Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

Someone at work recommended Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, so I got it from Audible with one of my credits. This same person also recommended Hunger Games, so my expectations were not very high. But as it turns out, Gone Girl is a pretty good psychological thriller/mystery.

Overall the book makes some pretty strong feminist statements, as well as having some brutal social commentary about the state of the media and judicial system. It had a pretty big twist about halfway through, which I did not see coming at all, so congratulations to the author for completely fooling me. I can’t elaborate without spoiling it, so if you haven’t read it, you might want to skip the rest of this.

The reader is subtley and not-so-subtley led to believe that one character is an unreliable narrator, but it turns out that the other character is really the unreliable one. It was a great example of surprising-but-inevitable. Once it’s revealed, you think, “Oh, of *course* it’s like that! I should have seen it.”

The book is presented as two different first-person points of view, which is somewhat unusual. There were no issues figuring which one was which, because each chapter was labeled with the speaker. I believe most of it was in present tense, though I think there was some past tense as well. I’d have to go back and check on that. Present tense seems to be really in vogue these days.

One thing I did not like was that at one point a character broke the fourth wall and more-or-less directly addressed the reader. I found it unnecessary. It only happened for one chapter, which made it especially odd.

Ender’s Game

I just finished the audiobook for Ender’s Game, which I have never read before. I’ve missed quite a few science fiction classics over the years, so I’m trying to make up for it with my Audible credits. The audiobook, by the way, was very well read.

I don’t know what I would have thought if I’d read this book when I was younger, but now, I found it to be a tragically depressing story. Basically it’s about the military using a child to commit genocide on an alien race.

I think the reason this book has been so well-received over the years is that it’s not a typical science-fiction book. Most SF books tend to be about the science, and the characters and story are pretty secondary. For example, I listened to The Mote in God’s Eye about a year ago – a brilliant, classic SF book – but I couldn’t tell you the name of any of the the characters or anything about their personalities or any of the problems they faced. But I could tell you a fair amount about the Moties and their culture and their evolution, because that was the main focus of the book. The story was just a vehicle to write about an interesting alien species.

But in Ender’s Game, the science takes a back seat. The science is almost non-existent, actually. We are never told exactly *how* Ender interacts with his games, for example. It could be a keyboard, a touch screen, telepathy, switches and levers, or anything in between. It doesn’t really matter. The book is all about Ender the boy and his interactions with other boys and girls. If it had been *just* Ender and his struggles with not wanting to kill people yet being trained to kill people, that would have been pretty dull, because that story has been done to death. But with the addition of his mean older brother and his compassionate older sister, it turned into a kind of touching family story.

As I was reading, I noticed there was very little set description in it. Most of it took place in the proverbial white fog, which is somewhat unusual I think for science fiction. I don’t remember any descriptions of the Battle School, or the Command School. I had no real sense of what any of the "games" looked like. Maybe that is another reason the book made such an impact. It gives me hope because I don’t feel like I’m very good at describing settings.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I started listening to steampunk audiobook Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, which I have heard from multiple sources is a great series, and the premise intrigued me as it is an alternate history of World War I. Also, later books in the series won awards and stuff.

Unfortunately, nobody told me that this was a young adult series, where the two protagonists are 16-ish. In fact, I would argue that this is not just young adult, but middle grade, because the kids act like middle grade kids and are usually accompanied by adult guides. They aren’t "rebeling" like most of the kids in young adult books.

That by itself wouldn’t bother me – although I probably would not have bought it if I’d known it beforehand, because I generally do not relate at all to the trials and tribulations of middle grade kids and young adults. No, I still might like this book if it weren’t for one thing: The plot seems like a thinly-veiled excuse to explore the worldbuilding.

A great deal of time is spent describing these mechanical contraptions called "walkers" and these genetically-created airbourne creatures that float like balloons. The protagonists just happen to be on a path that comes in contact with these neat worldbuilding things. Alek just happens to be learning to drive a walker, and ends up running from pursuers in a walker, and Dylan just happens to want to join the navy and fly, and just happens to get stuck on a flying leviathan by chance. Even that contrivance wouldn’t bother me if the characters pulled me into their stories. Unfortunately, I find that I don’t care the slightest bit about these two kids. Maybe I am biased against kid protagonists in general, but their problems just don’t interest me. Dylan is a girl dressing up as a boy so she can fly with the others – how many times has *that* plot been done – but so far, her part could have been played by a boy just as well. Alek is the son of the Archduke Ferdinand who was assassinated to start World War I – that could have been interesting, but Prince Alek does not seem to have any emotional depth, and he comes across as a petulent child.

