I am not alone in despising Ready Player One!


That was a book that was one of those profound disappointments — I heard so much gushing over it, so much praise and enthusiasm, that I opened it with high expectations…and instead found page after poorly written page of drivel wrapped around 1980s pop trivia. It’s a crappy work of soppy nostalgia for bad computer games and bad TV and bad fiction. I read the first couple of chapters in disbelief, and then riffled through the rest looking for any redeeming qualities at all, and they just weren’t there.

So now Steven Spielberg is turning it into a movie — a sappy, treacly movie that he probably likes because it’s about his glory days and also features lots of praise for sentimental old Spielberg movies. There is so much good science fiction that could be turned into a movie, and this is what he chooses to throw millions of dollars at? I am so disappointed, and so unsurprised, since this book was a calculated attempt to cash in.

My repulsion for this book was so great that I am relieved when I see reviews that share my views — I’m not an out-of-touch weirdo after all!

Jeb Lund tears it apart at length, and he’s also not impressed with Spielberg picking it up.

Spielberg is 70 now, nearly 20 years removed from his best films and on a mostly downward trajectory from challenging work. He’s burrowed into American nostalgia, reflexive emotional cues and variations on modern myth. He couldn’t even let you walk out of Saving Private Ryan with your own conclusions about a nonfictional war, instead bookending the film with scenes that forced you to measure the worth of the story in terms that were either cloying or extortionate.

By those lights, Ready Player One might have seemed a luxury. There’s no need to fretfully anticipate how audiences will respond to the story because it’s made exclusively from preexisting stories that have already been successfully audience tested. His only job is to put his stamp on iconic elements of other movies—images, gadgets, effects and stakes already provided by the history of film and television. Spielberg finally gets to do Blade Runner without worrying about lacking the temperament to explore its alienating meditation on consciousness. (And, in any event, Cline gives him no means to either.) There are other films for him to copy and paste from anyway.

If you removed every nod, homage, riff, and instance of outright poaching from this book, it would cease to exist. Wiping the movie WarGames from the face of the earth would destroy the first act, just as doing the same to Holy Grail would annihilate the finale—both of which entail earning points for literally parroting the scripts in time. There is little of the plot—or its entirety—that can’t be condensed to a Hollywood elevator pitch. “What if The Matrix was also The Last Starfighter?”

Alex Nichols is even more brutal.

Nearly every one of Ready Player One’s faults is a direct result of Cline’s authorial narcissism. The writing process appears to have begun with the question: What if the entire world revolved around me, and the specific video games and movies I like? The rest was assembled around that essential core. Cline is far from the first author to write a self-insert wish fulfillment narrative, but he may be the first to write one this lazy and self-indulgent. To place oneself in the character of Wade Watts, an 18-year-old video game trivia knower, requires no imagined heroism or personal growth. It simply constructs a world around the reader, where his comfort zone, his passively acquired knowledge of retro video games and Star Wars, is enough to effortlessly make him a Great Man of History. A fantasy this mundane is barely a fantasy at all — just a desire to be unjustly rewarded for mediocrity. And, thanks to Steven Spielberg, Cline’s mediocrity has been rewarded beyond his wildest dreams.

I agree with both reviews of the book. I can’t imagine that the movie can improve on its awful source material, so it’s definitely one I will skip — the nausea I would feel on an attempt to cheerfully revisit the era of Reagan is unimaginable.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m just glad we’re starting to move away from 80s nostalgia and into 90s nostalgia (which is my nostalgia).
    Wait fig no, if that means we get stuff like this but for 90s nostalgia then I’m not glad!

  2. fentex says

    I read ‘Ready player One’ and don’t despise it. It didn’t leave enough of an impression to arouse such passion.

    I only recall it as being fairly bland and a light weight use of well trodden tropes as wish fulfillment not unlike what I understand recent sparkly vampire books to be – only I wouldn’t read those where I do cyber-punky-ish books.

