Only You Can Save Mankind
July 8, 2015 11:20 AM   Subscribe

 
The upswing in nerd-culture-nostalgia-goods is simultaneously infuriating and oddly informing from my perspective as someone who tries his best to both revere and critically examine this particular aspect of the past of pop culture. Like it's almost impossible to explain to someone not really into this sort of stuff where the distinction lies between work like Ernest Cline and work that isn't just trying to sell you a laundry list of things you recognize from your childhood in the early digital age. And because it's so hard, it often makes me wonder whether there even is such a distinction, or if I've just drawn an arbitrary Odd Couple-style line down the middle of pop culture and picked a side while those Other People never bothered and just enjoy this stuff for whatever it is. And considering that, it's kind of hard to begrudge a dude for making money giving people what they want, even if I think the thing that they want is dumb.

tl;dr pop culture is a land of contrast

Also that's GRRM's DeLorean Cline is posing against, unless he has one of his own now.
posted by griphus at 11:33 AM on July 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


nerd-culture-nostalgia-goods

I think there's a point to be made about how nerd culture in general has always (at least since the late 80s, anyway) been primarily about consumption - much like the review says, markers of nerd status are about whether you get the reference to this movie or that video game. It's no surprise that new media targeted at "grown up" nerds is going to focus on the media that they consumed as children.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:38 AM on July 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm reading through this article slowly because the excerpt of the author's writing made me black out momentarily, but the protagonist drives a Dodge Omni? People are nostalgic about Omnis? Is it a GLH?
posted by selfnoise at 11:39 AM on July 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


I guess I can't make up my mind on so-very-meta 80s pastiche: I liked Kung Fury but not Ready Player One.
posted by Monochrome at 11:40 AM on July 8, 2015


backseatpilot: "nerd culture in general has always (at least since the late 80s, anyway) been primarily about consumption - much like the review says, markers of nerd status are about whether you get the reference to this movie or that video game."

How is this different from, say, Punk or Opera culture? Is any 'culture' not about consuming and being familiar with it?
posted by signal at 11:40 AM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm just amazed he's managing to sell people the same book twice. Also many of the things this article sees as saving graces of the first I don't - by the time you get to the end of it all the references are eye-rolling in their laziness and cynicism.

Also is it YA or not? It seems to be marketed as such, but a YA book so solidly centered on a 40year old mans nostalgia is just weird.
posted by Artw at 11:41 AM on July 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


Cline has had his own custom DeLorean for years. I think he gave away another one as a prize for the ARG hidden in the paperback of Ready Player One.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:42 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


We're also told the government has been tracking the habits of its elite players, and when they arrive at their virtual battle stations, they find their favorite snacks waiting for them, their favorite songs queued up to accompany their virtual space fights, not to mention a “special strain of weed that helps people focus and enhances their ability to play videogames” that's been cultivated just for them.

I cannot imagine that the primary critique of Ready Player One that he needed to redress was that it wasn't masturbatory enough, but here we are.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:43 AM on July 8, 2015 [48 favorites]


I wrote a review of Ready Player One a couple years back that I wanted to reproduce part of, because it has some similar issues, especially involving whether it was YA:

When listening to the novel (which I read when it came out last year as well), it was clear that this was very much Young Adult science fiction, though it was clearly written for adults in their 30s and 40s who could enjoy all the references. The YA aspects come through in a number of ways: a lack of adults in the plot; main characters that are immediately likable but not very deep; a lack of much emotional content beyond very simply "boy wants to date a girl" material; a whiz-bang plot where the world as it is related to the plot is fleshed out, but the rest of the world makes little sense. None of these are horrible criticisms, and I am a fan of YA science fiction. The same points would also apply to say, the first book or two of the Hunger Games.

However, this book ultimately feels thin, after you get over the joy of the 1980s geek references, which are laid on so thickly that it can be a little overwhelming and even pandering. The book makes a few attempts to address real issues (regret over lost love, environmentalism, the value of reality over simulation, etc.) but these come across as half-hearted and unconvincing, as does much of the central love story. There was, for me at least, also something sad in the unacknowledged fact in the book that, strangely, there is no culture after, say, 1986 in the world of the book. No new ideas, no new music, no new games - nothing new for 40 years. The best music is Rush, the best video game is Joust, the best movie is War Games, all of which is great for nostalgia, but seems to echo the way Baby Boomers held up the 1960s as the pinnacle of culture during my childhood in the 1980s. It made the experience of listening melancholy in ways that the author, who seems to have little sense of irony, never intended.
posted by blahblahblah at 11:43 AM on July 8, 2015 [24 favorites]




The best music is Rush, the best video game is Joust, the best movie is War Games...

I mean I guess you can make a career out of expanding that Futurama episode about video games coming to life. Can you confirm that the best soda is Shasta?
posted by griphus at 11:48 AM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


And it wasn't even a full episode; it was in an anthology episode.
posted by griphus at 11:49 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


To me, the interesting question here is: given that Armada appears to be absolutely indistinguishable from every other bad piece of fanfic that gets read in writer's groups or dumped online, how did it get published by Penguin Random House? Is this the writer's equivalent of being abducted by benevolent aliens?
posted by octobersurprise at 11:50 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Ready Player One was wafer-thin YA that left a bad taste of adolescent wish fulfillment in my mouth. I skimmed this article earlier today, and Armada looks like more of the same. A friend who's pretty into sci-fi and fantasy was surprised that I hated Ready Player One so much (and, possibly, insulted), but, you know, it's possible to write YA (and sci-fi) without such insultingly-juvenile plotting and characters, so why read this stuff?

(The other recent-ish YA-novel-for-adults that left me prickly in bad ways, for similar reasons, was Joe Hill's Horns. Ugh.)
posted by uncleozzy at 11:52 AM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Reading the excerpts from this review made me shudder. At least 50 shades was explicitly a tale of fetishistic fantasy.
posted by Think_Long at 11:53 AM on July 8, 2015


A friend who's pretty into sci-fi and fantasy was surprised that I hated Ready Player One so much (and, possibly, insulted)

A friend of mine was like, "It was great! You should read it!" and then I read some review of it that made it sound like I would hate it intensely, so I ended up refraining from reading it so that I could continue to have friend-interactions that were "oh, I should getting around to reading that" instead of "let's talk about how this book was dreck"
posted by Greg Nog at 11:56 AM on July 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


By the way, despite the negative review I wrote above, I did actually get some joy out of Ready Player One, though I felt bad about it throughout. I will probably read Armada as well, and feel similarly conflicted.

PPS: And I did not mean to imply that Rush is not still the best music of all time *begins air drumming to Tom Sawyer while awkwardly flailing head around*
posted by blahblahblah at 11:57 AM on July 8, 2015


Holy crap, I thought. They really want me to pilot the Vic Viper? My inner Palutena did a backflip.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:58 AM on July 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


Oh also I wrecked my mom's 1988 Dodge Omni in 1996 or 1997. Man, that car was a giant piece of shit, but somehow I didn't die.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:59 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I hated Ready Player One with a terrible vengeance; I do not think that I will be reading this book.

I actually do love homage/pastiche/fanfiction, I love it very much, and this work is an insult to it.

There's a kind of blah documentary about Atari and the legendary buried E.T. games in which Cline has a small and completely insufferable role.
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:02 PM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Can you confirm that the best soda is Shasta?

No, it's Fresca.
posted by chavenet at 12:03 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was waiting for the point in the review where it said "The book only truly reveals itself once Cline tears down the edifice he has carefully built, finally revealing the first half of the book for the blistering satire that it truly is..." I guess that was asking too much.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:03 PM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's like people forget that what made Scott Pilgrim great was that it was about kids living in the present rather than the past.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:04 PM on July 8, 2015 [19 favorites]


I started out enjoying it, it starts out pleasantly like early Michael Marshal Smith, and it's not like I'm totally adverse to pop cultural references, just check out today's 1982 thread, and hey, Tomb of Horrors.

But then you (mild spoiler) get the most casual killing of an aunt since Star Wars, and everything gets more and more nerd fetishy and revolves more and more about reproducing 80s games an ever more epic and impressive virtual stuff I could give a shit about.

And none of the pop culture references mean anything or add up to anything, they are just there.

Eventually it is just Snow Crash as written by Reddit but only the Metaverse stuff, and that is just boring.

I too read it on a recommendation from a friend - well, actually a coworker from a place I no longer work at. Perhaps that is for the best.
posted by Artw at 12:04 PM on July 8, 2015 [20 favorites]


There's a kind of blah documentary about Atari and the legendary buried E.T. games in which Cline has a small and completely insufferable role.

Okay, so that was him so now I want to know why he borrowed GRRM's DeLorean for the trip instead of using his own, unless he didn't have his yet but it seems like he would've.
posted by griphus at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Basically if children in 2044 are obsessed with Family Ties and John Hughes movies they should be turned into larva chowder for invading alien warlords
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:07 PM on July 8, 2015 [29 favorites]


Does his Delorean have bits bolted on from every other 80s nerd thing like the one in the book?
posted by Artw at 12:07 PM on July 8, 2015


I bought Ready Player One a few years back, not knowing much about it besides that it was good and was kind of sci-fi/gaming related, but have never gotten around to reading it. Having read this piece about Armada, I'm now wondering if I should treat my copy of Ready Player One as though it was radioactive waste, to be disposed of as quickly as possible, preferably in some deep underground vault where no one will find it for centuries. Holy shit, I had no idea.
posted by chrominance at 12:07 PM on July 8, 2015


Eventually it is just Snow Crash as written by Reddit but only the Metaverse stuff

I enjoyed the book, but that is a dead-on accurate description of it.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:09 PM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


I bought Ready Player One a few years back, not knowing much about it besides that it was good and was kind of sci-fi/gaming related. Having read this piece about Armada, I'm now wondering if I should treat my copy of Ready Player One as though it was radioactive waste, to be disposed of as quickly as possible, preferably in some deep underground vault where no one will find it for centuries. Holy shit, I had no idea.

No, give it a shot. It can be schlocky but it's still fun, which is the important part, right?
posted by phatkitten at 12:09 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Basically if children in 2044 are obsessed with Family Ties and John Hughes movies they should be turned into larva chowder for invading alien warlords

The Abrams Star Trek movies tell us that hep kids far into the future will be jamming out to the Beastie Boys, so there.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 12:10 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


How is this different from, say, Punk or Opera culture?

Opera buffs aren't reading opera fanfic and cosplaying as Don Giovanni, I guess. Other subcultures have their own content to consume, but I think there's something specific about nerds consuming mass media in a particularly... obsessive way that makes it stand out.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:10 PM on July 8, 2015


Say what you will, tho, according to Wikipedia "On December 7, 2012, Cline announced the sale of the film rights to Armada to Universal Pictures for a reported seven-figure sum." Which is nice work if you can get it.

I'm remembering now I guy I knew, a smart guy, PhD, who used to write novels just like Cline's only with more music references. I should try to get in touch and tell him if Cline can do it, he can, too.

My own feeling, however, is that if I'm going to spend the time reading something so obviously and so clumsily wish-fullfilling, then I'll save my money and write it myself.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:11 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


How is this different from, say, Punk or Opera culture? Is any 'culture' not about consuming and being familiar with it?

