Lets get this out in the open: I read this book because it was part of a deal where one of my sisters would agreed to watch some of the videos about MGTOW if I read or listened to Ready Player One. She found StarDusk to be incredibly boring and hard to follow, because the video constantly made her think. Unfortunately, I think I got the worst end of the bargain. Basically, both of us had to do something the other didn't want to do. And now on with the review.
This book is pure garbage. Its nothing more than fanfiction that got published. Exactly how Shades of Grey IS a slashfic of Bella and Edward with only the names changed for public release. And of course both books have gotten extremely popular and made a ton of money for the people involved. Yay, creative license (why create something when I can just steal it?). The Review:
This isn't a book. Instead, it is a checklist of common tropes loosely held together with 80's product placement and trivia, then half baked into a soggy plot that fails to hold my interest, and deflates rapidly when exposed to thought. I was told that the audio book is better, but why would I care about the "famous person" that will read me the story at a glacial pace? The story is garbage and that's what I experienced.
This book makes the cardinal sin of telling and not showing. If the author wanted to make a movie, then he should have made a movie. Entire pages are devoted to describing the physical objects surrounding the characters instead of focusing on the characters themselves. This means that by the end of the story, I still know very little about the characters and motivations and how they affect their actions. Outside of a few surface details, there isn't any characterization involved. Person x wants to do y because of reason z. Period. Thanks Ernest Cline, next time write a story. This story is a fanfic republished as a novel, and nothing more.
I would have thought by now that the hateful stereotype of the fat, nerdy, virgin, pimply-faced, neck bearded, dungeon dwelling, white cis-gendered, stalker, perverted, weak and desperate, but nice guy at heart gamer, had been resoundingly debunked. But hey, when writing a checklist, and not a character, then use what works?
Lets discuss Wade shall we? Parents are dead, tragically, check and check. Abusive relatives that use him for money/food, check. Has an escape from reality fetish, check. Is really, really, really good at "insert interest here" to the point of idiot savant, check. Is beyond knowledgeable on topics related to "insert topic here," check. Is so isolated from regular human interactions and reinforced by crippling insecurity, check. Takes any excuse to leave reality because of said crippling lack of social interaction, check. Is the type of personality that is frequently taken advantage of by members of the opposite sex to the extreme, aka white knight, mangina who will do anything and everything to get even one to pay him any attention. CHECK. Doesn't suffer in the story, so much as be inconvenienced as a result of all of these "issues" because he's so awesome at 'insert interest here' where he is a virtual god among mortals and surrounded by "the best-of-the-best talent who are just scruffy and whose real value isn't recognized by the real world, but in their world they rule." Check. Wade doesn't have any personality, because he's nothing more than a checklist. I think the male equivalent of what Wade is, is a Gary Stu.
And finally, Wade is desperate for female validation. He has been denied affection his entire life. When his Dad died, his Mom had to work hard as a single mother to support him, shoving him into the OASIS as soon as she could. Then, when she OD'ed on a bad batch of drugs, he was adopted by his aunt, not for familial bonds but for the extra food vouchers. She constantly abused him, used him only for convenience, denied him comfort, stole his stuff when it suited her, and of course had her proxy agent (boyfriend of the week) enact violence upon him. Lastly, he fantasized about Art3mis, whom he cyberstalked for years. All this leads into his next crippling affliction, his lack of self.
My biggest problems with Wade stem from his lack of character development, and his checklist stereotype nature. He doesn't have an identity and the book shows this complete lack of character identity and development in his actions. He says and does whatever it takes to avoid physical abuse that accompanies the psychological abuse from his aunt and her boy-toy of the week. Then he jumps into the OASIS matrix to have the adoration and attention from the people in his clique.
Then, when he finally wins Art3mis' attention he immediately drops everything to have a relationship to gorge on the attention she gives him. See, from what I read, Wade doesn't have an identity or a personality. He is only a series of events that has happened to him. He is supposedly the most avid gunter around. He knows almost everything there is to know about Halliday, and has spent most of his short life in search of the egg in order to free himself of his life of suffering. But when a female, the one he's been cyberstalking, gives him any regard, he drops everything to fawn in her presence. His hopes, his dreams, his identity, his way of life, all gone just because a "supposed" female (having not yet been confirmed in the story) pays him the least bit of attention. And that there is a huge problem. Because even Wade doesn't know who he is, the author and therefore, the reader doesn't know either. I was left dumbstruck. I say to myself, "Wade, do you have any goals? Dreams. Hopes. Wants? You have such little sense of self that you completely give up your self in the pursuit of female validation." Wade is a checklist that does things because the plot says he should, and doesn't have a goal, because it is whatever he thinks someone else wants. Example, he wants to get humanity off the dying earth, but instead he changed it in a heartbeat to 'feed the poor' because its what Art3mis wants, (please have sex with me...).