  3. antigone10 says

    I enjoyed the book, I had a fun time discussing it with my friends, and I will probably watch the movie. But I have no knee-jerk response to nostalgia one wag or another- some is fine, too much can be annoying, but it arouses neither hate nor love in me. But I hardly find the main character to be mediocre (he builds his own computers, he survives an abusive household, and has a solid charachter arc learning why interacting with the physical world is a good thing). Sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but different things for different people.

  4. cartomancer says

    Unjustly rewarded for personal mediocrity amid a cheerful revisiting of the Reagan era? Is everything about Donald Trump these days?

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    There is so much good science fiction that could be turned into a movie…

    I used to fantasize about Hollywood discovering, say, Samuel R. Delany or Cordwainer Smith or C.J. Cherryh.

    Now I contemplate the same scenarios with unmitigated dread.

  6. widdershins says

    In happier news, it’s been announced that Octavia Butler’s Dawn is being adapted for TV. She’s an incredible writer, and hopefully, it will make more people interested in reading her books.

  7. says

    I also thought it sucked. I found it hard to read through the waves of wish-fulfillment that kept wafting off the pages.

    Walter Jon Williams’ Implied Spaces seemed set to do something interesting with “the singularity as a game” idea, as did Surface Detail by the sorely missed Iain Banks. Williams appears to have been setting up to do a series but may have stopped working on the concept because of the reception for Implied Spaces I thought the idea of implied spaces was absolutely awesome (as you’d expect from a guy who spent 2 years piloting a virtual ship around in a procedurally generated galaxy). Williams’ Aristoi also explores the problem of gaming as mega-simulation much more cleverly than Ready Player One.

    I dread a Hollywood adaptation of The Forever War, though Hammer’s Slammers could be turned into a passable MFTV series with the addition of some gratuitous nudity.

    Niven/Pournelle/Barnes put out Dream Park in 2010 and Ready Player One came flouncing out the gate in 2011. The Dream Park books are also eminently forgettable (dog, they are bad!) but it must have felt a lot like two guys showing up at a debate both wearing the same neckties: awkward.

    I would, however, pay to see a MFTV version of Dream Park if the screenplay was developed by John Scalzi and Chuck Tingle.

  8. says

    My brother in law read the book, gushed about it, gave it to everyone for Christmas. Even though I’m in my early/mid 50s and thus the 80s in my wheelhouse, I found the book to be cloying and poorly written. With every 80s reference he invoked, I got the feeling of the author checking my expression to see if I appreciated how “in” he was. I was there, and not everything was worth remembering.

  9. chigau (違う) says

    Jim Thomas #11

    I was there, and not everything was worth remembering.

    That is also true of TheSixties.

  10. anbheal says

    Re Spielberg being twenty years over the hill, I would argue not quite. Bridge Of Spies was a pretty good movie, and Lincoln was excellent. Munich was close to being a great movie, though I guess that was a decade or so back. And with Bridge of Spies he passed either Ford or Wyler as the most nominated director in history. You may not like treacle, but the guy can still bring it, in terms of story-telling. The Muse needn’t wear a frown, and tugging at heartstrings is what Hollywood largely does — he just does it really freaking well. Also handles kid actors wonderfully. He’s been a good husband to Capshaw and a good father to his kids and the actors he directs really like him. He did Schindler’s List for free. It’s trendy to vilify him, but making feel-good films is what some guys, like Capra and Wilde and Wyler and Cukor, are memorialized for. He’s a bonzer bloke in my book, and I’ll see pretty much anything he directs.

  11. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    I’m 51 and I saw E.T. The Extraterrestrial* for the first time just last week. I suspect that my eighties was a wee bit different from Cline’s. Different enough that I think I’ll give it a miss.

    If we’re going to rehash the eighties what I really want is for someone with a properly bleak case of nihilism to film Neuromancer.

