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Read Player Two – A Novel or An Excuse to Make a Movie

February 17, 2021
Ready Player Two cover
Ready Player Two (cover)

Let me start with a confession: I really enjoyed the novel Ready Player One. To call it “good” would be like calling a donut or a bucket of popcorn good. It was fun, which at times is better than being good. But this isn’t about RP1, this is about the sequel, Ready Player Two, and that donut was all hole and no filling. Did I push that metaphor too far? Sorry, that may be a product of what I’ve been reading of late.

Or is it?

We may need to take a step back and look at the thing no RP1 fan wants to talk about: the Ready Player One movie.

If you read the RP1 book and watched the film, you no doubt noticed some distinct differences between the two. [Let’s go ahead and mention that there will be some RP1 spoilers coming, for both the film and the novel. Eventually I’ll hit a couple minor spoilers for RP2, but I’ll try to keep those strokes broad.] The most glaring change from the book to the film was the fact that Warner Bros. (for what I’m sure were perfectly reasonable matters of IP rights) stripped a ton of the pop culture references out of the story and replaced them with references from WB properties: UltraMan was replaced with the Iron Giant; War Games was (curiously) replaced with The Shining. Some of these were significant plot points, but the story of RP1 is ultimately a collection of plot tokens to be collected while a romance builds and the head of an evil corporation attempts to murder the protagonist and anyone he’s ever met, so changing around the specifics of the plot tokens isn’t that big a deal. Who cares if you get the second key from memorizing all of Matthew Broderick’s lines or from rescuing a dance partner from a ballroom full of zombies?

Except, as uninspiring as it might sound to watch a movie character mimic another movie character from another movie, I really felt like the book’s version fit the story better. It was an interesting tidbit that fleshed out the world of the OASIS (the virtual reality simulation in which most of RP1 is set). It fit, and it demonstrated the fact that Wade’s/Parzival’s obsession with the scavenger hunt really did qualify him for this quest more than any old random person.

Plot tokens

And these two items — studio interference and character qualification — are the two things that made it impossible for for me to enjoy Ready Player Two the way I enjoyed its predecessor.

The concept of plot tokens is dialed up to eleven in RP2 as Wade/Parzival sets off on another quest to find not three keys but seven shards. Where are the shards hidden? Apparently the first clue takes years for Wade to decipher, but the rest are unraveled in a few hours. And these clues take Wade to zones of the OASIS that are dedicated to very specific topics, none of which is he sufficiently expert in. Sure, these give his friends reasons to be there with him: Aech is the expert in the Artist Formerly Known as Prince (Purple Rain is a WB film); Shoto is the expert in Sega Ninja; Samantha is the John Hughes expert (curiously, these are Universal films, not WB) as well as being the expert in The Silmarillion (the Lord of the Rings films were from New Line, owned by WB). But somehow Wade was the one that had to survive a (ridiculous) music battle with seven iterations of Prince and beat the notoriously challenging Sega Ninja on a single quarter and pry a gem from Morgoth’s crown. His repeated successes (oops, is the protagonist succeeding too much of a spoiler?) defy credibility.

I get what Cline was doing when he wrote it this way. Wade was the reader’s stand-in, the person familiar with the pop culture topics without being an expert. If Wade already knew how to recruit a backup band to defeat the seven iterations of Prince, how would the reader get to hear about it? Then again, how difficult can these “impossible” quests be if a guy who’s not an expert just needs input from an expert to succeed on the very first try?

Warner Bros. Pictures

Honestly, it felt like I was reading someone’s rough draft. Little things, like the same phrases being referenced multiple times by multiple characters (is there no other phrase for death other than “shuffle off this mortal coil”?), or new characters being unsubtly thrust in and out of the story without any arc whatsoever, or the character Faisal being a direct clone of the Austin Powers character Basil Exposition, all of these are things that should have been fixed in revision somewhere along the line. This is the case with a lot of sequels to books whose popularity demands a follow-up. The Hunger Games sequels come to mind (particularly the third book). Arguably even some of the later/longer Harry Potter books could have used a bit more time with a blue pencil. Ready Player Two was about getting a product out there that is packed with WB properties so that a movie can be made as quickly as possible.

If you’re looking for escapism, for nostalgia, for people defying the odds…this isn’t it. I never felt immersed in any of the worlds presented in the book. There were very few references that made me smile and mutter “oh yes, I remember that”. Each new world felt like drinking a smoothie made up of blended Wikipedia articles. “Look how much stuff I can mention about John Hughes’ original drafts” or “only the truest Prince historian would know this obscure reference.” I got the same feeling reading Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code.