I'd say the distinction is that I can listen to and enjoy Locust Abortion Technician even if I don't know Sabbath. The fact that Sweat Loaf is using the Sweet Leaf riff is just one point of reference, mixed with many other elements, most of which are not inside jokes or shibboleths for punk culture. Imagine a punk album where every single riff was a winking copy of another classic punk song, where every lyric was a shallow "I recognize that reference" play on some other punk lyrics. Where instead of the hard driving chorus you get a reference to another song's hard driving chorus and your imagination is expected to fill in the rest. I'm sure this exists, but it is definitely different from regular punk.
posted by idiopath at 12:12 PM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Theatre fans, particularly musical theatre fans, do the cosplay thing at parties.
posted by The Whelk at 12:13 PM on July 8, 2015


Opera buffs aren't reading opera fanfic and cosplaying as Don Giovanni, I guess.

I think this is only because the generation/social class that supports opera as an artform isn't generally clued into either fanfic or cosplay of fandom in general. I suspect if there was a critical mass of young fans of opera, they would be doing exactly that.
posted by griphus at 12:13 PM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


I loved every second of the time I spent reading Ready Player One, and I don't regret it, and I will cheerfully read Armada and probably love that, but none of the criticism is wrong.
posted by padraigin at 12:13 PM on July 8, 2015 [15 favorites]


griphus: "expanding that Futurama episode about video games coming to life"

Uhhh... have you seen this trailer yet?
posted by mhum at 12:14 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


griphus,

Could you give some recommendations of "work that isn't just trying to sell you a laundry list of things you recognize from your childhood in the early digital age", stuff that's on the other side of the nostalgia line you posit from Cline?
posted by Sangermaine at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know, in horror movies, the characters are often fans of horror movies and familiar with their conventions. But in horror movies, this doesn't make them awesome monster killers, generally. It just makes them more aware of how badly things will go for them, and, in the best examples, like the original Fright Night, it's to highlight how little about real horror you can learn from films, and how little it leaves you prepared for it.
posted by maxsparber at 12:17 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I like Ready Player One but in a pretty self-indulgent way... this pretty much sums up how I felt about it. It was like eating a decadent layerd pastry of pop-culture references for a middle-aged dude. Structurally, it was a YA novel but I'm not sure it actually spoke to actual young adults in a meaningful way.

Armada does indeed seem like it takes all the worst parts of RP1 and amps them up a notch.

My suggestion for smarter counterpoint to RP1 is You: A Novel by Austin Grossman. Lots of 80's video game references, a little less wish fulfilment fantasy.

Anyway, Tomb Of Horrors isn't even a good module. It's a shit module designed to torment tournament players. If RP1 is all about 80's-nerd-cred I feel like I can get one-up on Cline without breaking much of a sweat. TRY SHRINE OF THE KUO-TOA NEWB.
posted by GuyZero at 12:18 PM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


chrominance, you should read it! Don't let us snark you out of giving it a shot.

I'm pretty sure I originally picked it up on the enthusiastic endorsement of MetaFilter circa 2011, btw. Between this and The Passage I have learned not to trust any of you people when it comes to fiction recommendations
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:20 PM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Could you give some recommendations of "work that isn't just trying to sell you a laundry list of things you recognize from your childhood in the early digital age", stuff that's on the other side of the nostalgia line you posit from Cline?

I don't read a lot of fiction, so the only thing I can think of off the top of my head is something like Rat Queens, which is unabashedly rooted in Dungeons and Dragons (not just "fantasy" or "RPGs" but very specifically D&D) but not branded as such and is also aware of the the tropes and their absurdity in a genuinely clever way.

For non-fiction/criticism/etc., jesus, there's so much amazing stuff out there I don't know where to start. I'll post some when I get home from work.
posted by griphus at 12:23 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, all this hate for Ready Player One comes off as people wanting to make sure that everyone knows they're too cool for school.

Of course it's a nostalgia-fest with a wafer-thin plot. I don't think it pretends to be otherwise, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying that. No one is pretend RPO is some work of genius that revolutionized literature as we know it.

Not every meal has to be a nutritionally-balanced culinary masterpiece, sometimes you just want a tasty snack.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:24 PM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


The assertion of TFA and this post that 'Armada is everything wrong with gaming culture' seems fairly limited and off.
What's wrong with Armada seems to be, as reported by TFA, a bunch of people tagged as 'nerds' or 'geeks' who really like what they like and really think what they like is important and wish you would too.
What's wrong with gaming culture, on the other hand, is misogyny, sexism, lack of representation, threats of violence, actual violence, on- and offline harassment, etc.
Don't really see the two as congruent.
posted by signal at 12:24 PM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Of course, it is a good excuse to rag on 'nerds' and 'geeks' for liking what they like and not what us cool, cultured people like, so there is that.
posted by signal at 12:25 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


“That's some serious bill-paying skillage,” she said. “Color me impressed, Zack-Zack Lightman.”

“Color me flattered, Miss Larkin,” I replied.



Ewwww. Did he then tip his fedora at her?
posted by Windigo at 12:25 PM on July 8, 2015 [26 favorites]


What's wrong with gaming culture, on the other hand, is misogyny, sexism, lack of representation, threats of violence, actual violence, on- and offline harassment, etc.

There's no reason geek culture can't have both social issues based on the people involved and critical and cultural issues with the creative output.
posted by griphus at 12:27 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wil Wheaton reading Ready Player One was perfect on every level from who he is being delightfully meta and the delivery which was sarcastic and earnest at the same time.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:27 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just to settle the issue with the Delorean. It is Cline's, that he loaned to GRRM, and reclaimed during the whole E.T. excavation thing.

I read Ready Player One, and had a fun time, but yes, it is rather thin. I will freely admit that I read a lot of modern pulp. Disposable, escapist fiction that isn't meant for much beyond vicarious thrills.

Reading this review makes it sound like Armada is even more wish fulfillment. But I am going to read it anyway.

OK, I also highly enjoyed Andy Wier's The Martian. How much scifi cred does that one earn, since my wife's entire review was "fun, but way too much math."
posted by Badgermann at 12:29 PM on July 8, 2015


Of course, it is a good excuse to rag on 'nerds' and 'geeks' for liking what they like and not what us cool, cultured people like, so there is that.

Please. Indulgent wish-fulfilment fantasy is what it is regardless of what it's indulging in.

As someone who literally did everything the main character in RP1 did back when they were new in the 80's, it was fun, but let's not commodify my childhood and sell it back to me ok?
posted by GuyZero at 12:30 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't read a lot of fiction, so the only thing I can think of off the top of my head is something like Rat Queens, which is unabashedly rooted in Dungeons and Dragons (not just "fantasy" or "RPGs" but very specifically D&D) but not branded as such and is also aware of the the tropes and their absurdity in a genuinely clever way.

I should have recorded the conversation I had with Dad when he tried to read my Rat Queens. I did spend a lot of time explaining these sorts of tropes and D&D in general because he just couldn't get a lot of it. I give him heaps of credit for trying this 'new fangled adult picture book thing' that he's heard so much about though.
posted by Jalliah at 12:30 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


and there's nothing wrong with enjoying that.

There's nothing wrong with masturbation, either, but one doesn't usually do it in public and get paid seven figures for it. If nothing else, that's a talent.

Huzzah, Mr. Cline, says I.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:31 PM on July 8, 2015 [18 favorites]


As someone the same age and background as Cline, Ready Player One reminded me of vast parts of my youth...except for one key thing: the poisonous nostalgia for the Sixties that permeated popular culture. Oh my god that was the worst. "What a long, strange trip it's been" is a phrase said far too often back then. "CRAM IT WITH WALNUTS, OLD MAN!" was a phrase not said nearly enough during that time.

You'd think that a generation raised in the pop culture shadow of another would be a little more self-aware about the obnoxiousness of the practice.

The only thing I'll give Gen-X over the Boomers in their nostalgia is that I don't think the G-X version is quite so self-righteous, nor does it produce entertainments advertised with the phrase "when America lost its innocence." Our sins are a different flavor. I have no doubt that a generation of youth today see "Transformers" movies and other stupid retro shit and think "CRAM IT WITH WALNUTS, OLD MAN!" And we should.

I'll get the walnuts.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:32 PM on July 8, 2015 [15 favorites]


Wil Wheaton reading Ready Player One was perfect on every level from who he is being delightfully meta and the delivery which was sarcastic and earnest at the same time.

Wil Wheaton and Cory Doctrow being of course presidents for life of the Metaverse in RPO. There's a bit there about how the protagonist will vote for them but not vote in real world elections that's one of a number of hints that the book might say something about, well, anything, but they fail to pay off except in the most shallow way possible.
posted by Artw at 12:33 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Like so many bad novels, Ready Player One made me grateful for the existence of Wikipedia summaries. No longer did I have to slog through a book wondering if maybe it was going to get better or find out what happened. (It didn't, what happened was the thing that always happens). So many precious minutes of life, saved!

I would never have read Armada, unless perhaps a blizzard of reviews came out praising it as a masterwork. It would have to be a lot of reviews, though.

And to tell you the truth, things that pander to Gen X really embarrass me. Is there anything more indicative of "you are old now!" than that? It's like seeing PBS drag out nearly-dead pop stars and make them sing things from the 50s and 60s to get that sweet senior citizen cash during pledge week. In a few decades, will they be wheeling poor Billy Idol out to croak out Rebel Yell in the hopes of grabbing our attention? These books are like that. The fact that they make a younger protagonist the one who cares about such stuff, in a sad bid to make us feel like our teen pop culture is still relevant to Those Kids Today, (or that it should be, because it was So Great) makes it worse.

The 80s are over. Let them be over. Pop culture is mostly so, so much better now. Jesus.
posted by emjaybee at 12:34 PM on July 8, 2015 [13 favorites]


I really liked Ready Player One when I read it. But I don't have any desire to go back an reread it right now. It's not like it was Back to the Future or The Goonies or anything and I have so much more other pulpy entertainment queued up.

I'm glad Ernie is making a living and I wish him luck but this Slate review makes it sound like I've already heard this note. Maybe it's the only one he's got, maybe he's cashing in, or maybe the reviewer is exaggerating.
posted by djeo at 12:34 PM on July 8, 2015


If nothing else, that's a talent.

Pardon, I mean, that's some serious bills-paying skillage.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:35 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wil Wheaton reading Ready Player One

I wonder how he read the completely inexcusable line in the book where there's an election for the User Committee or whatever and the narrator's like, "I just voted for Wil Wheaton and Cory Doctorow again, those two geezers had been doing an awesome job protecting user rights."

I wanted to throw the book across the room.
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:36 PM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


The 80s are over. Let them be over. Pop culture is mostly so, so much better now. Jesus.

It's no better or worse. It's just different. Such is the only mandate of pop culture - to change.

Anyway, now let me bore you with hering countercultural 80's music in grocery store. I suppose club hits like Blue Monday might be OK but a friend recently heard Head Like A Hole while buying milk which is beyond the pale I think. Why can't oldies be oldies-from-the-sixties forever?
posted by GuyZero at 12:36 PM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


All I have to say is thank god for these regular reminders that I am not alone in thinking that Ready Player One was utter dogshit.
posted by mightygodking at 12:37 PM on July 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


I did spend a lot of time explaining these sorts of tropes and D&D in general because he just couldn't get a lot of it.

I often wonder if the scene where someone has a horribly broken arm healed with a spell is funny to anyone that hasn't gotten into an argument with a DM over exactly how both heal checks and cure wounds spells work.
posted by griphus at 12:37 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pardon, I mean, that's some serious bills-paying skillage.

