April 2, 2012

11/22/63 and Ready Player One

I read two books recently: 11/22/63 (the new Stephen King) and Ready Player One (Ernest Cline).

(photo from Amazon.com)

The Stephen King one was exactly what I like to read from him: basic suspenseful-and-somewhat-supernatural storytelling, without the need to repeat nonsense words over and over in parentheses and/or italics to try to make them creepy. Or rather, only a LITTLE of that. (I never did find "Jimla" a creepy word, despite his efforts. It felt to me like he didn't find it very creepy either.)

It's a time-travel/do-over book, which I like. If someone described the plot to me, though, I'd feel a little pre-bored: someone goes back in time to stop Kennedy from being shot. The Kennedy assassination is a good event to try to stop because it's so classic---but because it's so classic, I'm tired of thinking/talking/hearing about it. That faded quickly as I started reading, because the book isn't really about the event he's trying to stop, it's about everything else involved in trying to live in a different time (he has to go back 5 years before the assassination), and it's about the various issues involved in trying to change the past. There are only a couple of yucky/scary scenes, and they're typical of a scary murder mystery or something (and you pretty much know how it's going to go, so you can skim without missing important things), not the Horrible Horrifying Horror I might be already dreading when I start an S.K. book (not like I could complain if I found some, considering it is A STEPHEN KING).

As usual, it could have used someone to go in and take out two to three hundred pages, but it's not like my skimmers are broken. I wondered why the narrator kept agitating about leaving Lee Harvey Oswald's kids fatherless if he (the narrator) killed him (L.H.O.), since if he (the narrator) DIDN'T kill him (L.H.O.), he (L.H.O.) was going to get killed shortly afterward anyway. I objected a bit to the love interest, a 6'2", 150-pound charmingly klutzy blonde virgin with huge tracts of land, who loves! sex! as soon as our narrator introduces her to it, and keeps referring to herself in the third person. I never felt like she was real or that I could see what was special about her. I felt the same about the narrator, though: he seemed like an idealized version of the author a man: A writer! A master engaging teacher who really gets the students to CARE! Tall and slim and handsome and resourceful! Free of flaws! A good dancer, and attractive to busty blondes!

So. I liked it. I thought the ending was good and made sense. I even recommended the book to BOTH my parents, and I would never recommend "a Stephen King book" to them.

Ready Player One, on the other hand, I recommended to Paul, and to 7th-grade Rob. I think the only reason it's not on the Young Adult shelf is that most of the references are to 1980s stuff. It's for people who grew up in the '80s---but it's a young-adult fantasy (high school students are awesome! and smarter than adults! and fully able to take care of themselves! and they know what's wrong with the world!) so I thought geek-in-training Rob would like it.

(photo from Amazon.com)

The plot is set in an impoverished future, when guys born in the 1970s are in their sixties and starting to die off. One of them is a Bill Gates / Steve Jobs type but way less socially functional, a multi-billionaire who dies leaving his entire estate to whoever finds an Easter egg (a little surprise hidden in the software) in his giant virtual world. The whole world looks for it, and five years later no one has even solved the first clue. We tune in just in time for a high school student to find the first one, and to watch him and his friends fight a huge band of grown-ups trying to cheat their way into finding it first.

I liked it fine, but I did a lot of skimming: if we'd been talking about Benetton Colors and slouch socks, it would have been more the '80s I remembered; Atari games and D&D are not tune-in points for me. And the young adult shelf is not part of my usual prowl, so I was rolling my eyes at the dialogue. But I still thought it was good, and I think it would be AMAZING for someone who got the video game / D&D stuff, and/or for anyone who likes young adult dystopian fiction.


Pickles and Dimes said...

I really liked 11/22/63. It was definitely more toned down than his usual fare.

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

I enjoy your book reviews immensely!

Favorite bits:

"without the need to repeat nonsense words over and over in parentheses and/or italics to try to make them creepy."

"it's not like my skimmers are broken."

"huge tracts of land"

"he seemed like an idealized version of the author a man"

"the young adult shelf is not part of my usual prowl, so I was rolling my eyes at the dialogue."

Suzanne said...

I literally bought Ready Player One before I even FINISHED this post based on your description (also, I used your link but bought the Kindle version, I hope you still get credit.) It sounds like something I will enjoy and something my husband will LOVE.

Mama Bub said...