Is it really that bad? Maybe. Or maybe I just liked the first one so much because it felt new and different and its 80s references made me feel validated, and this book didn’t. It will make some people feel validated, probably people that didn’t get that feeling from the first. This book spends a fair amount of time validating non-cis genders, which is great. It addresses shortcomings of your idols, something I’m unfortunately experiencing these days (I’m very disappointed, Joss). This is not a book without merit. For me, it felt like a book without heart, or without the heart of its predecessor. And ultimately, it was the heart I was after.

All the time in the world

April 7, 2020

I’m a teacher by profession. Except there’s not much going on in the education world right now. Our country hasn’t gone to fill scale distance learning, though I do have some optional assignments on my website (yes, optional math assignments) and I have some students working to recover pervious failing grades. Keeping up with that isn’t exactly a full time gig right now. So I have all the time in the world to write.

I bet you know whether this is going. It’s not that I’m getting no writing done. I’ve done more in the past two weeks than I have in any pair of weeks in a long time. But it’s not a full time writing good either. It could be. It should be. But damn, items hard to do it.

Is anyone else experiencing this?

I have three things to blame this on: interruptions, atrophy, and weirdness.

The interruptions are simultaneously the least of the problems and the worst of the problems. It never fails, once I get going at the keyboard, something needs to be done. Dinner needs to be made or dishes need to be done or shopping needs to be done (which feels like wandering into a zombie apocalypse…but that’s later) or the lawn needs to be moved or my kid needs to be ferried to or from her mother’s house. All of these are my normal household take, but somehow they always stroke when I’m trying to get writing done. Oh, and lately there have been a bevy of school emails, many from students and parents at just whatever hour. Part of this is that I’m always about to start typing. The other issue is that writing isn’t my “real job” so it can be interrupted for other things. I never have to interrupt a lecture to make dinner or a quiz to more the lawn. Part of this is that others (not pointing fingers, babe) think this way about my writing. The bigger issue is that I feel this way about it. I talk a big game about making writing my fill time job until schools open up again, but I’m not there mentally yet. This is a battle of willpower that I simply need to keep fighting and gaining ground in.

By atrophy I mean that, just like it’s hard to hop into a marathon after younger spent several years on the couch, so too is it hard to write for extended times when I haven’t been flexing those muscles much at all. Writing is hard. Sometimes I forget that. It requires work and talent and more work. My endurance is low; I can’t stay focused on a completely separate reality for more than about thirty minutes before my concentration starts to crumble. Again, this is something I need to work at, just like if were working up to marathon shape again. (Ha! Again?)

Then there’s the weirdness. The when-will-the-world-go-back feeling that permeates every waking moment these days. The sense that going to the supermarket is an act if risking your life or the lives of the other shoppers. Even weirder was the day I went to Lowe’s for gardening supplies and found half the city already there, half of them acting like nothing was different. Even in sci-fi and fantasy, I feel like nothing I write could be stranger than what I’m living. There are moments when I can do nothing but sit and shudder when I consider the scope of the changes the world is experiencing and wondering which changes (or speculating new ones) will become permanent. Gas prices? Probably not. The stock market? I hope not. Layoffs? I shudder to think. But this distraction isn’t something I’m going to get over. It will eventually pass, but not soon. But it’s okay to be overwhelmed by overwhelming stuff. I just need to remind myself of this. Often.

So what was the point of this post? Threefold, I guess. 1) I needed to get these thoughts out of my head and written someplace so I can deal with them. 2) To let people know that, if they are feeling these distractions when trying to write or paint or create or improve, they aren’t alone. They aren’t weird or weak or inferior for their struggles. And 3), hoping others out there will respond to help reinforce the fact that I’m not alone in these distractions either.

Thanks for listening, er, reading. But now I need to get to bed. I have writing to do tomorrow. And mowing. But mostly writing.

Looking in the Mirror without Toilet Paper

March 17, 2020

tpNothing like a global pandemic and three weeks off work to make you take a look at your life.

The last time I posted to this blog was November, 2017. My last story sale was longer ago than that. Every time I refer to myself as a writer these days I have to check whether my nose grew. I haven’t been much of one. Teaching, parenting, and husbanding have taken up the lion’s share of my time, with a new hobby of Dungeons & Dragons slurping up what puddles remain. I have a lot more excuses than I have keyboard hours. That’s no way to be a writer.