There is a rich world here, full of life and suffering. I just wish I had been able to explore it. They have corporate wars, real wars, indentured servitude, failing climate, a virtual world that nearly everyone escapes into, and a whole host of terrible and wonderful things. But they only serve as flavor text to the world instead of being the environment characters live in. Take for example, the indentured servitude. That would be a really cool plot element if it had any purpose other than to be the MacGuffin that allows Wade to break through the final shield. Its there only because the plot says so. There is no consequence for there being any indentured servitude in the world other than Wade needed a way into IOI headquarters. None of the characters know of or speak about the pandemic use of indentured servitude. Its just there. Same with the perpetual wars, the cities that just disappear under mushroom clouds, even the deteriorating climate plays no role in the story. Its just flavor text at the beginning of the book. And the world in the story is poorer for it's lack of presence. No one mentions having lost someone in when the oceans ran onto the land, the permanent dust choking the air, lamenting losing extended family in 'name of city here' when 'name of country here' blew it up.
What's the point in having a post-apocalyptic world if there's no consequence for it existing in the first place? There's nothing written in the story that wouldn't be perfectly plausible in the world of today. There are massive slums the world over, including stacked residences filled with too many people in places called "the projects" right here, right now in America. Wade could have been living as an orphan with his abusive Aunt today right now, working out of an abandoned van, powering old laptops with batteries without the need for a post-apocalyptic world and still fight the evil corporate interests of the only ISP remaining right freaking now. There is simply nothing special about the setting to warrant its existence.
Because there's nothing special about the setting, the setting becomes irrelevant to the plot. And that's another huge problem, because the setting is what gives flavor to the world and influences characters' actions. Example, when Wade needs to leave the projects in his old city, does he have any problems caused by deteriorating roads, lack of infrastructure, or cars? No! He gets on a bus and moves to Columbus, Ohio. The only difference is the trip takes a few days because the bus has to stop and charge its electric engine. As opposed to what? Taking days to travel across country and making stops at every town to pick up passengers and refuel like they do today? So for all the destruction, poverty, problems in this world, a country that is run by media celebrities who do nothing, roving bands of brigands attacking travelers, and so on, does Wade have any difficulties leaving Oklahoma City to Columbus, Ohio? Nope, the trip exists as one short paragraph, and he's moved into a studio apartment and jacked into the OASIS.
Well, I guess the environment doesn't pose much of a problem. And its not much of a problem to rent out a direct fiber tap into OASIS from said apartment either. So much for the only ISP in the country spying on him posing a challenge. And when he's on the run again, he and the others easily find OASIS run internet cafe's that bypass IOI spies. I guess IOI isn't smart enough to do corporate espionage and infiltrate OASIS. I mean it might give readers a sense of tension if Wade and the others faced any difficulty or risk logging into OASIS. But of course not, because that would be good writing. And we can't have that now can we.
As for the "challenges" of the egg hunt, well Mr. Gary Stu here has played and mastered (almost) every game, read and memorized every book, movie, and song lyric. He's the best there ever was. The only thing he's not perfect at, is social interaction. Except he totally is, in the virtual world...where he spends all of his time. And his perfect and timely intuition or memory saves him from having to struggle with anything more complicated than getting into Art3mis' pants.
So when the main character lacks character, an identity, and goals; the environment poses no challenge or obstacle; and the antagonists are incompetent and ineffectual; then what is left? NOTHING! An empty, paper thin plot about easily overcome obstacles interspersed with 80's product placement.
PS: please take Ernest Cline's Thesaurus away. I know what rubenesque means in regards to art. However, in today's world, if you visit any dating site or google image search the word, it means morbidly obese. So lets not mince words here shall we? When you read the book, and you get to the part when Wade finally meets and sees Art3mis for the first time, one might wonder why she's so insecure. She spends so much time with the "you won't like me when you see me" line that you figure she's a dude or horribly disfigured. The book focuses on the birthmark, but when you read about how much she focuses on her insecurity, how she was the the first to one in the pod and the first one out, and how the other characters cover for her to prevent Wade from seeing/meeting her until the very end. This isn't something a person does because of a mere birthmark. Google Winestain birthmark, it isn't that bad, please note that some of the images are for more severe skin diseases. Aech was described as fat, Wade as overweight, but Art3mis was described as rubenesque. So lets put the thesaurus down and just call it like its written, Gone Whaling. And there's no problem with it in the story, because some gamers are very sedentary, and given the nature of the Matrix, I mean OASIS, they don't move very much.Better books to read with similar themes and settings, but much better execution:
- Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson Snow Crash
- Killobyte by Piers Anthony Killobyte
- The Apprentice Adept Series, specifically Split Infinity (1980) by Piers Anthony. Split Infinity
I'm recommending alternatives because I'd rather end my opinionated review on a positive note by recommending better reads.
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