even before it started its inevitable film festival rotation, photos and set reports from Halifax were coming out of every one of the internet’s orifices and I am immediately suspicious of that sort of thing. Then trailers dropped and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The end-product turned out to be an awesome time machine trip back to the 80’s where five bucks and a seedy little neighborhood video store could occupy your evening with morally reprehensible trash. Hobo With A Shotgun was pure Troma-style fun. It brought to mind the kind of goofy crap that could only exist in Tromaville and evoked other video gems like Street Trash and Frankenhooker. The cherry on top? Rutger Hauer, who made his name in Blade Runner but proliferated under a dozen cheapo action flicks that sunk at box offices but took flight on video shelves. What the world needs now is more outrageous crap like Hobo With A Shotgun.

4 Jan

Love Cinema Suicide style!

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday January 4, 2012 | News

Wedding teaser

Marriage. Serious business. Tremendous amounts of cash find themselves dumped on this most sacred institution but let’s face it, folks. You’ve seen one set of wedding photos, you’ve seen them all. If you’re married, I can pretty much guarantee that your wedding photos and the ensuing photosets from the reception look exactly like mine. Without variation. Still, these things wind up on everyone’s Facebook and we, out of a sense of duty, feel compelled to scrutinize each one and press the like button for some of them because that is what civilized people do. This set of wedding photos – engagement photos, really – actually merit your valuable time and if you were to be Facebook friends with Julian Sunmi Park and Benjamin Jinsuk Lee, you would most certainly like the whole set and then comment that you wish you could press the like button a thousand more times. The reason for this after the jump.

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3 Jan

Claymation stimulates the pineal gland to reveal the horrors… From Beyond

Posted by Bryan White | Tuesday January 3, 2012 | News

It’s no secret that I am a dyed in the wool fan of H.P. Lovecraft and if there’s one thing I like as much as the man’s own work, it’s interpretations and expansions on that work. Lovecraft’s common setting, New England and the maniacs therein who plumb the outer reaches of accepted science and esoterica, is a lush, vibrant place of endless possibilities in the realm of horror and science fiction. There are plenty of movies loosely based on the works of Lovecraft and whole new works taking place in that world. I love the movies of Stuart Gordon and the many Lovecraftian-themed board games that emanate from that place. At one time, Zombie Bomb series co-creator, Rich Woodall, and I were discussing a collaboration on a Lovecraft-inspired anthology comic that never really came together, but you see the possibilities with the material.

The video above was spotted on Strange Kids Club’s host-with-the-most, Rondal Scott’s Facebook wall and I couldn’t resist posting it here. For big budget production crews, Claymation is an excruciating, time consuming process. Those old Wallace and Gromit shorts used to take Aardman forever to knock out, so it’s an understatement to say that an indie like Red Hatchet Films was ambitious when they took on the adaptation of the Lovecraft short, From Beyond. Unlike Gordon’s adaptation of the movie, which takes wild liberties (as do most of his Lovecraft projects), this one gets it mostly right and presents the material as it is in the text, for the most part. The lighting, the menacing narration and the excellent portrayal of the hidden universe translates Lovecraft’s expertise at evoking dread perfectly. I defy you to find fault with this short!

30 Dec

The Suicidal Book Club: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Posted by Bryan White | Friday December 30, 2011 | Suicidal Book Club

Ready Player One ReviewI know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Could it be? Do mine eyes deceiveth me? After a few months of sporadic updates are we actually getting two updates in one week?” If that’s not what you’re thinking, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “Honestly? Another fucking book report?” Just bear with me. I’ve been busy, for fuck’s sake! The holiday season will take the fight right out of you and what has felt an awful lot like Major Depression or at the very least Seasonal Affective Disorder has pretty much sapped my will to watch horror movies and there isn’t a whole hell of a lot that I’ve really given a shit about lately. Everything I watch has sucked except for the few TV shows that I’ve been keeping up with. Every time I try to write anything, I get a thousand words in and find that I hate every single one of them. Bummer, I know. I’ll cut the shit.

I was once interviewed by a writer from one of the local free papers about horror in literature and comics and the then-sudden resurgence in books and comics about zombies. Because I’m local horror blogger numero uno in New Hampshire, the conversation inevitably drifted toward my favorite horror novels because I’m such a strong local resource in matters such as these. I was confronted with a problem, however. With the exception of my eternal devotion to H.P. Lovecraft, I don’t really read much horror. My bag when it comes to books is science fiction. Truth be told, at the time I didn’t read much at all. When it comes to lit I’m easily distracted and my progress when reading is typically very slow so it’s very easy for me to throw my hands up and shake off the entire notion of reading, leaving me to feel like some kind of moron because I can’t seem to make it through four hundred measly pages. Then one night I find myself in the home office of author Joe Hill (Locke & Key, Horns) and he shows me ‘The Shelf of 10’, an OCD collection the next ten books he’s going to read and the next ten movies he’s going to watch. In order. At first it strikes me as a little weird and then it clears a bit and strikes me as the sort of thing a working author might need since free time is a valuable commodity when you’re as busy as a Bram Stokers award winning author but then it dawns on me. Maybe this is what I need. A little organization coupled with the same force of will it took to quit smoking to pick ten books I want to read in order and then marry myself to that list. I go on and on about it but there’s a thin line between a self-effacing sense of humor and an obnoxious line of self pity. So maybe I don’t need to be so down on my reading habits. I just need a code to follow. I quickly put together a list on Goodreads and got to work. I began with Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, a title that I’ve seen tossed around liberally in the Twitter feeds of Wil Wheaton, Cory Doctorow and Patton Oswalt. With some of my favorite nerd-culture gurus namechecking it, I figured I ought to knuckle down and check it out. I couldn’t have been happier with this decision. Kicking off my own personal Shelf of 10 got me off to a good start and gave me the momentum to roll into another title right away.