So what brings me here in 2020? A sudden abundance of free time. Hopefully I’m not the only one socially distancing himself for the good of slowing down COVID-19’s plundering of the world. So what’s a guy to do when he has three weeks away from his day job? Put in some hours with his night job, of course. No, not fighting crime. Writing!

The two and a half years since I last blogged haven’t been completely devoid of writing. I’ve tinkered on some stories, even sent a few out to add to my rejection pile. I’ve started sponsoring my school’s Creative Writing Club, too, which has been incredibly rewarding and probably owed a lot of credit for my fingers finding the keyboard today. I’ve done a few panels at a few Cons. All of those things are more writer-adjacent though. Writers do one thing: write. That hasn’t been happening.

Even this blog post isn’t really writing. Nor is the vicious word-assassination I’ve engaged in to pare down two 750-word stories to 500 for the upcoming Escape Pod Flash Fiction ContestEP (improving one, making the other look like a toddler that cut her own hair). Nor is the tiny bit of editing I did to the novelette I just sent to one of the few magazines that still accepts that length. (Did I call it a novella in my cover letter? Oops.) They are, however, writing-adjacent tasks that I wanted to get off my plate so I could hit my writing with both barrels over the next couple weeks of social isolation.

Let’s face it, I’ve taken more than one look at my life this week and wondered if I’m on the last chapter. I don’t think so: I’m young-ish and healthy-ish. Even if I catch the virus, it’s unlikely to be the end of me. That doesn’t stop a man from looking back and considering if he’s been enough. I’ll admit, I’ve had a pretty good run. Great kid, fantastic wife, eighteen years of teaching, a couple dozen published stories…

IMG_20200316_151324But that last one doesn’t satisfy. Ten years ago, I was a “Writer of the Future”. Well it’s the future now. Heck, the grocery stores look like we’re in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, so it must be the future. How am I less a writer now than I was then?

This is where the excuses come in, but mostly it’s that I haven’t prioritized writing in my daily life. Now when I look at the big tapestry, that writing part is missing. Or it’s a few threads where I was intending a prominent feature.

So here I am, at the loom of life overdoing this metaphor on my blog — my writer blog. Tomorrow morning I’ll be back at this keyboard working on a story, writing new words, new pages, new chapters. I didn’t give up on being a writer. Unfortunately it took a disaster to remind me of that. I’m going to focus on getting a book published before we have another one of these come through. Then it can be my book that people reach for when the hoarders get all the toilet paper. (Why, what have you been using?)

NaNoWri…Oh crap.

November 5, 2017

My November is off to a resounding silence. I had such great plans for why my NaNoWriMowas going to be a success this year (see last post). As it turns out, none of those reasons were worth anything.

My goal to tackle the novel I didn’t write last year has been significantly derailed by opportunities with deadlines. So I should (and will) just write those instead, right? Well, I started to do that, but realized the story I was working on didn’t quite fit with the dark-sf/f theme of the opportunity, so I abandoned that project the same way I abandoned my novel.

Then I realized that I should just write on my novel while I let another darker idea brew in my head. So, of course, the moment I focused on the novel again, dark story ideas rained down upon me. At first I was thinking of a spaceship-based locked room scenario, though the plot was slow in forming. So I figured I should watch a dark locked-room spaceship movie to help jiggle some ideas loose. LifePosterI watched Life. Best film I’ve seen in that genre since Aliens…but it convinced me that I shouldn’t write such a story because I’d only end up copycatting.

But mu mind was rolling and I just hand-wrote a two page outline for a story idea that I am very excited about. It’s dark, convoluted, and weird — exactly the stuff I was looking for. Unfortunately it may also be a novel rather than a short story/novelette as my opportunity’s word limit requires. Ugh.

But at least this means I have something to write now. Better a late WriMo than a never WriMo, right? Alas, day job requirements will have me tied up most of tomorrow, and likely a lot more over the next week or two. Still, I have a new nowhere-near-50k-word goal of finishing the first draft of this story by the end of the month. When life gives you lemons, write a dark time travel story for a themed anthology.

 

November is coming…

October 31, 2017

It’s Halloween. That’s pretty scary, since that means NaNoWriMo starts…tomorrow. [insert horror movie scream here]

I didn’t decide that I’m participating in NaNo this year until…oh, about an hour ago. I have a lot of writing I need to do — some on various projects, so I’m not sure that I’ll be giving full attention to my official project, but if I give attention to the keyboard, that’s a win. For me anyway.

