The Stand by Stephen King (audiobook)

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Title: The Stand
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Read by: Grover Gardner
Release Date: 2012
Rating: 5/5

47 hours and 47 minutes. That’s how long it takes to hear Grover Gardner read The Stand. It’s several times longer than any other audiobook I’ve listened to and I never once got bored with it. I kept anxiously looking at the remaining time, wishing that number would decrease just a little slower. It didn’t and here we are. The Stand is one of Mr King’s most epic and iconic novels, but an older cover had me thinking it was about a good jester fighting an evil jester in the desert for 1100 pages. So I steered clear (liked I did with most King novels until recently). That’s what you get for not listening to that old idiom; you miss out on amazing things! Because The Stand is nothing short of amazing.

“That wasn’t any act of God. That was an act of pure human fuckery.”

A deadly virus developed by the US military wipes out more than 99% of the human race, and a lot of the animals too. Left behind is a group of people seemingly immune to that particular strand of flu, called Captain Trips. Or more precisely, two groups of people. One group finds themselves drawn to Boulder with dreams of an old black lady, the other to Las Vegas and a dark figure. It’s straight up good vs evil, God vs whatever Randall Flagg is supposed to be. And some people may dislike the heavy religious theme and how religion and the “deities” seem to control the flow of events. And I’m sure King could have easily told as story just as great with maybe an even better ending, if he had left out the faith aspect. But he does like to include that, and for me it didn’t take away from the story at all. Because creating complicated characters and portraying the relationships between them is what King, in my opinion, does best, and he is pulling out all the stops with this one. The character gallery is impressive to say the least. One interesting and incredibly nuanced person after another populate the book. We follow people from both sides and sometimes the ones from the “bad” is are just as sympathetic as the good ones, which just makes for even more heart-breaking stories. Not only that, but the character development and the portrayal of human emotion and reaction in the face of uimaginable hardship, catastrophe and evil… well, I was blown away. I think King may be, no matter how crazy it sounds, underrated when it comes to his characters. Sure, he’s the king of horror and all that, movies are made, books are sold by the million. But I have a strange feeling that people don’t fully appreciate just how masterfully he developes characters. Or maybe I’m just being arrogant. Either way, it’s astounding.

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side.

Or you don’t.”

In the foreword to this uncut version, King himself mentions how he’s been criticized for suffering from “diarrhea of the word processor”, and I have noticed in other works of his how he tends to go on and on. But even though this book is as long as it is, I definitely do not agree that it’s too long, and I’m glad I didn’t have to settle for the original cut version. The long passages describing this new world and the long travels of its remaining inhabitants are breath-taking. He manages to create a setting that’s simultaneous unnerving, maybe downright scary, but beautiful and drawing at the same time. I almost feel like strapping on my backpack and heading to Boulder, Colorado myself. If I’m perfectly honest, I could have waited forever for the end of the book. The different journeys the characters set out on are so enthralling, I wouldn’t have minded if it had gone on for ages. There’s a final showdown, of course, but that’s not the end and the story could have gone on ad infinitum, as far as I’m concerned.

Mr. King doesn’t get all the credit for this production, however. The narrator, Grover Gardner, does a tremendous job. His voice acting is great and it doesn’t take long to learn how to tell the many different characters apart. Quite a feat if you ask me. I’ll definitely be looking for other books narrated by Gardner.

All in all a fantastic postapocalyptic novel that’s well worth the time and effort. So don’t let the jesters or the length of the thing scare you off; this is a read that’ll stay with you for a long time afterwards.