Air guitar!

Wait, is that 90s? The 90s do not exist in these books except Kevin Smith and Bill Hicks.
posted by Artw at 12:37 PM on July 8, 2015


wait is that a joke?
posted by griphus at 12:39 PM on July 8, 2015


There's nothing wrong with masturbation, either, but one doesn't usually do it in public and get paid seven figures for it. If nothing else, that's a talent.

"Masturbation is nothing to be ashamed of. It's nothing to be especially proud of, either." - Matt Groening, Life In Hell
posted by the phlegmatic king at 12:40 PM on July 8, 2015


You know what? I don't think that nerd culture is primarily about consumption.

I was thinking about punk, and how I would draw a distinction between punk and nerd culture by saying that punk always emphasizes low-fi creation as much as buying records or going to shows - "Things That Are Punk" always includes fanzines, certain types of art, making new vegan recipes, DIY clothes, using outdated technology for art...it may not be to everyone's taste, but if you're actually a part of a punk subculture, you're in a space that privileges making and doing.

Then I was thinking that nerd culture sure does privilege making and doing as well - what's fanfiction? Or various godawful comedy knit hats? Or gifs? Or cakes in the shape of Cthulhu? Or cosplay? Or fan art? (Consider the people who have gone from basically fan artists, like the woman who does Nimona, to having whole real careers.) Or all the computery stuff? People do make games on their own. Or making ridiculous things like, I dunno, giant plush aliens or whatever? Again, it may not be to your taste, but it's certainly a set of subcultures where making and doing are important.

I think that one reason nerd culture appears to be about consumption is that the consumption is the most mainstream-comprehensible and most respectable part. Like, if you spend your spare time crocheting a flying spaghetti monster hat, people probably think you're incredibly dorky. Only in the last couple of years has it become even remotely respectable even in nerd spaces to admit that you read or write fan fiction, and in mainstream spaces "fan fiction" is understood to mean absolutely nothing but badly written porn. But everyone can understand racing out to see Age of Ultron or whatever, and we're at a point where the capitalist respectability of collecting stuff has extended even unto collections of Star Wars figures.
posted by Frowner at 12:40 PM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


Is it too late to point out that Ready Player One is being made into a movie directed by Steven Speilberg, a primary source for 80's nostalia?
posted by Badgermann at 12:40 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anyway, now let me bore you with hering countercultural 80's music in grocery store.

Oh, I'm totally okay with this. Down here in the produce section, it's our time.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:40 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Next up in the pipe-Cline:

2016 - The Konami Code
When teenager Billy Blessingham purchases the world's last surviving copy of the November/December '88 issue of Nintendo Power, he finds a lot more than cheat codes inside. The magazine's Master Blaster gatefold contains a secret that could change the world — or destroy it, in much the same way that the premature release of E.T. destroyed Atari. Can Billy beat his high-score on Gradius, overcome an ancient conspiracy, and save mankind from a millennium of darkness? (Are you kidding, Icarus?)

2018 - The Light Guns of the South
When modern-day teenager Scotty Donderbeck is transported back to the Civil War, his 6000+ cumulative hours of Contra expertise help turn the tide for the Army of the Potomac. But when General Lee acquires a Power Glove and LaserScope, the conflict turns as deadly as the final level of Battletoads. If Scotty can't supply Abraham Lincoln with a cool peripheral, it might be...GAME OVER...for the Union.
posted by Iridic at 12:41 PM on July 8, 2015 [43 favorites]


Perhaps I should not have asked that genie to make Worlds of Power the model for the dominant literary genre of my adult years
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:43 PM on July 8, 2015


I admire Tomb of Horrors for its purity.
posted by Artw at 12:44 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I often wondeer if the scene where someone has a horribly broken arm healed with a spell is funny to anyone that hasn't gotten into an argument with a DM over exactly how both heal checks and cure wounds spells work.

If my Dad is any indication they would have a hard time recognizing that it's supposed to be funny. Just 'whoosh' right over their head. Now I want to go back to it again because I know there were a few things that I laughed at and he thought they were just serious drama parts that he didn't understand why they were supposed to be serious. This led to much conversation about 'well actually no it's funny because of 'trope or reference'.
The story he read was quite different then what I read. He did love the artwork though.

And yes trying to explain to someone who has never experienced D&D about the arguments(and humor) that happen is near impossible in my experience.
posted by Jalliah at 12:48 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


So all you have to do is re-write a second string 80s film and crowbar in a ton more of 70s and 80s nerd refs? Why didn't I do this years ago?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:51 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The book I read most recently that evoked a sense of nostalgia (for PBMs and the weird stuff you could find in a Wargames West catalog) was Wolf in White Van. Which did a lot of interesting stuff and was not a schlocky grab-bag.
posted by selfnoise at 12:54 PM on July 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


griphus: "There's no reason geek culture can't have both social issues based on the people involved and critical and cultural issues with the creative output."

Right, but the article and this post state: "Armada is everything wrong with gaming culture".
It's not.
posted by signal at 12:58 PM on July 8, 2015


I think that one reason nerd culture appears to be about consumption is that the consumption is the most mainstream-comprehensible and most respectable part.

I think you have a good point. We'd probably be having the same discussion with different names attached if punk culture had been picked up by the mainstream instead of nerd culture.

I think the part that makes me personally uncomfortable is the subset of nerd culture that is so unabashedly mainstream consumerist, I guess (exactly what this book seems to exalt). Just looking at Star Wars fandom, for example - those movies were commercial successes when they were originally released, right? And all the fan-made art and fiction and whatever else are all derivative of this very successful, very mainstream piece of pop media. Is that weird? It makes me feel funny about it, but I couldn't really tell you why. Maybe the same way people who speak to each other in movie quotes make me feel uncomfortable.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:00 PM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


backseatpilot, are you being a nerd hipster? y/n
posted by phatkitten at 1:03 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


you know, it's possible to write YA (and sci-fi) without such insultingly-juvenile plotting and characters, so why read this stuff?

Eh. I thought it was enjoyable fluff. But very fluff.

Sometimes you want to watch a serious movie that makes you ponder existence. Sometimes you want to wallow in guilt and suffering and put Grave of the Fireflies on.

But other times you want to basically get high on Cheetos and watch Mr. The Rock beat up an earthquake with his eyebrows, or just want to watch Gina Carano beat people up for 90 minutes while you chortle like Frito in Idiocracy. It's fine, but a sometimes-food.

In a few decades, will they be wheeling poor Billy Idol out to croak out Rebel Yell in the hopes of grabbing our attention?

I have it on good authority that Billy Idol still puts on a hell of a show and, if that matters to you and it's okay if it does because that's part of his schtick, is still USDA prime beefcake.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:04 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was in to Star Wars before it was uncool.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:04 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


the article and this post state: "Armada is everything wrong with gaming culture".
It's not.


Better?
posted by octobersurprise at 1:04 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


But other times you want to basically get high on Cheetos and watch Mr. The Rock beat up an earthquake with his eyebrows

No, I don't disagree at all. I read a lot of lightweight pulp. But lousy, inelegant prose is a tough sell for me.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:07 PM on July 8, 2015


Not book reviews. Hatchet jobs of the book's audience before the audience even reads the book. They might hate this book...

But fuck it. I'm sure J.K. Rowling will write another book. Do I start slagging college Quidditch teams now? Or wait for the preview copy?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:07 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Then I was thinking that nerd culture sure does privilege making and doing as well - what's fanfiction? Or various godawful comedy knit hats? Or gifs? Or cakes in the shape of Cthulhu? Or cosplay? Or fan art?

But that's for girls, and girls aren't real true geeks unless they're Vivian James levels of waifu, fawning over the fedora-ed protagonist.
posted by sukeban at 1:10 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Right, but the article and this post state: "Armada is everything wrong with gaming culture".
It's not.


What's the worst thing in gamer culture right now?

Well obviously it's GamerGate.

And why are the ridiculous twerps of GamerGate thee way they are?

Mostly because they are ridiculously self involved, have a worldview utterly detached from reality in which they are always the hero, and have big problems with women.

So I'd say there might be considerable overlap.
posted by Artw at 1:11 PM on July 8, 2015 [31 favorites]


I've been really happy to see the worm turn on Cline and the whole ethos of commodified nerd-pandering that his work represents, the empty self-congratulatory allusions and quotations (sorry, "references") as if, quite by itself, the ability to quote meant having taste, much less virtue. It's been a fairly quick shift, too; a couple of years ago (even here) Ready Player One was seemingly universally considered "smart" for doing the same stuff that the reviews rightly condemn as juvenile in Armada. Maybe it had to do with Cline's previously substantial subcultural authority, from the spoken-word comedy stuff, getting him a lot of slack from the mainstream critics, I don't know.
posted by RogerB at 1:12 PM on July 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think the part that makes me personally uncomfortable is the subset of nerd culture that is so unabashedly mainstream consumerist.

One of my favorite places to go and browse in my neck of the woods is Movie Stop. When I went to visit recently, I discovered that the DVD's from one half of the store had been stacked onto the other half, and the remaining floor space had been devoted to selling, bluntly, geek crap (Basically, any type of product that could carry a DC, Marvel, GoT or any number of other geek friendly logos).

Armada sounds a lot like a visit to Movie Stop where I enter that portion of the store and I can't get out!
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 1:12 PM on July 8, 2015


I was a teenager in the 80s. I play games (and work for PlayStation), but don't consider myself a part of the "gamer culture". I enjoyed "Ready Player One". Not "great literature", but it was a fun read, and more engaging than a lot of casual science fiction.

I read the article. I haven't read "Armada" yet. But when Ms. Hudson begins by stating that in her view, "games -- and gaming culture -- [are] boring, self-indulgent, and regressive", she's sort of tipping her hand. She repeatedly uses language ("self-absorbed", "onanistic", and more) that suggests she has particular critical and not very positive feelings about games and "gaming culture" (whatever that is) in general.

Which is fine. I'd argue the "culture" described in, and created around, many best-selling books as "self-absorbed and onanistic."

She criticizes "Ready Player One" for not being the book she wanted it to be. She didn't like its lack a critique of the things it was celebrating...but who wants a birthday party where everyone tells you how much of a jerk you can be and everything that's wrong with you? (I'd also argue the fundamental premise -- an obsessive weirdo building his own hermetic 80s VR world -- has some degree of commentary and critique baked right in.)

She legitimately criticizes the new book for being what it is: Another celebration/pastiche/pile of references. She gets it, she doesn't like it. Not even necessarily because it's not well done, but she seems to feel the author should have made something different, better, and more aspirational.

But it seems a stretch to say those particular failings, or even nostalgia or appreciation for the things you loved when you were young is "everything wrong with gaming culture".

There are plenty of cultures (and books) that glorify, glamorize, or insist that their particular Golden Age was the Goldenest. Singling out this as an error of GAMING culture, or even gaming CULTURE, strikes me as more click-bait-y positioning than anything else. (Is it really true that the "gaming culture" of today is really the group that idolizes the 80s? If you were 13 in 1980, you're 48 now.)

Whatever "gaming culture" actually is, it's currently synonymous with doxxing, harassing women, and other terrible behavior. I don't really see how that connects to the rest of the article. Those types of things aren't even touched on. The closest she comes is the seemingly obligatory "and there are no women in the book, except the mom and the girlfriend!" comments, and again, there's a long list of best-sellers that are just as guilty.