I haven’t “won” NaNo in quite a while. I asked myself several times why I think this year will be any different. Here are my theories that I think could contribute to this year’s success:

  1. I’m dieting. I’m just getting started (again) on Weight Watchers. Which means I’m going to need a distraction while I’m at home so I don’t shove my hand in the proverbial cookie jar. So every time I want a snack, I’ll divert that to writing time. Will it work? Here’s hoping.
  2. I’m married! Okay, I was married before. In fact, I was married the last time I was a NaNo winner. Unfortunately that was largely because I was using keyboard time as a distraction while I counted down to the end of the holidays to pursue a divorce. This is NOT the situation this year. Earlier this month, I married an amazing woman who is very supportive of me and my writing. She’s going to help me get my daily writing time in…as long as I don’t neglect too many chores in the process.
  3. My kid really wants me to write this book. This is a book inspired by her and my dog (an idea I was supposed to write last year but still hasn’t gotten off the ground). That and she’s big enough to fend for herself when Dad is typing.
  4. I‘m embracing the get-words-on-the-page philosophy. I have a bad habit of getting distracted by wanting pretty words or just the right word. Recently the old adage of “you can’t edit what you haven’t written” has struck home with me and my fingers are ready to get words on the screen. That’s a good state of mind for NaNo.

So those are my theories. We’ll see how well they work out. And if I only get 10,000 or 20,000 instead of 50,000, I’m okay with that. It’s about upping my (largely static) output.

Good luck to everyone participating. Here we go.

Double ouch.

June 29, 2017

GV7dxaYc_400x400Yay, LibertyCon is this weekend!

Boo, my tooth is killing me. Apparently it’s an abscessed root or some such thing. What that means is that I’ve spent the last two days columbus-root-canal-treatment-300x297pacing around the house and moaning with an ice pack on my face or a frozen washcloth in my mouth or medicated. It has been miserable. Today hasn’t been as bad; apparently a sign that the antibiotics are doing their job.

Still, the tooth has defeated me and I won’t make LibertyCon. 😦 I didn’t want to go and be miserable. I didn’t want to play wait and see until it was too late to cancel the hotel room. So I’m out. I think I’ve been to the last five LibertyCons and I had no interest in missing one anytime soon, but agony is hard to contend with. I’ll be going to a dentist (not my dentist; he’s on vacation) to at least begin treatment (root canal) tomorrow at about the same time that my first panel was supposed to begin. I assure you that I’d rather be discussing short story structure than staring up with my mouth open at a masked, drill-wielding stranger.

To all of you attending LibertyCon, have fun. I’ll be there next year.

Ah, Summer. The season to write.

June 13, 2017

summercompAt long last it is summer, boys and girls. And for full-time teacher, part-time writers like me, that means the keyboard is calling. Thank goodness I’m not house-hunting like I was last summer, or job hunting like the summer before that. Maybe I can actually get some writing accomplished!

I’ve been pecking away at an old, half-finished draft of a NaNoWriMo project from five years ago. It’s a mess, but it’s a first draft. If I can make it a complete first draft, then I can start un-messing it with the magic of revision. I’ve made a couple chapters’ progress, so it’s something.

PodcastleI also stumbled around the internet enough to find that it’s flash contest season at the Escape Artist Podcasts, specifically their fantasy cast, PodCastle. I’ve sold a couple stories to their sci-fi sister, Escape Pod, but not in a long time. My flash story “Chips” (still unpublished) fared quite well in the 2016 Escape Pod flash contest, slipping into the final round but falling flat there.

I have high hopes for this little fantasy flash this time around. It’s based on a story I wrote for a Codex Weekend Warrior, but it had to be stripped and reworked to fit the contest’s very slim 500-word limit. No, I’m not telling you anything about my story. That would be against the rules. You’ll just have to go read them yourself, vote on the best ones, and hope that means mine. Voting starts July 1st.

I’ve also been re-listening to what I’ve decided is my favorite book, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. It’s long (make that looooong), but it’s excellent. WayOfKingsWhy isn’t HBO pounding down Sanderson’s door to make this their follow-up to Game of Thrones? No, not enough sex for HBO (read: none), but someone should be making this and a single movie wouldn’t do it justice. Heck, a single season would have a hard time encompassing it. But I digress… The third book in the series — Oathbringer — is due out this November Oathbringerand I wanted to refresh my memory of the first two books. I should be finished listening to both by November. I’d never find time to read them both before then, but audio books are great while I drive, while I mow, while I do dishes. And listening to Sanderson’s expert craftsmanship really inspires me to write, though it reminds me how very much revision my work in progress will need. But first I need a finished draft.

And now that we’ve come full circle, I’ll end so I can go write.