 

 

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (audiobook)

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Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Random House UK, streamed on Storytel.dk
Read by Wil Wheaton
Release Date: 2012
Rating: 3/5

In the year 2044 the world’s resources have been all but depleted, unemployment is at an all-time high and the poverty-stricken masses live in towers of mobile homes and trailers stacked into dangerous skyscrapers. In one such trailer lives teenager Wade with his less-than-loving aunt. Like most other people, Wade spends pretty much his entire life in a global virtual reality known as the OASIS. The creator of the OASIS, the late James Halliday, had concealed an easter-egg somewhere inside one of the thousands of worlds in this virtual utopia. The finder of the treasure will inherit Halliday’s vast fortune and become the owner of the OASIS. Like thousands of other people around the world, Wade is a “gunter” – egg-hunter – and spends all of his free time chasing Halliday’s clues and working through an immense library of 70’s and 80’s tv-shows, movies, games, music and books, everything Halliday loved, in the hopes of attaining the knowledge required to reach the egg. Wade has no social life outside of the OASIS and online it is limited to a few friends and acquaintances, fellow gunters Aech, his best friend and Art3mis, his crush. Of course, he has no idea who they are in real life, just like they only know him as his avatar Parzival and not as the endearing but awkward and overweight teenage nerd he really is. But Parzival, Aech and the other gunters aren’t the only ones going for the grand prize. The evil multinational corporation Innovative Online Industries, headed by Sorrento, will stop at nothing to take control of the OASIS and turn it into a profit machine, going against everything Halliday believed in.

“It’s chick flick disguised as a sword-and-sorcery picture. The only genre film with less balls is probably… freakin’ Legend. Anyone who actually enjoys Ladyhawke is a bona fide USDA-choice pussy!”

Basically, Ready Player One is a virtual treasure hunt, good vs evil, a race against time etc. stuffed to the brim with pop-culture references.  While the premise seems interesting, the real-life setting could have done with some elaboration. The story itself is pretty straight-forward, offering very little in the way of surprises or twists. Not the most intense fictional treasure hunt I’ve ever witnessed. Not that I’ve been to any real ones either. But I did enjoy the fact that this was more of a mental and knowledge based hunt as opposed to physical. Having been a gamer for years and a fan of Monty Python and 80’s music, I found the pop culture to be fairly enjoyable too. The book contains loads of trivia on retro video games, comic books, tv-shows from the 70’s and 80’s etc. But it does get to a point where it starts to be a bit overwhelming. I do wish Cline would have spend a little more time on the setting and a little less on the Ladyhawk discussions, but I also understand that he has to elaborate at least somewhat on the bands, games and superheroes that are so central to the egg hunt. After all, the book has been categorized in the Young Adult genre, and I doubt a great many people in this age group would fully appreciate all the references if they weren’t explained to them. Unless they were as obsessed with the 70’s and 80’s as James Halliday. I can’t help but think that readers (and gamers) in their 30’s and 40’s would appreciate the Atari and Rush trivia more.

Another thing that makes me wonder about this book’s target audience is the dialog. For me, the dialog is this book’s major weak point and it’s a complaint I often have with books aimed mainly at teens+. There isn’t a single conversation in this book that didn’t make me annoyed with the teenage slang and behavior of the people involved. Even the adult bad-guy, head of a multinational corporation, seems like a teenager mimicking a movie villain. And the conversations between the books actual teenagers were even worse. I know they’re gamers, but I cannot hear the words “suxor”, “poseur” or “lamer” without cringing. It felt a bit like a parody on geek culture, but I cannot completely rule out that I’ve just gotten old. I know for sure I’ve gotten old, as I constantly felt like slapping the obnoxious love-sick teenagers as they flirt and dance (online).

Overall, it feels like Cline wrote a YA book but hoped it would reach a bigger crowd. Judging by the popularity, maybe he did. And whether or not you get all of the movie quotes or game references, Ready Player One is entertaining and original. I would recommend it to any video game geek, but probably not to anyone else.

“Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.”

Word has it that Spielberg is directing the movie version of Ready Player One. I’m very interested to see how they’ll make a live-action movie out of a book about games and movies set inside a virtual reality.

A small note on the audiobook
Wil Wheaton does a very good job reading the book. His voice is not at all monotonous and he does a pretty good teenage gamer nerd. I’m sure Wil was a very deliberate choice. Not only is he a well-known sci-fi and comic book fan, and Star Trek actor, there is also a small but enjoyable Wil Wheaton easter-egg in the book for you to go find (or you can just google it).