    *It was okay. Ms. Fishy got a little weepy and the 10 year old Small Fry patting her shoulder and saying “It’s okay Mama.” damn near exploded my heart.

  12. says

    what I really want is for someone with a properly bleak case of nihilism to film Neuromancer.

    Yes. Please. With Charlize Theron as Molly.

  13. says

    But could a film version of Neuromancer be done without much of what’s in it seeming very dated, or the film having little to do with the book other than the name and some of the characters?

  14. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    I think you could do it Tim. The future postulated in 1979’s Alien is nothing like one you’d postulate from today and the new films have to deal with that. I’d say they did so successfully, more successfully than they dealt with the plot for instance.

    The trick is to remember that this stuff is fantasy. We’re not bound by the ‘is’.

  15. Alt-X says

    Damn. A lot of hatred for a kids book! :) It was OK, a nice romp through 80’s movies and games, set in the future. A typical coming of age book for the youth fiction crowd. It’s a mix of Willy Wonka, Harry Potter and the Matrix (the future setting). I think Spielberg is the perfect match, since so many of his movies helped define the 80’s for kids growing up at that time.

    I don’t really have any feelings towards the book or the movie. I’ll go see it because I think its a nice final homage to us New Oldies that grew up in the 80’s and a nice bookend to his career. But I don’t see why people would have hatred towards it or him, its just a harmless book and kids movie. There’s a lot worse things happening in the world get high blood pressure over.

  16. says

    tim gueguen#@16:
    But could a film version of Neuromancer be done without much of what’s in it seeming very dated, or the film having little to do with the book other than the name and some of the characters?

    It’s practically written as a screenplay already. I’d probably slightly alter Burning Chrome and use it as the first part, then segue in from there to Neuromancer — you know, after the burned Chrome, they caught Case and hit him with the neurotox. Otherwise, the story’s got flippin’ everything. The Panther Moderns hit on sense/net would be so damn fun for a director to work on. There’d be some great fight choreography, insanely great costume and set design opportunities – none of that stuff gets dated. Representing cyberspace would be fun – you’d get to out-do The Island and Minority Report.

    Gibson is actually quite brilliant with his description of not-yet-existent technology – he’s evocative but vague. Cyberspace is a consensual hallucination. OK, what’s that? Sure, have a firefox logo somewhere. ;)

  17. consciousness razor says

    A Neuromancer movie has been in the works for a long time, tossed around from one place to the next. The latest bit from the book’s wiki page:

    In August 2017, it was announced that Deadpool director Tim Miller was signed on to direct a new film adaptation by Fox, with Simon Kinberg producing. [40]

    I don’t expect anything too great from Miller, unfortunately. However, relative to tons of other sci-fi at least, I don’t think “dated” is something you’d be able to do with that story, unless you were deliberately aiming for it. I guess everybody and their robot dog being riddled with drugs is arguably an 80s theme (Blade Runner and so forth). But technologically, it features lots of futuristic and fantastical computer (and space) stuff that would not seem too old-fashioned any time soon. I mean, come on, impossible things never go out of style, right?

    Anyway, Miller has other projects lined up already, so don’t expect it for a while, if that ever works out.

  18. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    I went to a reading of Gibson’s around 2000. He was quite upfront that it’s all vague because he knew nothing about tech. He also said that his favourite thing is the description of complex scenes with incongruous elements. The bridge in Burning Chrome(?) with it’s accretion of living/working spaces was the example he used.

    That vagueness combined with a visually saturated aesthetic seems like a goldmine for a movie-maker. Add to that the deep-as-you-want-to-go themes of internal vs. external reality, alienation, and the nature of shared perception and you could have a film that was actually great in terms of art too.

  19. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    I mean, come on, impossible things never go out of style, right?

    Ha. Good point.

    [obligatoryatheistpoint]

    Of course, just look at Christianity.

