Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Clutch of Speculative Fiction

Sunrise was at 5:12, sunset will be at 9:07.  It's cold, today, so far.  I understand it may get warmer and, oh, that would be nice. 

I wrote not too long ago about going to Portland to celebrate my niece's birthday. We had a great time and did eventually make our way to that scion of the book world, Powell's.  I can never just walk to Powell's. Powell's is like Brigadoon: only accidentally findable.  Maybe that's because it has entrances everywhere and everyone has their favorite corner to come in on so there are always differing directions.

Keeli finished the book she was reading before we left the hotel so she picked up the fairly new-to-paperback Mourning Gloria, by Susan Wittig Albert.  I'm looking forward to reading it when she's done.  I have all the other China Bayles books on a single shelf and I love to browse them in order, reading how the relationships between the characters change.

I still had way too many books to read on one trip in my backpack so I didn't buy anything, just picked things up and petted them. And, yes, I did straighten AND I fixed a few uneven displays.

Luckily, each trip to and from Portland took just over 3 hours, enough time to almost finish one long-ish grown-up book and still have just enough to go to bed with.  I read Amped, by Daniel H. Wilson, on the way down to Portland and Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, on the way back.  These are two science fiction novels based in the near future.  Well,  more speculative fiction than science fiction, I guess, since both books, as different as they are, feel very much as if they could happen, that the history we're reading is culmination of what we're doing now. 

I am a big fan (BIG FAN!) of Wilson's Robopocalypse and was pretty darned thrilled to have a copy of his next book in my hands.  I opened Amped up and read the first few pages a few days before the trip and had to put it down because I had to do something else and I knew that I wouldn't be able to stop if I didn't right now.  I remember thinking, "Ooh, this is good!"  And it IS GOOD!

Amped takes place in the pretty near future when neural transmitters can be implanted in the brains of people who have epilepsy, are mentally challenged, have fetal alcohol syndrome, etc.  They enhance brain function.  Our hero, Owen Gray, is a high school math teacher with an implant to correct the epilepsy he acquired when he sustained a traumatic brain injury.  At this time, lines are being drawn between those who are "amplified" and those who aren't.  The amped are seen as having options that the pure humans don't, like jobs, because they are so much smarter.

Owen's dad was a scientist who was able to provide something extra for his son after his accident but hoped he'd never have to tell him what it was.  When the Pure Humans attack and start making it hard for amps to live, all he could do to help was tell him to go to Oklahoma and find a man who could tell him how to handle what's in his head.  The trip is wild and violent and way too close to what could be realistic to be comfortable.

There's a civil war coming and it isn't going to be pretty.

I can't tell you how very disappointed I am to find that I missed meeting Daniel H. Wilson not once but TWICE.  He was in Portland the evening I left for Seattle and in Seattle the next day and I DIDN'T KNOW!  I am so bummed.  I don't even want to tell my husband who also loved Robopocalypse and is in the middle of Amped.

Ready Player One also takes place in Oklahoma and also has references to Rubik's cubes (one of the characters who had fetal alcohol syndrome in Amped is brilliant at solving the Rubik's cube) (I love finding these little coincidental samenesses in one book and then the other) AND is really, really GOOD.

In the world of Ready Player One, the recession we're in now extends for decades.  Few people have jobs, the world is a real mess, and most everyone is involved in a game called OASIS, an immersive virtual utopia that allows people to escape from life in 2044. 

Wade, our teenage hero, is just one of millions of very poor people in the game and on the search for the ultimate prize buried deep by the maker, James Halliday, before his death.  Finding and solving the puzzles will give the winner immense riches, ownership of the game and inheritance of all of Halliday's wealth.  It's been years and no one's yet been able to solve any of the riddles, all of which involve Halliday's favorite era, the 1980's.  The search gives the many unemployed something fun and happy to focus on, involving them in the world of big hair and John Hughes, Pac-Man  and Japanese cartoons, discussing the finer points of obscure lyrics in the music of the times.

Then Wade finds the first puzzle.  All of a sudden, he is watched by everyone in the world, all following his every move as he moves toward the solution.  He's also being watched by a group who is very willing to commit murder in the real world to take possession of what Wade knows.

This was such a very cool book.  It's funny, it's poignant, the characters are great and it's full of surprises. I've never played a computer game before, never been in a multiple player world, Pong was as deep as my desire went, but now I think I may have missed something vital in my education! 

I would recommend all three of the books mentioned in this post for older teens and adults (Robopocalypse, Amped, Ready Player One).  I'm always on the lookout for books for my nephews and for other boys whose parents are desperate to give them a good, engaging, fun read that will lead them to ask, "You got anything else?" when they're done with the one in their hand.  These books warrant a wide place on the shelf.

(No recompense was received for blogging about these books.)

1 comment:

  1. Ready Player One is a great read, especially for those who came of age in the 80's. I wondered if that would translate until my 10 year old son listened to the audio (read by Wil Wheaton in a great little bit of meta-geekness) and loved it. He loves to go to the classic arcades that are popping up all over in Eugene.

    Robopocalypse was OK, but Amped was a huge disappointment. Way too linear and I was left feeling like it was a good idea that didn't go anywhere...