She's right in that, yeah, ideally, as artists and creators, we should aim higher. Not everyone does, and not all the time, whether it's your favorite blues-rock/soul/R&B/80s/old-school hip-hop band, movie-store-head film director, or hacky-but-popular author.

But the positioning and "outrage" seem designed for, well, Slate. Or Salon.
posted by Jinsai at 1:16 PM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


Which isn't to say that I don't own a Firefly T-shirt and my wife a Tardis Iphone case, but there is such a thing as overload.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 1:16 PM on July 8, 2015


One thing is that "nerd culture" is a conflation of several subcultures focusing mostly on something like "fan culture". Programmer/open source culture is surely a nerd culture but it's all about making stuff. I think Frowner makes a good case that there's a plenty of making in fan culture as well though.
posted by atoxyl at 1:16 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seriously, though, I think it's an interesting topic worth discussing, how people interact with the media they consume. And I think one of the problems (is that even the right word?) with a lot of nerd culture is its total unflinching acceptance and regurgitation of the media that defines it. Consumption of media in and of itself isn't a bad thing, but in nerd culture specifically there seems to be a strong uncritical or even anticritical attitude towards that consumption of media. And that's sort of the thing that rubs me the wrong way about stuff like Armada or Ready Player One - you're either good for knowing the references (and having therefore consumed the right type of media), or you're ostracized, sometimes violently, as an outsider.

And maybe that's really where the difference lies, then - not so much that nerds consume more than other cultures, but that the nature of that consumption is so... devoid of any sort of thought. Though I'm really happy to see that that seems to be changing somewhat, at least in the gaming areas that I pay the most attention to - people like the folks from Idle Thumbs, Austin Walker as the new hire at Giant Bomb, even Wil Wheaton (not specifically about video games, but still). It's not all bad.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:17 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


A movie version of Tomb of Horrors would be very, very short.
posted by echocollate at 1:17 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think the part that makes me personally uncomfortable is the subset of nerd culture that is so unabashedly mainstream consumerist.

I'm uncomfortable with that as well, but I don't think nerd culture is uniquely consumerist. It's like blaming one fish for being wet and ignoring the rest of the tank.
posted by maxsparber at 1:18 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine was like, "It was great! You should read it!" and then I read some review of it that made it sound like I would hate it intensely, so I ended up refraining from reading it so that I could continue to have friend-interactions that were "oh, I should getting around to reading that" instead of "let's talk about how this book was dreck"

That's probably wise, I made the unfortunate choice of attempting to read the first thirty pages or so before throwing the thing aside in disgust (and this was honestly the first time I've left a book unfinished out of anything other than distraction*), so now I can't convincingly claim innocence or heap bile on it. This has not significantly affected my confidence in my assessment of its merits, however.

* In retrospect I wish I'd done this with Land of Laughs, which gave all the same early indications that its prose/dialogue/character development/etc. would be uniformly awful.
posted by invitapriore at 1:18 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the part that makes me personally uncomfortable is the subset of nerd culture that is so unabashedly mainstream consumerist.

But what's wrong with that? How is a jazz fan who owns the complete Blue Note Records discography, or a Shakespeare enthusiast who maintains a vast collection of the Bard's plays and writings on them, any different than someone who has a massive Star Wars collection? The easy snark here is that the first two are considered classier, but that's just taste. All three of them are just consuming.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:18 PM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Man, I remember when jazz fans were the nerds.
posted by maxsparber at 1:21 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I had the same reaction as Jinsai above. I kept skimming for anything related to the toxic parts of gaming culture she hints at in the beginning but the whole review can be neatly summarized "critic blasts book for not being the one she would have written."
posted by echocollate at 1:22 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


oh god I just realized I'm well on the way to becoming almost exactly an Old Jazz Nerd except for Nintendo and Star Wars trivia and also not buying gold-plated stabilizer stands for my Infinophonic record player or whatever.
posted by griphus at 1:25 PM on July 8, 2015


Opera buffs aren't reading opera fanfic and cosplaying as Don Giovanni, I guess.

I actually agree with your overall point but fanfic and cosplay are exactly the opposite of blind consumerism. The problem is that mainstream nerd culture views fanfic and cosplay as icky girl things.

Mostly because they are ridiculously self involved, have a worldview utterly detached from reality in which they are always the hero, and have big problems with women.

So I'd say there might be considerable overlap.


Yep yep yep.
posted by kmz at 1:26 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I literally can't tell whether or not this is a joke.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:26 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


And that's sort of the thing that rubs me the wrong way about stuff like Armada or Ready Player One - you're either good for knowing the references (and having therefore consumed the right type of media), or you're ostracized, sometimes violently, as an outsider

But again, how is this different than any other subculture? To use the jazz example again, you'd be laughed out of the room if you were talking to jazz lovers and didn't know who Charlie Parker or Miles Davis were. Music snobs in general are much worse about this, making fun of people who haven't heard of this artist or that album.

Yet when you're discussing games or something with people who are into games it's somehow weird or wrong when they do it.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:27 PM on July 8, 2015


How is a jazz fan who owns the complete Blue Note Records discography, or a Shakespeare enthusiast who maintains a vast collection of the Bard's plays and writings on them, any different than someone who has a massive Star Wars collection?

Is the question here "How is an obsessive collector different from an obsessive collector?" or "How is my collection of (still in the box) Star Wars figurines any different from the Folger Library?"
posted by octobersurprise at 1:32 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


While reading the article I couldn't help but think of the movie Pixels. Looks fun, but not entirely original and likely not well-executed.
posted by GrapeApiary at 1:34 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


GrapeApiary: "Looks fun, but not entirely original and likely not well-executed."

Plus, there's the whole Adam Sandler thing. Ick.
posted by signal at 1:35 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think there's a naked commercialism with a lot of this stuff that's part of the gross-out factor. I mean, I liked "He-Man" and all when I was a kid, but even then I realized that the only reason it existed was to sell action figures. There's something that feels weird about people spending all of their own disposable income on nostalgia for television commercials, and it's gotten worse now that there's all this higher end and/or grown-up merchandise, too. Too grown up for action figures? Buy this limited edition set of "G.I. Joe" shot glasses. You don't see that nearly as much in music subcultures (outside of the Juggalo scene, of course).
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:36 PM on July 8, 2015


But when Ms. Hudson begins by stating that in her view, "games -- and gaming culture -- [are] boring, self-indulgent, and regressive", she's sort of tipping her hand.

You left out the critical modifier "so often".

She repeatedly uses language ("self-absorbed", "onanistic", and more) that suggests she has particular critical and not very positive feelings about games and "gaming culture" (whatever that is) in general.

I wonder why?

Whatever "gaming culture" actually is, it's currently synonymous with doxxing, harassing women, and other terrible behavior.
posted by kmz at 1:37 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


To use the jazz example again, you'd be laughed out of the room if you were talking to jazz lovers and didn't know who Charlie Parker or Miles Davis were.

Have you read Ready Player One or Armada? Because you kind of seem to be missing the point of the critique of Cline here; it's not that there's something wrong with knowing basic things about one's chosen field of art, it's treating merely knowing those basic things as if it were a mark of deep, clever, and ennobling connoisseurship that is the problem with Cline's shtick. Imagine a version of, I don't know, Geoff Dyer's But Beautiful or whatever where the wittiest line in the book is the main character essentially turning to the reader, eyebrows awiggle, and going "I was sad. You know, I was feeling… kind of blue."
posted by RogerB at 1:37 PM on July 8, 2015 [14 favorites]


I don't mind that he wrote Ready Player One. I hate that he wrote the wrong ending.
posted by persona at 1:37 PM on July 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


While reading the article I couldn't help but think of the movie Pixels. Looks fun, but not entirely original and likely not well-executed.

Heh, I thought it looked like an abomination.
posted by kmz at 1:40 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


But then, is "Marvel everything" really nerd culture? Or is it a commodification of nerd culture designed to appeal to people who are interested in splashy movies in general but not in nerd stuff in particular?

Like, in the mid-nineties when there was a burst of commodification of punk, there was some fun mainstream stuff - I got a bunch of neat funny colored make-up from Urban Decay, for instance, and I certainly enjoyed the ease of finding clompy shoes. There were plenty of products of punk's mainstreaming, in short, that were sometimes consumed and enjoyed by people who actively participated in punk subcultures.

So I'm not trying to say "punk became popular and accessible, and therefore everything sucked". I'm trying to say that certain aspects of punk subcultures were mass produced and made accessible, and those things were chosen because they were likely to appeal to a very wide audience of people who mostly - only mostly! - didn't especially want to make fanzines or learn to dumpster. Some of those things were neat and fun, some of them were stupid, some of them were probably pretty exciting if you had never seen anything like them before.

By definition, if we are all nerds now, "nerd" doesn't really mean much more than consumer - that's all it can mean. If everyone is eager to see Age of Ultron, then Age of Ultron isn't really a nerd thing in any meaningful sense.

"Nerd culture" is trickier to define than "punk" because punk has a variety of fairly-well articulated ideologies about itself and is pinned to a particular historical moment - we all know approximately when punk starts, even if we argue about whether it really started in the sixties, with Lou Reed, in 1977, etc. In this respect, yeah, I think nerd culture is much easier to sell than punk - and certainly, even when Green Day was really, really big and so on, none of it was anything like all this Bronies/cosplay/Marvel-reboot business.

On the other hand, the playfulness of nerd culture (unlike the super-seriousness of punk - like, there's humor in punk subcultures, but they're not fundamentally lighthearted) does mean that it can stoop to engage with commerce and turn it into something else. It's true that if you make a six foot plush Cthulhu in your spare time, or if you write a quite serious 50,000-word pastiche of Jane Eyre only with mutants, or you invent your own queer superheroes, it's true that you're still engaging with cynically mass-produced culture. And I think that even the best fanfic (I've read some really astonishingly good fanfic in the past few years*, on several occasions finding novels that were fully capable of standing on their own) isn't going to do what, say, Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy does in terms of complexity and discomfort.

But we do live in an intensely commodified world. It's interesting - if you try to get out of the commodified world by refusing to watch TV or trying to dumpster all your food or doing some other idiosyncratic thing, people (including me, including metafilter) tend to make fun of you for being juvenile or snobby. And then if you engage with the commodified world and write your 50,000-word Jane-Eyre-with-mutants fic* then people get on your case for not being original enough.


*There is a Jane Eyre with mutants pastiche, and I think it's really quite good as pastiche fics go. Much more sentimental than the original, of course.
posted by Frowner at 1:42 PM on July 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


Remember when Tony and Paulie Walnuts were down in Miami and Paulie wouldn't stop with the inane reminiscing and Tony finally gets fed up and tells him "'remember when' is the lowest form of conversation?"
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:42 PM on July 8, 2015 [15 favorites]


That line was burned into my head when I heard it and has affected my life in ways way the hell outsize to its intention.
posted by griphus at 1:43 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


where the wittiest line in the book is the main character essentially turning to the reader, eyebrows awiggle, and going "I was sad. You know, I was feeling… kind of blue."

OTOH, that has the makings of a great Kip Addotta song.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:49 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Of course it's a nostalgia-fest with a wafer-thin plot. I don't think it pretends to be otherwise, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying that."