    [/obligatoryatheistpoint]

  20. consciousness razor says

    (Blade Runner and so forth)

    Errr, not sure why I said that … had robots on the brain maybe. I was thinking of some other Philip K. Dick stories with lots of drugs, like A Scanner Darkly and Minority Report.

  21. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    Huh. It just occurred to me that I can visualise the world of Neuromancer just fine, but I have no idea what it sounds like.

    Any thoughts on a score for a Neuromancer film CR?

  22. garysturgess says

    I was worried that this was a book by Peter Clines, who writes the fun zombie/superhero series Ex-, but fortunately not. Never even heard of the kerfuffle; must be a lot of room under that rock Caine!

    I’m 44 FossilFishy and I’ve never seen ET either. To be honest at this point I can’t really be bothered – it could be as wonderful as its most ardent fans claim, but I am no longer the innocent child that could enjoy it in the fashion it was intended.

  23. consciousness razor says

    Any thoughts on a score for a Neuromancer film CR?

    I’d certainly love to write it. In short, it would be all over the map, if I did it. Heh. I’ll tell you all about it, for $1 million.

    My background’s mostly in classical and jazz, and I’d want gigantic orchestral sounds for some of the really epic moments, not just electronics. Sprinkle in smaller, unusual ensembles occasionally, and you’ve got everything — just no vocals, which I think would feel totally out of place. Being more specific depends so much on the script and how it’s shot. I’d like to give a grand sense of scale to it all (bombastic John Williams stuff) but if it were presented in a way which is focused a lot on characters in small rooms talking about hacking, that would be hard to do. I think it’s helpful to think of film music as a way for people making the movie to comment on it as they’re watching it next to you — and you as the audience member get to lean in on their conversations, helping you understand the significance of the themes, plot, characters, etc. As long as the director/etc. knows what the story is about and why it’s being made, then it’s probably going to be okay.

    Anyway, electronics are an obvious choice, so that would have to play a big part — that can give you all sorts of thumping and buzzing and all manner of weird things humans can’t do. But that said, I’d want to give the AIs a real sense of humanity and personality, not underline the fact that they’re machines, so the musical roles would reverse expectations in some ways. As far as electronic film music goes, I liked what Daft Punk did with Tron: Legacy. But of course this movie shouldn’t feel like you’re in the middle of a rave, and you’re not always looking for something so desolate or rigid otherwise — a nice lush landscape would be good in a lot of scenes I’m picturing. Also, if it’s basically just more of the same muddled bullshit cranked out by Hans Zimmer’s gang or whatever, it wouldn’t really be doing anything very interesting as far as I’m concerned. At the same time, with all of the wild stuff happening on-screen, you can’t really go too far without making it difficult for the audience.

    Needless to say, it would be an awful lot of work. Just writing this comment is making me question whether I’d really love to do it.

  24. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    Thanks Cr. You could stick what I know about film scoring in a shot glass and still have room for a decent belt so that was really interesting.

    My immediate thought was about how visually cluttered Gibson’s vision of the future is. Assuming that the director goes with that vision how does the score deal with it? This is where my ignorance really lets me down. I can see a case for making the music reflect the visuals by being full of small details and unusual juxtapositions. And I can see a case for laying back more so as not to overwhelm the audience…

    And that’s just one choice out the myriad that would have to be made in order to successfully produce a score for something like Neuromancer. The scale of the task boggles my mind.

  25. Alt-X says

    The single Daft Punk song from the fight scene was the only good part of the whole movie IMHO. Shocking.

  26. consciousness razor says

    My immediate thought was about how visually cluttered Gibson’s vision of the future is. Assuming that the director goes with that vision how does the score deal with it? This is where my ignorance really lets me down. I can see a case for making the music reflect the visuals by being full of small details and unusual juxtapositions. And I can see a case for laying back more so as not to overwhelm the audience…

    Indeed. I’d probably keep it pretty fucking cluttered, but it certainly has to relax once in a while. I feel like Stravinsky would nail it, if he were still alive, so borrowing liberally from him would at least be an interesting way to start.