<Time passes.>

I am now about 2/3rd through the audiobook, having listened mostly without paying a lot of attention, and the two main characters finally ran into each other. My internal wannabe editor tells me that this is where the book *should* have started, because the relationship between these two characters from radically different worlds makes the book funny and compelling. Far more compelling than their individual lives.

Latest Audibooks I’ve Listened To

I’ve been on an audiobook kick lately. I realize it’s “cheating” to listen to a book instead of read it, but it’s just so darn convenient. You can actually accomplish other things simultaneously while listening to a book (like driving, washing dishes, playing games, paying bills, etc.), whereas if you read a book, it’s pretty much all you can do.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Wil Wheaton. Great nostalgia book, although I could have lived without the cliche “real world is better than the virtual world” moral.

Hunted by Kevin Hearne, read by Luke Daniels. The latest in the Iron Druid Chronicles (#6 I think). Another highly entertaining episode from the life and times of Atticus O’Sullivan, this time covering his run across Europe while being chased by Roman and Greek hunting goddesses Diana and Artemis. This is the only “series” that I religiously keep up with. I like the IDC because Luke Daniels is an incredibly good reader, Hearne is a good story-teller, and the stories go into a lot of interesting mythology without being too cheesy. Also, it’s one of the few Urban Fantasy series that doesn’t focus on vampires and werewolves.

Redshirts by John Scalzi, read by Wil Wheaton. This book is awesome. I listened to the entire ~8 hours on a Saturday. I loved it because it’s the kind of thing I might have written, except I would have considered it way too absurd and silly for anyone but me to find it amusing. I also would have been too obsessed with trying to come up with a logical reason for *why* fictional characters would become sentient – Scalzi made no such attempt – they just are (or else the explanation is so obscure that I missed it). It’s a book that starts out being unabashedly comedic, then gets pretty serious and thought-provoking by the time the three codas come around.

Inferno by Dan Brown, read by Paul Michael. It showed up on the front page on Audible, so I got it with one of my credits. Whatever, so sue me. This book is pretty much exactly the same as every previous Robert Langdon book: He meets a woman and together they run from secret organizations and the government while decrypting puzzles. This time, the lessons are about Dante’s Inferno and excessive global population. Paul Michael is a good reader; it’s a lot more entertaining to listen to Dan Brown than to read it.

Ready Player One – Start!

I’m finally listening to the audiobook of the much-talked-about Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Internet super-celebrity Wil Wheaton.

Though I’m only a handful of chapters into it, this book is clearly an 80s geek subculture nerdgasm from start to finish. It’s fascinating, hilarious, and depressing – despressing because of how many of the obscure references I understand (like, roughly, all of them).

Now I’m going to take the fanboy hat off and put on the author hat. This book has a lot of exposition. I mean a lot of it. There are what I assume are pages and pages and pages of telling, not showing. I think there was one whole chapter telling Halliday’s life story. He’s basically John Carmack on steroids, which is neat if you know anything about computer gaming history, but it really didn’t do much to serve the story right then.

This book is yet another first-person-sarcastic-narrator book. I’m starting to think of all of these books as extended blog posts. This is not necessarily a good thing, in my opinion. I’m thinking that I will distinguish myself in my writing career by being one of the only authors never to write a first person book. Or perhaps to be the first author to write a first person book from the perspective of someone without a sense of humor. Or, I could write the same first-person book as everyone else and make some money. Probably I’ll do that last thing.

Ready Player One is yet another dystopian future book, this time with an energy crisis that destroys the near-future world. The green movement subtext is not very subtle. My jaw still hurts from being punched in the face with it. Personally, I have a hard time believing that fossil fuels are going to run out in our lifetimes.

Now if I can put on my programmer hat on for a second, there are a number of engineering problems with this Oasis system. I can buy the VR goggles (see Oculus Rift), but the haptic gloves stretch the limit of credibility. Even suspending disbelief enough to assume they work exactly as described and you can reach out and touch objects in the virtual world, how would you make your avatar *move* in Oasis? Wade runs quite a bit when he goes to the Tomb of Horrors. Would you have to dogpaddle your hands in the air? There’s nothing hooked up to your real-world legs. Maybe there are footpedals on the floor that aren’t described. Or maybe a virtual keyboard and mouse appears, or a virtual game controller perhaps, that you operate with your virtual hands and fingers. That’s not even talking about the two sentences of hand-waving magic that somehow allows Oasis to support millions of simultaneous, realistically-rendered users without any lag or processing delay. I don’t even think *that* is possible in our lifetimes.

Anyway, it’s a fun book. I’m not really sure if the story is any good yet, though. Mostly it’s a trip down memory lane.