I don't know about other people, but I think there must have been something the wrong with me when I read RPO through in a couple of days. I don't think there's definitely much wrong with escapist reading in general, but there's a limit, for me, and the feeling I had when I reached the completely predictable ending was very clearly mild guilt.
posted by holist at 2:05 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


This thread is endlessly delightful for me. When I wrote my hate-review of Ready Player One back in the day, I was the only person I'd even heard of who hadn't loved it, much less actively hated it!

I wanted to love that book too, so, so, so much. As a hardcore gamer who grew up in the 80s it sounded like it was supposed to be riiiiight in my wheelhouse. And it just... wasn't, which left me with that nasty hangover feeling "yeah but you don't REALLY count because you're a girl" that I get plenty enough of from gaming circles elsewhere already. Sigh.
posted by Andrhia at 2:11 PM on July 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


“We fear that pop culture is the only kind of culture we're ever going to have” - Nicole Blackman's Indictment, as quoted in KMFDM's “Dogma”
posted by Going To Maine at 2:21 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I grew up in the 80s but lived overseas with my family for big chunks of it, so a lot of pop references have sort of been learned backwards for me - VH1 specials, nostalgia programming, that sort of thing. And I didn't play D&D or many video games beyond the occasional PacMan, nor did I see most of the classic 80s movies when they were released. (I will cop to being hit by Labyrinth at exactly the right age.) For me, Ready Player One was fun, but slight, with some of the pleasures of recognition but not from my own childhood so perhaps they weren't more intense. Had he focused more on Labyrinth and My Little Ponies, he might have snared me, I guess. Instead my reaction was more like, "oh yeah, that was a thing."

It's cute and fluffy and has a pat ending but I liked reading it. I also like the idea of the alternate ending linked to above, but it makes me think of something Sayers has Harriet Vane think in Gaudy Night: that if she writes this character with real human motivations it'll throw the rest of the book completely out of whack because the rest of the book's shallowness will become instantly obvious. That ending would be great but boy, would it make the book lopsided. It's a fun way to kill a few hours, which is usually how I recommend it to people.
posted by PussKillian at 2:26 PM on July 8, 2015


it's to highlight how little about real horror you can learn from films, and how little it leaves you prepared for it.

I figure I'm safe as long as I don't say "klaatu barada nikto"

I think it's OK to type that out

will check back in later to advise if possessed by demons
posted by Hoopo at 2:29 PM on July 8, 2015


wait no i don't even know what words to avoid i am fucked
posted by Hoopo at 2:31 PM on July 8, 2015


I just want to pop in to recommend the Terry Pratchett novel Only You Can Save Mankind! to which Artw gave a shout-out in the FPP title. I haven't read it since a year or two after it came out, but IIRC it mines a very similar "video game suddenly acquires real stakes" vein with ptypical aplomb. I certainly remember the (male) protagonist's interaction with his (female) rival as less cringe-inducing than what's described in the FPP.

I enjoyed it immensely and I think it's a slightly under-regarded corner of Pratchett's oeuvre. It was nice to be reminded of it. Thanks, Artw!
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 2:42 PM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


People are nostalgic about Omnis? Is it a GLH?

The three guys who bought GLH's didn't live to tell about it.

My first car was a '78 (maybe '79) Dodge Omni. It was this bright electric blue color. It had the 1.7L VW engine and a manual transmission. I had a blast in that car. It just kept going through rain or snow. Then, one day, this old dude in a big Buick t-boned me. Damned if that little car didn't survive and, after repair, was good as new. I really liked that little car a lot.

Eventually, though, the head developed some micro-cracks and it kept losing coolant. Traded it for a new Honda Civic Si hatchback.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:44 PM on July 8, 2015


I really hated Ready Player One when I read it a month or so ago. I'm glad I'm not the only one. I thought it was the worst Mary Sue-ing in a novel I'd ever read. (One of the plot points is the main character getting a perfect high score in pacman, for one damning instance among many.) And that's beyond the bizarre aspect that those countless 80's references aren't MY personal 80s references. Reading the book is like sitting in a room with someone who's knowledge of the 80s comes from a collection of bad listicles.

I lived through the 80s once; never again. Nostalgia is a trap, it quickly overtakes the weather for droll conversation.
posted by Catblack at 2:47 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


This dude reminds me of those customized books Ray Smuckles gets for people, only with 80s nerd inserts instead of Williams Sonoma
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:50 PM on July 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


My problem is I'm nostalgic for all the wrong things. Bring back jelly bracelets, jams, and Falcon Crest!
posted by echocollate at 2:57 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I lived through the 80s once; never again.

I'd go back. I'd rule that decade like the nerd-king I should have been.

I'd be the one with the power.

What power?

The power of voodoo.

That should have been me on-screen with Jennifer Connelly.
posted by GuyZero at 2:59 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Artw: "And why are the ridiculous twerps of GamerGate thee way they are?

Mostly because they are ridiculously self involved, have a worldview utterly detached from reality in which they are always the hero, and have big problems with women.
"

There's plenty of self involved, reality-detached, hero-delusional, women problem having people who don't act out like GGers.

The GGers are all of the above, plus they are sociopaths. The problem is not how maladjusted and nerdy you are, but the doxxing, the SWATting, the rape threats, etc.

Saying that GGers are sociopaths because they like games and '80s stuff is like blaming Columbine on industrial pop-rock.
posted by signal at 3:05 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Cline's "stories" are exactly the same. It's no longer enjoyable, it's not art, it's just like listening to a profoundly boring freshman date talk at you incessantly about Pokémans while you are doing everything you can to signal that maybe there are other conversation topics.

I get that reference!
posted by Monochrome at 3:06 PM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]




This dude reminds me of those customized books Ray Smuckles gets for people, only with 80s nerd inserts instead of Williams Sonoma

Our brave hero Puck-Man (NOT Pac-Man) entered his sort of a cross between an X-Wing and a shuttlecraft starfighter eager to take the fight to Bad Gundams . He shouted his battlecry "Spoon! (you know from the Tick)", turned on the engines and played "Eye of the Tiger" but unironically on the stereo. He knew in his heart today was a good day to I don't get this one.
posted by griphus at 3:11 PM on July 8, 2015 [17 favorites]


I read RPO a few summers ago, and thought it was a pleasant beach read. I don't see how a critic could have any rancor for it besides simply disliking it based on preference.

The references and nostalgia were thick, yes, but that was part of the plot. The Bill Gates / Steve Jobs character who designed the OASIS was a lonely man who didn't have much else besides his nostalgia for an earlier era. And his gazillions of dollars. Everybody was forced to appreciate his interests due to the nature of the scavenger hunt he set up. They didn't really have a choice, and his tastes were not really representative of some cultural highpoint-- just representative of a lonely gazillionaire's diversions.

Obviously Cline is also a fan of much of that pop culture ephemera, but he doesn't exactly make a case for the pop culture being worthwhile on its own, or his hero being a better person because he knows how to play Joust. The hero is basically a decent guy who wins the game by virtue of his talents and hard work.

I think that is a much more accurate persona for your average gamer. Not too special in the real world, but basically decent, and driven to win based on talents and hard work. Quite a few self-identifying gamers don't have the opportunities to win in life due to circumstances beyond their control, so winning in video games is an emotional proxy. This isn't a problem with games so much as a problem with life, or at the very least a problem with how many of us are taught to live (and win).

So sure, it was a bit of a power fantasy where winning the game meant winning in life (or at least becoming fabulously wealthy). But the whole conceit of the book was that the lonely gazillionaire couldn't solve his loneliness with his gazillion dollars, or his global network, so he created a treasure hunt to find his successor (of sorts) to continue his work and perhaps solve his real problem. The real triumph of the hero is meeting the girl and finding a real connection, which is how the book ends. It's also worth noting that she's basically on a par with him, and potentially not even really a girl up until the very end, which is a sort of interesting way for any hero to discover love.

A lightweight book for sure, but really not at all malevolent or exclusionary. And somewhat open in its discussion of obsession, nostalgia, and loneliness. I don't see how anybody could read it and have an issue with the excessive cultural references: they are the central quirk of the dead genius, and nothing more. Everybody simply had to play in his world, which didn't make it the best world-- just the world of one lonely genius. If anything I came away from reading it feeling sorry for him and happy for the hero that he found a real connection in the non-OASIS world.
posted by a_curious_koala at 3:19 PM on July 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm a 40-year-old geek who grew up super nerdy and is pretty darn into video games. Ready Player One should be about "my culture", but I looooooathed it. In jest I call it "Reddit Player One" because it reminds me of the nerds who corner you at a party and talk endlessly about their Pokemons to prove their geekhood.

Pages of the books -- literal pages -- are just pandering lists of brands and famous names that the protagonist loves or sees around him. It's the literary equivalent to a rock band starting their set with "We're so happy to be here in .. NAME OF CITY". And that's not even getting into Cline's tired stereotypes of the honor-bound Japanese warrior or the love interest lady who is pretty but not TOO pretty.

To be fair I probably would have been pretty into this book at like 12, when I was still running around extensively shouting Monty Python quotes.

(My own original hate-review of RPO was via podcast.)
posted by jess at 3:20 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I haven't read RPO but the descriptions make it sound like Sarah Vowell's comment on 'High Fidelity' and the special kind of young man hell where knowing lots of trivia about music is more important then being able to express what that music means to you or why.
posted by The Whelk at 3:22 PM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


There's something kind of terrifyingly beautiful about the fact that this is the same guy who wrote FANBOYS, a movie nostalgic for the nostalgia surrounding PHANTOM MENACE, a movie that is itself nostalgic for STAR WARS. This is Inception-level, you guys, and we're all trapped in Limbo desperately hoping we hear Edith Piaf soon as we wait for the kick.
posted by incessant at 3:41 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


And that's not even getting into Cline's tired stereotypes of ... the love interest lady who is pretty but not TOO pretty.

ha ha it's even more like Land of Laughs than I thought
posted by invitapriore at 3:47 PM on July 8, 2015


I don't know Cline or his work, and he might be fantastic, but put it this way: I didn't start reading sci-fi in order to be comforted. If I did, I'd never have touched The Scar, and then where would I be?
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 3:48 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Could you give some recommendations of "work that isn't just trying to sell you a laundry list of things you recognize from your childhood in the early digital age", stuff that's on the other side of the nostalgia line you posit from Cline?

The Magicians kinda nailed this, I thought
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:55 PM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


A movie version of Tomb of Horrors would be very, very short.

It would have to be like Run Lola Run or Groundhog Day where we see some promising attempts fail and then a clean run through it hinting it must have taken a million tries.
posted by nom de poop at 3:59 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


It would have to be like Run Lola Run or Groundhog Day where we see some promising attempts fail and then a clean run through it hinting it must have taken a million tries.

More like a sword-and-sorcery fantasy version of Edge of Tomorrow instead of scifi.
posted by GuyZero at 4:02 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]



I haven't read RPO but the descriptions make it sound like Sarah Vowell's comment on 'High Fidelity' ...


Very applicable, yes.

I wonder if Jo Walton's Among Others might be the Hugo winning equivalent of RPO only pandering to the lit-SF crowd, but I think the distinction is that the big old laundry lists in that generally have some kind of context and meaning within the story - it's not just the "and the spaceship was the Serenity from Firefly, because nerds, right?" style of referencing.
posted by Artw at 4:06 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I get that reference!
posted by Monochrome at 6:06 PM on July 8 [2 favorites +] [!]