Such is the way with a lot of speculative fiction with a sci-fi bent, it’s the future and the future sucks a dick, man. Fuel shortages, staggering unemployment, rising crime and widespread poverty have made America a really terrible place to live. An MMORPG called OASIS was developed several decades back as a competitor to World of Warcraft and then evolved into a deeply immersive front end for the entire internet. So if you’d like to party up and raid a dungeon, you can do that but you can also go to school there and spend your day in a huge library called Wikipedia. The designer of OASIS is James Halliday, an amalgamation of Richard Garriot and Steve Jobs and as our story begins, Halliday has died and released his last will and testament to all users of OASIS promising his entire estate, hundreds of billions of dollars and the entire company behind OASIS to the one person who can find three keys that open three gates in OASIS, each hidden cleverly with a series of clues. Halliday, being devoted to 80’s pop culture, laces his quest with obscure and deeply nerdy references to 80’s music, movies, video games and role playing games. The OASIS community springs into action and for years, Egg Hunters search OASIS for the first key before giving up, leaving behind only the most dedicated of the Gunters. Key among these is Wade Watts, Parzival, a teenager living in the oppressive settings known as the Oklahoma City stacks, literally towering stacks of RVs. Watts devotes his life and every available neuron to memorizing the life and times of James Halliday and every piece of 80’s pop culture, significant or insignificant so that he can escape his dire situation and live a life of luxury. Like everyone, he spends all his time in OASIS and has befriended other Gunters in the quest for Halliday’s keys. After years of no results, Parzival finally makes a crucial connection and makes his way to the first key, tipping off Gunters everywhere and a race begins to find the other keys as Wade and his friends struggle against the Sixers, agents of a tyrannical ISP that wants the OASIS all for themselves, feeling as though Halliday and his company never took full advantage of OASIS’ financial potential.

Ready Player One is making the rounds on blogs and lit review sites everywhere, garnering praise for what is, essentially, VH1’s I Love The 80’s couched in classic cyberpunk conventions. It’s a clever bombardment of pop culture with plenty of explorations of The Net with a heaping dose of ‘jacking in’. Every single page is saturated with nods to old school video gaming, John Hughes movies, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Saturday morning cartoons, etc. I mean this shit is nonstop. From cover to cover, you’ll be overwhelmed with nostalgia and that’s sometimes the problem. Protagonist and his friends, are drawn up to be complete characters with compelling stories of their own taking pace in a dreary, nasty setting that’s as compelling as our main characters and their motivations but all of these positive qualities are constantly contending with Cline’s constantly winking eye and nudging elbows, trying to remind those of us who grew up in that bygone era of how cool things used to be and while I don’t necessarily disagree – being a kid in the 80’s fucking ruled – There’s a lot at play in Ready Player One and it’s constantly being drowned out by lengthy walks down memory lane with regards to the Atari 2600. This quality is not a deal breaker. Hardly, in fact. It’s just a bit tedious and because the book’s main trait becomes its constantly shifting pattern of nostalgia, the second act sags as the tragedy builds among a rising tide of Family Ties and Wargames references. I won’t lie, though, a sprawling homage and an entire gameworld devoted to Rush’s album 2112 brought a huge smile to my face.

Mildly negative criticism aside, though, Ready Player One is hard to put down once you get started. Few books have ever driven me as hard as this one and the fact that it’s so deftly written and swiftly plotted makes it easy to hurtle to the finish line, all the while dreading the inevitable conclusion. Cline’s characterization of the extremely resourceful and quick witted Wade Watts left me wanting to live in his collapsing world forever in spite of its fatal flaws. As long as it was possible to log in to a game where I could have a physical fight with Godzilla and pilot the Milennium Falcon around as my personal  mode of transportation, that is. Books don’t often make my heart race in anticipation nor do they often make me laugh out loud. The only other book to hold such titles is Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Look, it’s a few days after Christmas and I’m sure you’re sitting there with at least one gift card to a major book retailer or there’s a local indie shop in your neighborhood that could use your cash. Why don’t you grace them with your patronage and ask the person at the counter for a copy of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The nostalgia net is cast so incredibly wide that no nerd fetish escapes its gravity and if you’re reading this – and my analytics are correct – you’re probably just the right age for this book to properly tweak your 80’s nostalgia gland. It’s fast, it’s furious and it’s a lot of fun. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Take my fucking word for it.

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