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video game book review

Book Review: Armada

Armada Book Cover

Rating: 4 stars

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and video games he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders. 

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.

Wow, I really enjoyed reading this book. I enjoyed reading it a whole lot more than I did Ready Player One.

For one, I felt like the plot of Armada was developed a whole lot better. I felt like the whole story made more sense and Ernest Cline didn’t make too many overwhelming science fiction references to the reader. I also could relate to Zack’s character on a more personal level. Like Zack, my father also hasn’t been a part of my life. While some people are fortunate and have both parents in their life, not everyone is quite so lucky and not having that figure around can impact a child’s life. For Zack, it caused him to question the world around him and made him obsessed with video games and the stuff his father left behind. But it also resulted in anger issues that could’ve developed into something more serious if it weren’t for what happened in Armada.

Besides being able to relate to Zack, I also enjoyed reading this book because I felt like the other characters were a little more developed. The reader can see this in the story with Zack’s interactions with the other recruits and the close knit relationship he has with his mother. I also appreciated that the small amount of romance in this novel wasn’t pushed. Whenever I read books with a main focus in one particular genre, I sometimes get fed up when romance is constantly forced into the story whenever it’s not really needed to make the plot move forward. While I do love reading romantic scenes, it’s not always needed. Especially in a novel like this with heavy emphasis on science fiction. So I appreciated that Cline didn’t force Zack and his love interest together and that she was more of a minor character who helped save Zack whenever he needed it.

I really enjoyed reading Armada because the story felt real. I felt like I could imagine everything that was happening to Zack in his world as he tries everything he can to save humanity. He remained focused on what he needed to do, even when things got really tough and lives were lost in the process. I also enjoyed it because I felt like I could relate to Zack’s struggle. Before the events on Armada unfold, Zack always dreamed of being whisked away on an adventure, of something happening that would take him away from his ordinary life. So he lived in his own fantasy world, spending his free time playing video games whenever he could. I often had this type of experience myself too where I wished something extraordinary would happen to me and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has. In many ways, his struggles in the world are something everyone faces, which makes him even more relatable to anyone picking up this book.

The one issue with Armada I have, however, is the ending. To me, it was very emotional and I was upset at the direction Cline decided to take the story. I knew we were going to get an explanation for why these alien beings were attacking Earth, but I found the reasoning for it to be filled with so many holes that it made me really mad. I didn’t like the way Cline decided to take it because it felt like he killed off characters that I didn’t need to be killed. I was pretty upset because he killed off one of my favorite characters in Armada and it made it difficult for me to be happy with how the story ended. I also just expected there to be a bigger explanation for why everything happened and was disappointed because I didn’t get one.

Despite this one problem though, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was just the right story for me to read and had characters I could easily relate to that I’ll definitely be rereading Armada in the years to come. I look forward to see what other works Ernest Cline will create in the years to come since I enjoyed the two novels he’s written so far.

Book Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One Cover

Rating: 3 stars

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

This book was quite an enjoyable read. The plot revolves around Wade Watts, a teenage boy who doesn’t particularly live in the best part of town. He spends his whole life inside the OASIS, a virtual reality world where anything is possible because the world around him is so crappy that he’d rather live somewhere else. Then one day, the creator of the OASIS dies and leaves behind a video. In it, he challenges everyone in the OASIS to complete a series of puzzles because the first person to do so will receive his fortune. This competition goes on for a period of time because nobody is able to figure out the first clue. Then one day, Wade figures it out and his name appears on the scoreboard and everything in his life changes in ways he couldn’t imagine.

I found this book to be quite an amazing read because of how accurately its commentary is in relation to the way we live with technology in the world today. So many people (myself included) use technology so much that it’s integrated to every facet of their lives. We communicate with our peers through text messaging instead of having daily conversation because its fast and easy. We use the internet and television as a form of entertainment not only for ourselves but for future generations instead of just taking a moment each day to spend talking to each other. We don’t want to admit that we rely on technology so much because not everyone notices how integrated it’s become a part of our lives. But reading Ready Player One has really brought that reality of our world to me. Of how much we rely on technology to do things we ourselves could do without it. Of how much we no longer can live without it because we are using it for everything we do. And while we aren’t yet in the future of 2044, we are closer to it now than years past. Virtual reality is no longer a thing of the past. The Oculus Rift and other virtual reality devices currently on the market are perfect examples of how much closer we are to facing the future Wade Watts experiences. While we aren’t there yet, we are much closer to that reality and we already use technology every day as a form of escape from our lives instead of communicating with those we love or doing activities without using technology. We just aren’t at the total scope that people in Wade’s world use it.

I also enjoyed all of the references to the twentieth century and how they were incorporated in the story to solve the puzzles Halliday created in the OASIS. While at times they were a little overwhelming, it was also nice to have a sort of tribute to a different time period. To a time when technology wasn’t such a big part of people’s lives. It also added more to Wade’s character because when he wasn’t doing something in the OASIS, he was watching shows or playing video games from that time.

Ready Player One was also an enjoyable read because I loved hearing about the virtual reality world Wade immersed himself in. It was interesting to see what all a person could do in that reality to escape from the world outside. I thought it was cool that a person could do anything in that reality world from hosting a chat room to going to school. It made the virtual reality world seem more realistic and I felt like it also showed me possibilities of what virtual reality is capable of doing.