I told my husband and a few of his friends that they would love Ready Player One. I liked it, but would have loved it more if it included references that were more in my memory banks. Still, I liked it, and nothing on my shelf is calling me now that I've finished it.

Mrs. Irritation said...

I do love Stephen King when he writes books like this, but lordy the man could love words a wee bit less.

Bibliomama said...

I liked Ready Player One even though I'm not a gamer (I'm a sucker for dysopic lit though). I also love time-travel do-over books, and I agree that when SK repeats the phrases it starts to get INCREDIBLY annoying. Also with the editing, and sometimes with a really great story degenerating into a hopeless mess at the end. I'm trying to read The Flame Alphabet and having a terrible time - I'm about to see if I can find where you were talking about it. Did you finish it and review it? Or was it just a mention.

Swistle said...

Bibliomama- I couldn't get through The Flame Alphabet. Whooo. Me and Lionel Shriver, we are LIKE THIS with our opinions.

Linda said...

What?! *I* am a 6'2" 150 lb klutzy former virgin who loves sex! I think Sadie was TOTALLY REALISTIC.

Okay, seriously, when I heard about 11/22/63 I thought "Snore" even though I like SK when he is more eerie/creepy and not gross/horror. History is not my cup of tea. But you're right in that it's not all about history and that made it interesting. I WAS often distracted by all the details, wondering how much research this book took ftlog.

Oh, and I totally pegged the protagonist as an improved SK, too. I know you're supposed to write what you know and if *I* could write a better me, I would be hard pressed to resist, but it seems like he should be able to mix it up a bit.

I keep thinking about the going back in time/changing the past/the past not wanting to be changed parts. I really liked those parts.

Amanda said...

I have 11/22/63 on audible and fell asleep listening to it so many times that I gave up. I suppose I might give it another whirl but I just couldn't keep up my interest. I think that downside to audible is that you can't skim and so you zone out and whoops "where were we again?"

Tess said...

I had already purchased Ready Player One for our upcoming vacation...I'm now thinking maybe I should read it NOW and get 11/22/63 also!

I haven't read a Stephen King book since high school. Not sure WHY, and ALSO not sure why I was reading Stephen King in high school, but there you go. It was a very small town with a very limited library.

Rebecca said...

I bought Ready Player One on kindle to share with my 15 yr old son and we both LOVED it! I'm a long time geek girl and my son is a very proud geek himself, so it was right up our alley! Plus, I love pretty much any kind of dsytopian fiction (it's my new *thing* right now) and Ready Player One is one of the better ones I've read.

You're right - it's perfect for geeks, gamers, (ahem) immature adults who love YA dystopian fiction, and um... yeah, me.

LOVED this book!

Shalini said...

Ooh, Ready Player One is in my library queue, and I was leery of it, but now I can happily skim it. I trust the Swistle Review.

Heather R said...

If you liked the time travel element in Stephen King's book, you might like the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. You may have already read it since the first book in the series was written 20 years ago (she is currently writing the 8th book and it's due to come out early next year). The series is historical fiction/romance/adventure/sci fi (because of the time travel)... I really can't recommend them enough...I am totally obsessed. I would love to hear what you think about them:)

Swistle said...

Heather R- YES, I read a bunch of those! Finally I couldn't stand to read him calling her "Sassanach" even ONE MORE TIME, so I stopped. But I liked them for quite a while!

Heather R said...

Haha, that's funny. That hasn't bothered me....I have a HUGE crush on Jamie and he can call ME Sassenach anytime he wants! I DID get annoyed with Claire saying "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!" over and over again!

Julius_Goat said...

If Stephen King had written Harry Potter, he would have gone to Hogwart's Writer's Workshop, where he'd have been immediately hit by a magic van.

If Stephen King had written Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield would have written a book and gotten hit by a van.

If Stephen King had written The Firm or another John Grisham novel, then something something lawyers corruption, but then the judge would get hit by a van driven by a novelist. And then a possessed gavel would have eaten his arms while telling puns.

And I LIKE Stephen King.

Julius_Goat said...

Also: 11/22/63 was his best in a very long time, I think.


Now excuse me. I'm about to be hit by a va

Loulou said...

I heard the review of Ready Player One today on The Book Report (http://bookreportradio.com/), it sounds great, definitely something I would read, and Elaine did a wonderful job.

Thomas Greenman said...

"Jimla" pops into my ever so often after reading this book. It's somewhat amusing but still creepy to me.