Write what you know…that you hate

February 23, 2017

As I type this on my phone, I find myself sitting in a hairdresser waiting area, listening to horrible country music (#doubletalk), surrounded by cliche hyper-religious wooden signs. I hate it all. Why am I here?

I’m here because my girlfriend likes how my hair looks when I get it cut here. I’m willing to endure all manner of unpleasantness fur that one little opinion. I’m sure I could get a good a haircut somewhere else, somewhere less excruciatingly quaint, but I’m here.

Mostly I’m reminding myself that people endure negative things, often many, for a single positive. The negative sensations make for compelling description and can really define a character.

That’s all.

NaNo-UhOh

November 3, 2016

I had a good first day of NaNoWriMo. I went to a write-in, met some people, almost made my word count for the day before leaving, typed more when I got home and inched over the daily goal. Not the best start, but solid.

Day two? Much less successful.

I’ve been having trouble with a tooth. I went to the dentist to deal with said tooth. The dentist told me she would “get me out of pain”. Apparently her strategy was to make me realize the pain I was experiencing was nothing compared to what it could have been. During her (alleged) attempt to numb my tooth, I experienced the most severe agony I have ever felt in my entire life. I was Westly in the Pit of Despair the first time Count Rugen hooked him to the machine.

nottofifty

Why am I telling you this? Well, it’s hard to write while doped up on pain meds. That was last night and this morning. I switched to ibuprofen this afternoon so I could operate things like motor vehicles, cutlery, and kitchen appliances. Fortunately the ibuprofen is holding and I got a little bedtime writing in, though I’m still short of my day two goal, let alone day three. But it’s progress and the weekend cometh…including a bonus hour. I’ll get back on track as long as my face doesn’t explode again.

NaNoWriMo, Almost Time-O

October 29, 2016
tags:

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participant-200It’s that time again, for large doses of caffeine and larger doses of keyboard time. Time for typist’s cramp and plot-related breakdowns. Time to push excuses aside to make room for all the words to come pouring out. Time for National Novel Writing Month!

I’ve done NaNoWriMo a few times, with varying degrees of commitment. This year’s participation was a last minute decision, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to get my write on for quite a while. Excuse accepted. (Not that the excuse to write should not be confused with the excuses not to write that were pushed aside in the opening paragraph.)

Here are the top 5 reasons I’m excited about NaNoWriMo 2016:

#5 –  It’s Nice to Have a Goal

It’s way too easy to just let things slide. Oh, I’ll write tomorrow…next week…next month…once midterms are over…in the summer…once we’ve moved…after the apocalypse. Well, a goal is stronger than excuses. Or it is if I let it be. Tough as it can be to reach my daily writing goal, the goal also gives me a place to stop writing for the day and feel accomplished. “This” is the bar for writing success for the day, week, month. That’s something I can work with.

#4 – New Support Structure

November marks one year that my girlfriend and I have been together. (One year. That status of “girlfriend”could probably use an upgrade soon. But I digress.) She is artistic and caring and fun and beautiful, and I’m eager to add “supportive of my writing” to the list of adjectives. She’s gung-ho about my NaNo participation this year and very much wants to see me writing again. Without dredging into the past, I’ll say I’ve never had genuine household support when I had writing goals. I can’t wait to see what it’s like. Living with a writer isn’t always easy, but I have faith in this one.

#3 – New City, New Writers to Meet

borotnLast year’s job change has me in a new city and I really don’t know many people here, especially writers. NaNo meet-ups and write-ins mean I get to change that. Maybe I’ll make new friends; maybe I’ll be inspired by their commitment; maybe I’ll want to finish just out of a spirit of competitiveness. Regardless, some good will come out of this new social discovery.

0609162128d-1-2#2 – It’s Time to Get This Story Written

I think I’ve blogged before about the middle grades novel that my daughter and dog inspired. It hasn’t gotten written yet. I have a couple false starts, but nothing serviceable. Yet the idea has been burning in my brain for too long to let it go unwritten. The time has come. And 50k is a pretty solid word count for a middle grades novel, so this could be the real thing.

#1 – Time to Write Again

If you’ve visited this blog in the past few years, you know that I haven’t done much writing. Ultimately it was the 2012 NaNo that marks my last significant keyboard time. Blame it on what you want (job, parenting, life changes, etc.), I’m not okay with not being a writer. So whatever gets me back into the habit is a good thing.

Check back here for updates on my NaNoWriMo endeavor. Brief updates, mind you, since blogging time isn’t noveling time.