And I get THAT reference!
posted by The Bellman at 4:12 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hey, all this talk of jazz nerds reminds me, ha ha, did you... the CDs...? No? Well, that's okay. Hey, how about I come over this weekend and we listen to them together? Are you free Saturday from 7 am through 10 pm?
posted by No-sword at 4:16 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Magicians kinda nailed this, I thought

And in The Magicians, Quentyn's nostalgia makes him blind to things around him, makes him make bad decisions. The first Magicians book is very much about nostalgia; it's not just using it to illicit an easy emotional response from the reader.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:17 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I suspect ultimately Fleming might be to blame, what with namechecking all kinds of brand names for his protagonist to show how special and exclusive the products he appreciated were, along with weird little cocktail recipes and the exact right fussy way he liked his scrambled eggs.
posted by Artw at 4:23 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


PPS: And I did not mean to imply that Rush is not still the best music of all time *begins air drumming to Tom Sawyer while awkwardly flailing head around*

The Rush appreciation thread is over here.
posted by effbot at 4:34 PM on July 8, 2015


I thought Ready Player One was lots of lightweight fun, but I suppose I'm in the right nostalgia-hook demographic. And, I must admit, I'm woefully uncritical of Things I Like. Hell, I went back and reread a bunch of Heinlein's juveniles in my mid 40s for the first time in 30 years, and had a rollicking good time, even with my Adult Perspective.

So I'll probably read this new one, too.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:36 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Derailing the thread a little, can someone tell me the appeal of Magicians? I haven't read it yet, was planning to, but it kind of sounds like a straight-up fanfic of Harry Potter or something. Can someone clue me in?
posted by nushustu at 4:40 PM on July 8, 2015


I suspect ultimately Fleming might be to blame, what with namechecking all kinds of brand names for his protagonist to show how special and exclusive the products he appreciated were, along with weird little cocktail recipes and the exact right fussy way he liked his scrambled eggs.

I'll disagree with this - I think that fetishizing luxuries has been a thing for a long time. (See Thomas Piketty's obsession with Balzac, & Veblen's theory of conspicuous consumption.) But I'd bet that a good essay on how Fleming really ran away with the idea could turn me around.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:45 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just have this word uneasy feeling to the idea of someone making YA books for people in their 40s. I mean, I don't have anything against Olds reading YA books- I have a bunch of them on my bookshelf.

But I keep thinking that those books should be written for actual YA people. Making them for people who aren't actually young adults just seems like when patents try to dress up youth styles to prove they're still "cool" and "with it".
posted by happyroach at 4:45 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ready Player One was the literary equivalent of a band coming out and saying the name of your city name over and over for applause, if that were the entire set.
posted by neuromodulator at 4:49 PM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Oh wow, I would read something set in a D&D world where everyone's aware of the mechanics but don't know there's a DM, except for the cynical protagonist who hates munchkining but does it because it's real life there. And when she thinks something doesn't make sense she argues with the DM through their communication channel. When she gets unexpected results (that may also set precedent for rolls and allowed actions other people make) she's seen as a messiah.
posted by halifix at 4:57 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I would read something set in a D&D world where everyone's aware of the mechanics but don't know there's a DM

I think what you want is Scalzi's Redshirts.
posted by GuyZero at 4:59 PM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Derailing the thread a little, can someone tell me the appeal of Magicians? I haven't read it yet, was planning to, but it kind of sounds like a straight-up fanfic of Harry Potter or something.

To put it very crudely and arguably unfairly, Magicians:Chronicles of Narnia::Watchmen:Pre-grimdark superhero comics. Definitely not Harry Potter fanfic. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who came up on serious regular-kids-stumble-into-fantasy-world fare.
posted by No-sword at 5:18 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I liked RPO, though was disappointed with Armada excerpts as well - but then again I clicked a Slate link...something I swore off months ago. I also liked Scalzi's Redshirts and this sounds a lot like it. Wolf in a White Van was really good, but not for everyone.

Nerd Nostalgia is so many different things - I thought I was the only introverted kid playing piles of C64 games, D&D or Traveler or whichever RPG I was into at the time, listening to thrash metal (and occasionally Rush), dropping quarters into machines at an arcade run by drug dealers, watching crappy movies by Golan and Globus, piling up X-Men comic books, reading Piers Anthony and Neal Stephenson, trying to play Squad Leader, watching Red Dwarf and the Young Ones but not understanding every word.... many have the same nerd history, some exactly the same. And I can also believe some don't want to relive it. Reading RPO was fun - it reminded me that some part of those things I tried to hide/change/ignore about myself were okay.
posted by vonstadler at 5:53 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


(Haven't read these books, don't really want to. BUT! If you want to read a novel composed almost entirely of pop culture reference, I recommend Penn Jillette's "Sock". Yes, THAT Penn Jillette. "Sock" is not a Great Novel. It's not even a Very Good Novel. But it is overflowing with references to song lyrics. Practically ever sentence quotes, refers to, or obliquely plays upon a snippet of popular song. Everything from The Ink Spots to Hüsker Dü gets churned up in the mix. I read it less for the story and more for the fun of catching the author's next allusion. It's a deep dive into pop music, like a narrative version of Music Trivia Night.

So if you like things like that, that's a thing you might like.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:54 PM on July 8, 2015


Hmm. Surprised at the GRAR for RPO.

It was a love letter to the 1980s. Nothing more. It has no power to invalidate or otherwise injure your memory or experiences of those years, if you're old enough.

That said, I have no desire to read Armada. I'm mad enough at Stephenson for Seveneves right now that I don't have the energy to be angry at Cline, too...
posted by Thistledown at 5:55 PM on July 8, 2015


I'm surprised by the GRAR too. I mean, there's lots of media that has a strong nostalgia reference element to it: Homestar Runner, Wreck-it Ralph and Kung Fury (mentioned upthread), and though they aren't everyone's cup of tea, I haven't seen the word "hate" applied to any of them either.
posted by FJT at 6:09 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Derailing the thread a little, can someone tell me the appeal of Magicians? I haven't read it yet, was planning to, but it kind of sounds like a straight-up fanfic of Harry Potter or something.

It's a Harry Potter/Narnia crossover and it's main appeal is that you can buy it in a bookstore or on amazon.

The way language was used in Ready Player One and The Magicians seemed pretty similar to me. They were like screenplays, depth to be added later by the actors and the camera.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:39 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I would read something set in a D&D world where everyone's aware of the mechanics but don't know there's a DM

There is a whole genre of Let Me Tell About My D&D Game on Kindle Direct. Some books try to be cunning with how they handle the mechanics that govern the players' lives, others... not so much. NPCs had a concept that the writer's prose couldn't quite do justice to, but it's worth the 4 bucks.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:56 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


1) RPO doesn't just allude to 80's pop culture, or reference it, it explains it. You don't have to know it to get it, because you're told, because otherwise what's going on might not make sense to you.
2) RPO's hero & narrator's main attribute is that he heroically likes 80's pop culture more than anybody else

In more effective reference-heavy media (e.g., Wreck-it Ralph or HomestarRunner), the references are slyer/more subtle. You'll probably miss some of them, but that's fine. OTOH, in RPO, it's one character making the references, and another character picking up on it, laughing at it, and then explaining the joke to us.

I just looked up an example: The lich king challenges him to a joust and he thinks it's horses, but then he "couldn't help but grinning" as he realizes it's the video game, and then we get a paragraph explaining how Joust works, and another paragraph unconvincingly explaining how the hero could possibly feel a deep connection with this particular out-of-date media artifact.

In some ways this makes RPO more like reading the Homestar Runner wiki than watching the actual Homestar Runner cartoons.
posted by aubilenon at 7:29 PM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


I didn't hate RPO, but I thought it was total weaksauce. When I read it, just after its debut, it was receiving lots of acclaim. I became convinced that this was one thing I would just never understand.

My GRAR comes from the liberating feeling that I'm not alone; I was not wrong to find flaws in it.
posted by Monochrome at 7:33 PM on July 8, 2015


For the curious:

James Bond’s Scrambled Eggs (From the Ian Fleming short story “007 in New York”):
(serves four ‘individualists’)

12 fresh eggs

salt and pepper

5-6 oz. fresh butter.

Break the eggs into a bowl. Beat thoroughly with a fork and season well. In a small copper (or heavy-bottomed saucepan) melt four oz. of the butter. When melted, pour in the eggs and cook over a very low heat, whisking continuously with a small egg whisk. While the eggs are slightly more moist than you would wish for eating, remove pan from heat, add rest of butter, and continue whisking for half a minute, adding the while finely chopped chives or fine herbs. Serve on hot buttered toast in individual copper dishes (for appearance only) with pink champagne (Taittainger) and low music.

posted by Artw at 7:36 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Source
posted by Artw at 7:38 PM on July 8, 2015


I should back up a bit because my comment sounds kind of scathing, but really my overall response was basically the same as blahblahblah's: "I did actually get some joy out of Ready Player One, though I felt bad about it throughout."

Which actually is kind of similar to how I feel whenever I spend several hours reading the Homestar Runner Wiki. So at least my claims are consistent.
posted by aubilenon at 7:39 PM on July 8, 2015


I just finished listening to RPO today. I knew going in that I wasn't the target demographic for this book, because a) I grew up in the 60's, not the 80's; b) I don't game like these characters do; and c) I HATE virtual reality stories.

And I was right. I thought it was dumb and predictable, with no real tension to the plot. It was utterly predictable in a very Hollywood-like way. It didn't challenge ANYTHING. So, boring for me. But I did listen to the whole book, so it does have SOME narrative power. But not enough to make me want to read anything else that Cline writes.

Oh, & Wil Wheaton's delivery of the line about him & Doctorow was pretty deadpan. I listened hard for a smile in his voice & didn't hear it. I don't always like his narrations, but I agree he did a good job here.
posted by Archer25 at 8:09 PM on July 8, 2015


I was born during the Clinton administration. For the first 15 years of my life, no one would shut up about the '80s. My dad was forced me to listen to Van Halen, my mom took me to Huey Lewis concerts, politicians fell over themselves to cite Reagan, Dukes of Hazzard re-runs were always on TV, and no one seemed to understand my lack of interest in Back to the Future. I tried to appreciate it all, really -- every authority figure in my life insisted that this was the best American culture had to offer.

But I couldn't do it. Yeah, there were high points that stuck with me (the Violent Femmes! Janet Jackson! Dirty Dancing! Alien!). So much of it, though, was objectively bad, and only foisted on my generation out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia. People in this thread have been drawing on '60s fatigue as a reference point for how these things might read to young people today. I'm inclined to believe they're similar, with one important caveat: the '60s political revolution is rightfully celebrated today, while the '80s political revolution was basically an act of large-scale evil. Both are hard to extricate from the culture produced alongside them.

All of which is to say that I was probably never going to enjoy Ready Player One. But what tipped me over the edge from mere boredom to active dislike was the contrived scenario, hilariously and depressingly repeated in Armada, wherein the main character is a modern teenager who simply recognizes the superiority of '80s nerd culture. It's especially ridiculous when there's such a strong focus on video games -- the one medium which was so hobbled by technology that releases from the '90s forward are (more or less) strictly better. It reminds me so much of all the shouting sunburnt suburban dads of my youth: "What's this Pokemans crap? We used to watch good cartoons, like Speed Racer!"

