Jan 26, 2017

Ready Player One and The Martian

I've been feeling under the weather and consequently spending a lot of time on the couch in the last few weeks. As there are only so many Friends reruns you can watch without going insane, it was a perfect time to catch up on my reading. I wasn't up to anything too taxing, so no classics or even science fiction classics this time.

From the books I read I especially enjoyed Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Andy Weir's The Martian.  Both are extremely addictive and I actually stayed up until two a.m. reading Player. If you're an '80s kid and a gamer like me, I'm pretty sure you'll love Ready Player One. In the novel's  dystopian world of poverty and overpopulation, most of the people escape the dismal reality into a virtual world called OASIS. The story kicks off when the creator of OASIS dies and sends a message to all users of a great Easter egg hunt hidden in the program, the winner of which will inherit his company and fortune. The main character Wade Watts, a poor kid from the slums, figures out the first clue, and off we go. This is a young adult title, but don't let that stop you. There are definitely no boring parts in this book. Despite the dystopia aspect, the book feels fun and optimistic. Loved it.

I probably don't need to say much about The Martian, now do I? If you haven't read the book, you've probably seen the movie. The movie was so great I was almost afraid to read the book, mainly because I read some negative reviews and I thought it might get too technical for me, but I didn't have any trouble. The science was mostly dumbed down for us regular folk, and Mark Watney is such an optimistic and resourceful protagonist that it's pretty much impossible not to like him, bad jokes notwithstanding. I actually liked the humour, because the story would have felt pretty dismal without it. Many people criticised Weir for creating flat characters, but this isn't really a character story; it's more about Mars, the technology, and the ingenious ways Watney handles whatever is thrown at him. The heart of the story is Watney and his quest to survive, of course, but I didn't feel that anything was missing here. Like action movies, sometimes science fiction gets by with less character development and we're fine with it. I felt Watley was an interesting and believable character, and very likeable, too. Sometimes that's enough. You should note that the book was first published in blog form by Weir, and it's his first novel, so the prose isn't always as polished as you might prefer, but Watley's voice comes through loud and clear, and that's what's important to me. And yes, I'm aware that there are problems with some of the science in the book, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for something this great.

I think we need more science fiction books with a hopeful feel. I'm tired of dystopia. I didn't actually realise how prevalent dystopia and apocalyptic futures are in pop culture right now until I watched some Star Trek reruns. Watching those felt like a huge weight was lifted from my chest. The future is bright! Humanity has made it! People are basically good and want to do the right thing! Star Trek inspired many people to invent new things and to pursue careers in science. What are the dystopias doing other than spreading hopelessness and fueling pessimism and every-man-for-himself attitudes? I can't see The Walking Dead inspiring anyone to make the world a better place. We need solutions, it's not helpful to just point out the problems and wail about how we're all going to die and there's nothing anyone can do. We need that Watney attitude, that we can think our way out of this mess.

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