December 18, 2011
I’ve read me some books recently, Ready Player One and two of the Last Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, and they could not possibly more different.
Ready Player One is a nerdculture bender of a book, about as hard to stop while you’re in the middle of it as it is to love in hindsight; it’s young adult literature for people who were born in the late seventies and haven’t really grown up yet. Of which I am apparently one, it has become clear, but you’re still left with the sense that you’re reading a Cory Doctorow book whose discerning virtue is that the lead isn’t a thinly-veiled Cory Doctorow. Which is a huge, huge improvement, make no mistake, but it’s still relentless, pandering fanservice.
I enjoyed it anyway, I think not because it was strictly good and certainly not because it’s without other flaws, but because it’s targeted with such mathematical precision at my male-child-of-the-eighties-whose-parents-could-afford-a-PC demographic that I felt obliged to at least appreciate the craft.
Even so, I’ve often said that some works don’t age well but this is the first time I’ve ever felt that way about something in less than a month. Knowing that I enjoyed parts of it now feels kind of gross.
The various Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, veterans of that series will agree, are the exact opposite of self-congratulatory nerdpop. Differing from RPO in every imaginable respect, maybe the most important distinction is that the primary characters absolutely, relentlessly hate themselves, loathing their own dispositions and actions at baroquely-detailed length at every pause in the narrative’s forward motion. It’s not even a little unusual for a character to spend half a page considering how terrible they are and how miserable they’ve made everyone else shimmed into the space between somebody asking them a question and their answering it. But Donaldson’s built a solid career out of this signature combination of nuclear-winter morality and arcane linguistic affect, so much like Ready Player One enjoying it seems less important at times than respecting the craft. Having said that, the depth of the world and breadth of the landscape is great; the world-building and supporting cast are fantastic, getting all the good lines and stealing all the best scenes. Smartly written and compelling enough to more than make up for the lead characters spending so much time wallowing in their own self-loathing.
But like every reference in Ready Player One, I was introduced to this series very young. There’s a saying, that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is “twelve”; I have a sense that in both cases these stories aren’t really getting their hooks into me, just tying into the anchors anyone my age had bolted on decades ago. Does that matter, if I enjoy it regardless? I’m not sure but I get the sense that it does, and it feels like cheating.