And without those constant jolts of recognition, the book is just awful. It doesn't even attempt the emotional resonance that made a lot of that '80s culture worthwhile. Nostalgia is such a rich and easy subject -- innocence and its loss are as close to universal as themes get. But the book has no heart, just a hippocampus and a dick. And let's not even talk about (but actually let's talk about) how the world of the story revolves around nerdy white men to such an extent that Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton have literally been elected perpetual kings of the universe. The only minority representation is (spoiler, I guess) a black lesbian who spends the entire novel pretending to be a straight white boy so she can be "normal."

Sorry for ranting, but I read this book based on MeFi's glowing recommendation, and I'm still a little bitter. :P
posted by New Year at 8:12 PM on July 8, 2015 [19 favorites]


Soon I Will Be Invincible is a pretty good homage example of well-done cultural referencing (superheroes, in this case, from Golden Age through angsty '90s). I always feel compelled to bring it up in any thread which mentions The Magicians because I think it does several of the things The Magicians was trying to do, but better.

And the authors are apparently twin brothers. Always wondered if they read each other's work.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:29 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


In some ways this makes RPO more like reading the Homestar Runner wiki than watching the actual Homestar Runner cartoons.

Maybe that explains it, because I actually like reading the H*R Wiki (and other Wikis about stuff I like).
posted by FJT at 8:33 PM on July 8, 2015


Ready Player One was considerably worse than just thin and self-indulgent (and I will say I read it amiably enough and finished it without particular rancor). It is a categorical failure of world creation: a gruel-thin pastiche of dystopian clichés with one hundred percent of the significant narrative texture composed of skinning dodgy, weakly formed virtual reality with other artist's creations. It's character arc is a huge narrative failure: at the point when the protagonist should be getting sharpened by the application of increasing duress and limitation of options (right after he gets driven from his home, such as it was, by his enemies), the author sets him up in a sweet apartment where he effortlessly stacks up cash by virtue of his elite skills at, you know, geek bullshit. The sort of final absurd fillip of this section being the brief aside where it's related that he took some of these riches and gets effortlessly fit and tough, without so much as a montage to earn it. There's wish fulfillment and then again there's just straight-up pandering. There's that great little bit where you find out that his best friend turns out to be, ugh I don't even remember, like a fat woman of color? Something like that? And the main takeaway is how it's sad that she didn't realize how awesomely cool and chill he would by about it, you know as the awesome white dude he is. Because if there's one thing we're learning about gamer culture this decade it's how fucking awesomely chill and accepting it is about diversity. And then he does some shit and wins the game? I don't really remember the specifics there either.

For all that he had some oddly effective chops when it came to narrative and plot and I kept turning pages, and I sort of hoped that he would shed some of the egregious junk and turn that skill on something a little meaner, leaner and more enlightened. Sounds like he went the opposite direction, and smartly so I'm sure, Wikipedia saying he sold the rights to Universal for 7 figures. I imagine Universal did okay distributing the first Last Starfighter, I imagine they'll do okay producing this one. I'm headed back into my cave, grump grump.
posted by nanojath at 8:46 PM on July 8, 2015 [13 favorites]


MetaFilter: No heart, just a hippocampus and a dick
posted by Iridic at 9:58 PM on July 8, 2015


I'd bet that a good essay on how Fleming really ran away with the idea could turn me around.

IIRC, Fleming was literally a fetishist and a sadist. He writes about all sensual pleasures with the same kind of ravishing exactitude that you find reserved for whips and leather in certain strains of pornography. Where the sheen on the surface of the riding boot gets you three-quarters of the way there, and the actual fucking is a mildly distasteful necessity best dispensed with as quickly as possible, like flossing. Notice in the scrambled eggs recipe he never once mentions how the damn things taste.


I think this is only because the generation/social class that supports opera as an artform isn't generally clued into either fanfic or cosplay of fandom in general. I suspect if there was a critical mass of young fans of opera, they would be doing exactly that.

I keep rolling this comment over in my mind. Because my first instinct was that the kind of people who are into opera would never be into cosplay, e.g. that an affinity of taste is what draws people into becoming fans of a particular art, and the culture of fandom that grows up around that art derives from and feeds on that affinity. Whereas you seem to be suggesting that the appeal of practicing the rituals of enthusiasm is irrelevant to the object of that enthusiasm; if the kind of people who cosplay happened to get into opera, they'd cosplay the shit out of opera. I don't know what I think about this.
posted by maggiepolitt at 11:00 PM on July 8, 2015


Well if you go back to when Opera and musicals where either hugely popular mass entertainment or Entertainment For the Elities Who aWould Attend One literally Every Week At Least, then yeah Opera and theatre TOTALLY drove fashion trends and fads and revivals , not sure what a 17th century equilvenet to a comics convention would be but fancy dress up/costume balls were totally popular things and you bet people where copying and referencing the things they saw on stage.
posted by The Whelk at 11:36 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Maybe it would be dressing up like a character in an opera while you watched it? which seems more like wearing a sporting jersey or painting you ur face team colors to watch a match? but also you'd be expected to wear something eye catching and show off in certain contexts? iDK this is a weird comparison )
posted by The Whelk at 11:38 PM on July 8, 2015


Wow. I'm surprised this thread turned into an RPO venting session, though I guess it was time for some blowback. I didn't find anything distasteful in the conceit of "well, this billionaire created a world where everyone escapes to, and he happened to be obsessed with this weird sub-culture at this one weird time in his life." It's just YA fun. The book could've been obsessed with early nineties trip-hop and Doom II... or late 70s punk and zine culture. Who cares?

I think a lot of 10 year old boys over the last 40 years would spend the day after Christmas fantasizing epic battles for all the random cheap action figures from a dozen disparate established universes. Creating a world wasn't his goal. Instead, Cline made that fantasy come alive. Honestly I was impressed that Cline's writing was deft enough to keep my interest during multiple pivotal scenes involving video games I've never heard of.

(Though maybe that's a perspective of someone who had a few older cousins grew up in the 80's and no real tie to the time period otherwise)
posted by midmarch snowman at 1:28 AM on July 9, 2015


By definition, if we are all nerds now, "nerd" doesn't really mean much more than consumer - that's all it can mean. If everyone is eager to see Age of Ultron, then Age of Ultron isn't really a nerd thing in any meaningful sense.

Seeing Age of Ultron isn't, no, but cosplaying as Black Widow or Scarlet Witch and going to conventions dressed like that, is.

Cline is from an age when just knowing and being able to quote nerdy stuff, especially obscure nerdy stuff, was enough to be a proper nerd and hasn't really adjusted to the existence of the internet yet.

IIRC it mines a very similar "video game suddenly acquires real stakes" vein with ptypical aplomb.

Yes, I hadn't seen the title before I read the article and was immediately reminded of Pratchett. The thing is though, wereas Armada and the films it crib from have the righteous game player save the world from evil aliens, Pterry has him save the aliens from all the people killing them for entertainment.

I wonder if Jo Walton's Among Others might be the Hugo winning equivalent of RPO only pandering to the lit-SF crowd

A bit, yes, but it's much more explicitly a disguised autobiography and the point isn't that our hero saves the day through her knowledge of Heinlein plots, but rather that science fiction helped her cope with her trauma, as well as fucked her up some more: the abuse scene were her (iirc) step father attempts to have sex with her and she accepted it because that was what happened in Heinlein books, only it felt wrong...
posted by MartinWisse at 4:35 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Entertainment For the Elities Who aWould Attend One literally Every Week At Least, then yea

"Check out my 1:1 copy of Versailles, other aristo nerds!"
posted by Artw at 4:40 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Soon I Will Be Invincible is a pretty good homage example

Coincidentally, Austin Grossman (the author of the above) is now working for Magic Leap, the Google-funded augmented reality company. As is nerd-lit king Neal Stephenson.

If you liked "Soon I Will Be Invincible", I would strongly recommend "Prepare to Die", by Paul Tobin.
posted by Jinsai at 6:38 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


As someone who loves animation, I will without hesitation state that there was nothing as good on TV in the 80s as Avatar and Korra, or Steven Universe, or probably a host of other series I haven't gotten to watch yet. I know. I've gone back to watch the old stuff. It was mostly crap. Crap I enjoyed at the time for lack of anything better, but still: crap. It wasn't till the 90s and Nickelodeon that things started to improve in a serious way.

There is more interesting music out there now, lots more. Lots more of it by women. Lots more of it I can find, thanks to the internet. Movies: hmm. Not sure about those. I don't watch as many as I used to when I was a teen. But animation-wise, again, it was in the 90s that things got better after a long decline.

The present decade has lots of problems, but culture-wise, I'll take it any day over the 80s. They were not the pinnacle of cultural achievement. They were just the last time Cline was young and felt like his life was full of infinite possibilities.
posted by emjaybee at 6:56 AM on July 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Whereas you seem to be suggesting that the appeal of practicing the rituals of enthusiasm is irrelevant to the object of that enthusiasm; if the kind of people who cosplay happened to get into opera, they'd cosplay the shit out of opera.

That's basically my argument, yes. Take for example three current and very intense/productive fandoms: Hannibal, My Little Pony and Avengers. The overlap between these things have is quite small, and yet the the form the expressions of fandom takes are very similar: fanfic, cosplay, original art, all that good stuff. Some have more of one sort of expression than another (e.g. there's not nearly as much Hannibal cosplay as there is for Avengers or MLP) but people are being enthusiastic about these cultural things in similar ways.

So now there's opera. I'd argue that Hannibal and, I don't know, a contemporary-style production of Don Giovanni are much more similar than Hannibal and My Little Pony will ever be. And I bet that if there was a John Adams-style English language Hannibal opera, with the MFA-serial-killer type stagecraft and the atonal music and the emotional/psychological intensity, you'd probably get a lot of people who either don't like or don't know about opera excited about going to see an opera (I've seen enough opera to know I don't appreciate it and I know I'd give it a shot.) And maybe that could be a door for the younger generation to get into opera and help save from the slide into cultural irrelevancy it can't seem to pull itself out of.

Meanwhile, contemporary musical theater which, and I could be wrong about this, had grown out of the operetta, is doing relatively well and in certain cases inspiring the sort of fandom I mentioned above. I mean I've definitely seen Wicked cosplay and god knows Wicked itself is pretty much Wizard of Oz fanfic.

So anyway, I don't think there's anything about opera as a medium that inherently prevents a fandom from developing around it. I do think there's a shit-ton of cultural baggage around it that keeps people out, and I think that there's not a particularly strong push to bring new people in. Or, if there is, it's not working as well as whatever musical theater is doing. I have no idea if there even is a "fix" to make it a relevant medium again -- just staging pop culture works isn't a guarantee of anything and finding adaptable works isn't a simple task -- but given the right and, in my opinion, somewhat realistic set of circumstances, a straight-up opera fandom is not an impossibility.
posted by griphus at 7:18 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Soon I Will Be Invincible is a pretty good homage example of well-done cultural referencing (superheroes, in this case, from Golden Age through angsty '90s).

One of the big differences between Soon I Will be Invincible and Ready Player 1 is that while informed by comics, and obviously done out of a love of them, SIWBI isn't merely a case of "Claremont's run on X-Men were the Best. Comics. EVER!"