There were some aspects of Ready Player One, however, I didn’t particularly like. For one, I felt like there wasn’t a whole lot of character development for all of the characters and I felt no emotional impact in the story. I felt like none of the characters in the story had any sort of personality. We saw the story from Wade’s perspective, but the whole time reading, I felt like I didn’t really know Wade very well as a person. I knew he was pretty much obsessed with James Halliday and felt like most of his interests were due to his obsession with getting the first clue and winning Halliday’s fortune. In fact, I felt like all of the characters in the story were obsessed with winning this challenge and it would’ve been nice to have been introduced to someone in the OASIS who wasn’t obsessed with it. But I also felt like the characters we were introduced to were flat in personality. To the point where even when things went wrong, it didn’t feel like there was any sort of emotional response to what was happening. A perfectly good example without giving any of the plot away is when Wade gets threatened by the antagonist. He literally doesn’t bat an eye and when the antagonist makes his threat a reality, I imagine Wade saying in a sarcastically dry voice “oh no,” but he doesn’t get completely upset by the whole thing. He literally shrugs his shoulders and moves away. I felt this lack of emotion from Wade and all of the other characters throughout and it really bothered me. It didn’t help that all of the characters felt flat to me either.

Another aspect of the story that bothered me was how the love interest was incorporated in the story. I felt like the author for some of the story made her a distraction for Wade to complete the quest. To the point where in a couple of chapters the author has Wade and her spend a lot of time together instead of trying to find the next clue. And that bothered me because I felt like there was another way her character could’ve been used, such as having her and Wade team up together to find clues so that the antagonist wouldn’t win. Instead, I felt like the author was using her as eye candy for Wade until the plot picked back up.

There were also things in the story I didn’t find realistic. For example, I was surprised at everything the author made Wade capable of doing. Most of the things the author made Wade do in the real world just didn’t seem possible to me. Not because I didn’t believe he could do those things. But because Wade spent so much of his time in virtual reality that when he was in the real world, he was always miserable and trying to do everything possible to get back to the OASIS. And this bothered me because I felt like some of his feats were impossible for him to do without another person’s help. But he managed to do those things anyway all by himself. It just felt like these particular feats were a complete miracle on his part and it made me hard to believe some of the story.

While I did overall like Ready Player One and the story it had to offer, there were just some things about the story that really bothered me. These things made the book interesting, but also question what I was reading. However, I overall enjoyed reading this book despite these issues and can’t wait to read another one of his works in the very near future.

Book Review: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation

Console Wars Book

Rating: 4 stars

Following the success of The Accidental Billionaires and Moneyball comes Console Wars–a mesmerizing, behind-the-scenes business thriller that chronicles how Sega, a small, scrappy gaming company led by an unlikely visionary and a team of rebels, took on the juggernaut Nintendo and revolutionized the video game industry.

In 1990, Nintendo had a virtual monopoly on the video game industry. Sega, on the other hand, was just a faltering arcade company with big aspirations and even bigger personalities. But that would all change with the arrival of Tom Kalinske, a man who knew nothing about videogames and everything about fighting uphill battles. His unconventional tactics, combined with the blood, sweat and bold ideas of his renegade employees, transformed Sega and eventually led to a ruthless David-and-Goliath showdown with rival Nintendo.

The battle was vicious, relentless, and highly profitable, eventually sparking a global corporate war that would be fought on several fronts: from living rooms and schoolyards to boardrooms and Congress. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, no-holds-barred conflict that pitted brother against brother, kid against adult, Sonic against Mario, and the US against Japan.

Based on over two hundred interviews with former Sega and Nintendo employees, Console Wars is the underdog tale of how Kalinske miraculously turned an industry punchline into a market leader. It’s the story of how a humble family man, with an extraordinary imagination and a gift for turning problems into competitive advantages, inspired a team of underdogs to slay a giant and, as a result, birth a $60 billion dollar industry.

Reading this book was a nostalgic experience. Growing up, one of the first video games I ever played was Sonic the Hedgehog. I remember it as if it happened just yesterday and ever since, I loved video games. So reading this book was quite an experience for me.

But I didn’t enjoy it just for nostalgic reasons either. Console Wars took me into the world of Sega and Nintendo, introduced me to the people who made both companies a success, and made me even more enthralled with the video game universe. I enjoyed it because this book was very real to me. I felt as if I experienced both company’s success right in front of me as everything was happening. From seeing Kalinske resurrect Sega from the ground up to Nintendo taking the video game industry back by storm with the release of Donkey Kong Country on the SNES. I felt as if I was in the video game world, meeting all of the key players who made the video game industry thrive.

I also enjoyed Console Wars because there was a lot of thought put into writing it. Harris put a lot of research into this work, interviewing people from Nintendo and Sega who were a part of the video game industry during that time. Having this information made reading this book that much more enjoyable, allowing the reader a better understanding of how the video game industry came to be so popular in the world today. It also allowed me a glimpse into their lives, seeing everything in the video game industry in a completely different light.

The one downside to this book was the pacing. When I first started reading it, I really dived into the story, marveling at all of the little details and feeling nostalgic. But as I continued reading, I sometimes found myself slowing down, not wanting to continue. Not because I didn’t find what I was reading to be interesting, but because I found the pacing to be extremely slow at times. I found myself to be really interested in what I was reading, but found some of the conversations had between rival key players to be unrealistic. Or I’d find myself overwhelmed with the information presented to me to where I’d need to take a break from reading. Then, there were also times where transitioning from one company to the next was completely awkward. There were a lot of instances where the story went from conversations going on at Sega to all of a sudden being with the guys at Nintendo without any sort of warning. At the beginning of chapters, I understood it and was completely fine with it. But when it happened from one paragraph to the next, it was a little weird sometimes.

Console Wars was a very enjoyable read that reminded me of my childhood. Of the many days I spent playing video games, having fun and just being a kid.

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