    It’s generally best to think about what’s not on the screen, rather than what is…. It can come off as cartoonish if you’re trying to mimic all of the actions and scenery and so forth. (That’s more of a job for foley artists and other sound effects people anyway.) One of the basic problems is that trying to shove everything about a story into a short script and inside a small frame just doesn’t happen, especially not when you’re adapting a very complex and philosophical novel like this. So you support all of those bits with … well … whatever sort of noises are needed to fill out that moment, sort of commenting on it all like I said before. That’s the best I’ve got in just a few words. You’re doing a different sort of work in setting the scene and moving things where they need to go dramatically and emotionally, rather than representing what’s already there in terms of visuals, acting, dialogue and so forth.

  27. Matrim says

    Honestly I wish they’d adapt more mediocre stories than good ones. Adapting a good story rarely nets you better than what you already had. While adapting a so-so story leaves room for improvement. Granted, you can get good films adapted from good stories, but it’s risky, particularly with the sci-fi I tend to like. Every time someone talks about a film adaptation of Rendezvous With Rama, I just point at them and shriek like a pod person until they forget it. I’m super apprehensive about the upcoming A Wrinkle in Time adaptation, I hope it’s good, but I have little faith in it.

    As for Ready Player One, I’ve never read it. My girlfriend likes it a lot, though she tends to be a little more forgiving of media than I. I’ll probably see it. Spielberg hasn’t blown me away lately, but I never got the animosity that seems to have grown up towards him. He hasn’t directed much lately, seems like he’s been producing more than anything else, but Bridge of Spies was good.

  28. Dunc says

    I’m not an out-of-touch weirdo after all!

    Hey, let’s not get carried away here! ;)

    The bridge in Burning Chrome(?) with it’s accretion of living/working spaces was the example he used.

    That’s in the “Bridge” trilogy, starting with Virtual Light.

    You could totally do a not-dated take on Neuromancer. If anything, it’s even more relevant now than it was then – stuff like the Panther Moderns causing mass panic at Sense/Net with a mostly fake attack is bang up-to-date.

    I’m not sure that you could cram both Burning Chrome and Neuromancer into a single movie – there’s a lot going on. Burning Chrome itself could easily be made into a movie with only fairly slight expansion, which would probably be useful – Gibson has a way of sketching characters out very quickly, that might be difficult to match in a more visual medium. For example, how do you get Automatic Jack’s background (and its repercussions) across without actually showing it?

    However, I’m wary – I’ve seen too many shoddy cyberpunk movies not to be.

  29. says

      

    chigau (違う) #12

      Jim Thomas #11  
    I was there, and not everything was worth remembering.

    That is also true of TheSixties.

    I was there for the Sixties and not everyone was capable of remembering.

  30. drivenb4u says

    I feel the same way, the book was just awful and a sad commentary on how one can make money buy purely stoking nostalgia.

  31. says

    “He’s burrowed into American nostalgia, reflexive emotional cues and variations on modern myth.”

    Well, having first worked on a Spielberg movie around 1990, I have always believed that this is what he has always been about. But what you are describing is not some sort of cheap ploy, it is the basis of a great deal of the world’s fiction. Do it well, and you have a great story; do it not so well and you don’t.

  32. bachfiend says

    I read ‘Ready Player One’ and didn’t think that it was that bad. I even read ‘Armada’ another of the author’s efforts (can’t remember what it was about though).

    I won’t be seeing the film version though.

    If they’re turning books into films why don’t they do the series starting with ‘Columbus Day’ by Craig Alanson?

    It’s an alien invasion saga with a band of misfits setting out to rescue humanity added by a 2 million old artificial intelligence using technology left behind by a long vanished Elder civilisation.

    It gets around the implausibility of interstellar travel by just making it a ‘given’ – none of the intelligent species actually have any clue how most of the Elder technology works. It’s more like Arthur C Clarke’s ‘magic’.

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