Characters chafe against their roles, and one protagonist comes THIS close to realizing, the way a secondary character does, "This is all really stupid." Oddly, this makes it a far less cynical concept than RP1.
posted by happyroach at 7:22 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Take for example three current and very intense/productive fandoms: Hannibal, My Little Pony and Avengers. The overlap between these things have is quite small

AHEM.
posted by Artw at 7:38 AM on July 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just looked up an example: The lich king challenges him to a joust and he thinks it's horses, but then he "couldn't help but grinning" as he realizes it's the video game, and then we get a paragraph explaining how Joust works, and another paragraph unconvincingly explaining how the hero could possibly feel a deep connection with this particular out-of-date media artifact.

This sounds so hellish that now i'm actually a little curious about reading it
posted by Greg Nog at 7:43 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


you bet people were copying and referencing the things they saw on stage.

One famous example:
The word fedora comes from the title of an 1882 play by dramatist Victorien Sardou, Fédora, written for Sarah Bernhardt. The play was first performed in the United States in 1889. Bernhardt played Princess Fédora, the heroine of the play. During the play, Bernhardt – a notorious cross-dresser – wore a center-creased, soft brimmed hat. The hat was fashionable for women, and the women's rights movement adopted it as a symbol.
posted by Iridic at 7:47 AM on July 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


there's not nearly as much Hannibal cosplay as there is for Avengers or MLP

"I'm [dressed as] a homicidal maniac. They look just like everyone else."
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:11 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fedora? So still considerable overlap.
posted by maxsparber at 8:16 AM on July 9, 2015


I don't think gaming / nerd culture is fundamentally about consumption. I think it's about mastery -- solving the puzzle, beating the game, knowing all the characters' backstories, etc.
posted by salvia at 8:39 AM on July 9, 2015


*shrug*

Sometimes I want a pandering soliloquy to my adolescence. All the better if it's wrapped around a simple to read page turner.

Ready Player One kept me distracted and grinning for a day or two. And something other than work to talk about to a bunch of cohorts from similar backgrounds. Thanks, Mr. Cline.

(I do realize there's way too much of this out there these days. I *am* looking forward to 80s and 90s nostalgia fetishes ebbing a bit)
posted by DigDoug at 9:17 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


happyroach: "One of the big differences between Soon I Will be Invincible and Ready Player 1 is that while informed by comics, and obviously done out of a love of them, SIWBI isn't merely a case of "Claremont's run on X-Men were the Best. Comics. EVER!"

Characters chafe against their roles, and one protagonist comes THIS close to realizing, the way a secondary character does, "This is all really stupid." Oddly, this makes it a far less cynical concept than RP1.
"

I don't know, it just felt a bit...thin to me. Like it was a concept that could have sustained a short story or maybe a novella, but not a full blown book.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:46 AM on July 9, 2015


Both the article and the thread talk a ton about pop culture references, which I also latched onto, but I think the most pernicious aspects of Ready Player One are pretty much the essence of the cyberpunk genre. The System is oppressive and dehumanizing, so the people who can have any meaningful agency are the ones who don't fit in, and the billions of people successfully participating in society either don't matter, or more likely, need to be freed from it by a sexy nonconformist bad-ass who at the start has at most one friend but still is the coolest and most competent and important person in the whole world, and not really a fuck-up at all.
posted by aubilenon at 11:39 AM on July 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


The GGers are all of the above, plus they are sociopaths.

This is armchair psychology. You believe that the worldview held by 'gators does not motivate their reprehensible behavior, so you invent a cause and give it a name -- more believable if it's medical. Sounds like authority.

So, okay, there are a lot of people who hold the problematic views and ideals embodied by the book Armada, who do not then go on to doxx or SWAT anybody. Sort of like there are a lot of people who believe that the American Civil War was about something other than slavery, who do not go on to shoot up a church. That doesn't mean the two are unrelated, and indeed, I think it sensible to hold Confederate romanticism responsible for racial terrorism. I therefore tend to think less of people who subscribe to it -- even if I don't assume that they, personally, want to shoot people who look different.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:14 PM on July 16, 2015


I am amused (in a not-actually-amused kind of way) that literally the only positive review I've seen so far for the book is a 'sponsored' review at BoingBoing (which, according the accompanying forum thread, wasn't even labelled as such when it went up).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:27 PM on July 16, 2015


SFSignal liked it, I believe.
posted by Artw at 7:32 PM on July 16, 2015


(I admit I haven't seen all that many reviews, but.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:49 PM on July 16, 2015


I read Ready Player One and enjoyed it. I agree with most of the criticisms, but disagree with the general suggestion that Cline was not aware of these flaws. The pleasure of the book, coming into it knowing nothing, was just how far he took the masturbatory nostalgia, how he did what SF does best, literalizing the emotion and constructing a (marginally) plausible literal scenario in which video game nostalgia could genuinely be the be-all, end-all of saving the world. He was totally aware of how ridiculous that was (though of course unaware of many of the other serious drawbacks, such as his takes on gender, race, etc.) It was definitely the Reddit version of Among Others or Redshirts, and just as dependent on nostalgia as either of those -- though of course not nearly as good, uncoincidentally.

So unlike it seems everyone here, I did read Armada, before the reviews came out. And of course they are correct -- it's a terrible version of RPO, under the guise of turning the first book inside-out.

But [spoiler alert -- but c'mon, you're not going to read it], I think I finished it because up through about 85% of the book, I had held out real hope for another inversion. There's a moment where he arrives back home in his spaceship, back at the highschool where it all started, and gets out of the ship, and there it is, smoking away, the former site of his torment.

And I was so disappointed. Up until that very moment, everything had been staged such that it was not just possible, but probable, that all the "video game is real" stuff was itself just a fake. From the moment he gets picked up from his highschool, everything he sees is through screens; all the ships he's in have "inertial dampers" so that it feels like people are just standing in a room; and even on the moon, he repeatedly mentions that there is earth-like gravity, even during a train dash to a distant outpost. The general is the actor from the video-game; this ridiculously accommodating girl instantly pops up to cheer him; his game buddies are all good sorts who egg him on; his rediscovered "father" looks exactly like him; etc. Basically, the whole thing would take about the budget of a minor Disney ride to fake, and Cline seems to plant a number of clues that the "real" battle and travels are all themselves fake. I was so hoping for another inversion, a critique of the Last Starfighter trope, a narrative about how even real war is fake, and the continuities between gamers and the military-industrial complex. Something more like Redshirts, I guess.

And then he gets out of the spaceship, and sees the real school smoking with his own eyes, and you realize all the video-game-like deaths have actually been real, and that the author still doesn't understand the difference. And so I hate-read the last 15%. Should have waited for the reviews to come out I guess. On the other hand, if someone wants to rewrite the last 15%, I think it could be a pretty interesting postmodern novel.
posted by chortly at 11:52 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read RPO and thought it was fun. I agree with all of the criticisms of it, but I thought it had a plan and followed through on it.

I skim-read Armada yesterday and it was dismal. It had nothing going for it. The concept could have been executed well, but wasn't, the pop culture references were more annoying than RPO, the characters had even fewer dimensions (in the negative numbers) -- nothing worked for me at all. I read because I was slightly curious to see what happened, but as it turns out nothing special happened. Oh, plot happened, but nothing interesting enough to save the book.

I also hated Among Others. I enjoyed Redshirts, though.
posted by jeather at 6:53 AM on July 19, 2015


I like RPO, loved Among Others and was entertained by Redshirts.

I hated Armada. It's paper thin, it teases you with it's big reveal 4 or 5 times a page starting on page 1, and then, surprise! the big reveal is exactly what you'd guessed it would be in the first chapter! Tada! All the characters read like they'd been written by a Markov-bot fed a for-dummies version of TV-tropes. The inconsistencies that the main characters pick up on leading to the Great Reveal are nothing compared to the glaring plot holes and just plain dumb, hand wavey explanations of things.
It's just plain dumb: the earth army thingie dumps 3 middle aged guys plus 5 recruited-this-morning video game players on the moon, and they're the first line of defense? Their secret weapon is Cheetos and '80s pop music? The improbably hot, smart, cool-girl falls in love with our POV doofus in the like 10 minutes she spends with him? Seriously?
Reads like bad fan fiction of RPO, like somebody's teenage novel that he's embarrassed to let you read, not the follow up to a best seller.
posted by signal at 12:22 PM on July 20, 2015


Not sure how many folks are still following this thread, but I've got a recommendation if anyone is looking for another funny SFF novel with 80's references.

My book club recently read Finn Fancy Necromancy by Randy Henderson. The author lives in my area and came to our book club discussion, which was fun. The basic concept behind the story is "Arrested Development meets The Dresden Files." The story follows Finn Gamaraye, scion of a family of necromancers who was framed as a teenager for a crime he didn't commit and sentenced to 25 years in limbo. When he emerges to resume life in his 40-year-old body, he has to adjust to a very changed world while various types of chaos ensue etc. It's quite funny with a fast-paced plot. The references to 1980s-era technology and pop culture aren't used as props, and aren't endlessly, pedantically explained as in Cline's work.

Henderson's follow-up, Bigfootloose, is due in February 2016.
posted by trunk muffins at 11:30 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Armada was mocked at length on the latest I Don't Even Own a Television podcast (a podcast about bad books, which previously mocked Ready Player One).
posted by RogerB at 1:00 PM on July 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Heh. The level of mean spirited delight I took in listening to that was almost indecent.

Ooh, they did Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
posted by Artw at 2:23 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Podcast is gold. Thank you RogerB.
posted by trunk muffins at 3:22 PM on July 21, 2015


Podcast is awesome, also for pointing out that all the references in the book are movies, cartoons and toys, which helped crystallize part of my dislike for the book as a subset of my general dislike for non-book-reading sci-fi 'fans'. Yes, I am a snob, nice to meet you.
posted by signal at 9:46 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Verge on Pixels, Amarda and geek culture.

Pixels just sounds foul.
posted by Artw at 2:23 PM on July 24, 2015


it's like Contact meets Armageddon meets sticking knives in your eyes
I lol'd. I saw Armageddon when it came out. And while I haven't learned much in the years since, I've learned not to do that again.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:05 PM on July 24, 2015




"Much like the worst arcade games from the era that inspired it, Pixels has little replay value and is hardly worth a quarter."
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:58 PM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]




[I]f geeks are united by the things they love, then every enemy is just one Star Wars reference away from being a friend.

This is frighteningly close to the truth, and we should all ponder if that's a good or bad thing.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:47 PM on July 24, 2015


I also liked Scalzi's Redshirts and this sounds a lot like it.

Redshirts takes a more overt piercing look at what it's aping but I think a lot of this criticism of RP1 or Armada don't give it some credit for being willing to look askance at aspects of what it's wallowing in. A lot of the reason the protagonist of RP1 succeeds is his divergence from the uckier bits of the culture. Armada* challenges the overwhelming odds video game concept and conflict gaming in general. In both cases the only reason the protagonist is able to prevail is through interpersonal connections.

Whether or not either does this at all well you can disagree on - personally I'd rank RP1 as no less pointless and fluffy than The Martian - but I think claiming it sets out to be nothing more than a nostalgia wankfest is overly simple.

* Which, do not get me wrong, is not a very good book. It's lazy in a lot of ways and overlong in others and does an amazingly limp bit of lampshading near the end which is worse than not lampshading it at all. I would not recommend it for more than $0.99 when you have literally no other unchallenging fluff to read.
posted by phearlez at 10:59 AM on July 29, 2015


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