This week on the podcast, the guys and Jenny did battle over various things, but I don’t want to cover that.
No, I want to cover their reaction to Armada, a book Jenny didn’t finish and Watson hated. Now, I reviewed the book myself, and while I didn’t hate it, I likewise didn’t really enjoy it either. It was perfectly meh, neither here nor there. I’ve read bad books. Armada was not a bad book.
But I probably took a little heat for not enjoying Ernie Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One, as much as the others did, in part due to my nostalgia distaste. Now, I want to expand on some points that Watson made in the podcast and a minor one I made on my review after the cut.
I think it’s safe to say Ryan enjoyed Armada the most and Watson the least. Jenny never finished. I finished, in part because I almost always finish books, no matter how much I personally dislike them. It’s why I can claim to have read Atlas Shrugged and The Shack.
Do you, dear read, know what The Shack is? It’s a lesson I learned to always read the full description of any book before buying. The back of the book, this being back when I still bought paper copies of books, said the book had a guy named Mac (just call him “John Everyman” next time and be less subtle about it) is asked to return to the shack where his young daughter was killed by a crazy murderer, where he will confront all his worst nightmares. Does the invitation come from God? That sounded like a cool idea for a horror novel, especially given the cover showed a dilapidated old shack on the cover. Had I read the second paragraph, I would have seen that the book was about reconnecting with God and the Christian faith after a tragedy, I would have skipped it since that isn’t my thing, and I would have been spared a really stupid book where God appears as three people: a black woman speaking in ebonics and serving collard greens representing the Father, Jesus as a Jewish guy who cracks “big nose” jokes, and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman Mac can’t seem to focus on. And the three of them crack jokes that only they find funny and never answer Mac’s questions about how a loving God would send people to Hell and…ugh. Half-assed theology and even worse writing.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Armada.
See, Watson suggested Ernie Cline is like George Lucas: a creator who can create interesting worlds but not interesting characters. Well, that’s his view. I had another pop culture creator in mind instead of Mr. Lucas…
See, in my review, I suggested Cline went to the Family Guy School of Character Development. When the podcasters first waxed euphoric on the podcast over Ready Player One, just before they decided to do a reread for a Gabbing Geek Book Club, they were going on about how great the book was, but no one seemed to remember the main character’s name. That’s a major problem if you’re going to claim it as your favorite book. It suggests there isn’t much to the character that is unique enough to make him stand out. Wade Watts (and that was his name…I looked it up) was some video game-playing kid obsessed with the 80s, an era he did not grow up in.
Hey, Armada‘s protagonist, Zach Lightman, was a video game-playing kid obsessed with the 80s, an era he did not grow up in.
And no, I don’t buy that Wade’s reason for it was better. A world obsessed with the 80s sounds terrible to me.
Say, why did Wade and Zach love the 80s? Oh, that’s right. Some guy they never met was into that stuff.
But the major problem in Cline’s work is he uses pop culture references, not just to the 80s, as a substitute for developing unique characters. Who else does that? Seth MacFarlane. That’s what Family Guy has become: a series of pop culture references spliced with MacFarlane’s occasional soapbox lectures on his political and religious beliefs. MacFarlane doesn’t need to make a unique character or set piece when he can just borrow one from pop culture. Ernie Cline does the same thing. George Lucas, for all his faults, did come up with much of the world that is Star Wars. Star Wars at worst is a combination of old movie serials, samurai movies, and Westerns from Lucas’ own childhood interests, but the was nothing much like it before it appeared on movie screens everywhere. I can’t say the same for Cline or MacFarlane.
The good news for Cline’s fans is it is not too late for him. If his next novel can stay away from the near constant referencing and riffing, he can maybe craft a story that is a lot more original than some VH1 episode of I Love the 80s. MacFarlane has settled into a nice rut that’s been very profitable for him, and there’s no reason for him to change yet. Cline and MacFarlane both have gotten as far as they have due to sheer recognition from a certain group of people…people who for the most part grew up in the 80s. That’s not a longterm strategy for artistic success. Their works will have a short shelf life when future generations of Geeks have no idea what they are talking about in their works!
C’mon, Ernie. You can do better than this. It is possible to do a Geek hero who makes pop culture references and has a distinctive personality.
I call him Harry Dresden. Jim Butcher knows how to do it. He keeps the pop culture stuff light and sticks more to descriptions of the unique things Dresden encounters, and still makes for a fun read.
Speaking of reading: Jenny, for God’s sake, do yourself a favor and read some Hellboy if all you think is he’s a guy with a gun.