What the heck just happened?
A few years back, I happened to read Ernest Cline’s paen to eighties nostalgia, Ready Player One. As I wrote about it here for TeleRead, I thought it was a pretty fun book. It read a lot like the young-adult novels I used to love growing up. Combined with all the shout-outs to the geeky things I also used to love growing up, it was right up my alley. The only thing was, it was a little puzzling who its intended audience was, as most people my age might not be so big on young adult books anymore, whereas people of the right age to enjoy YA might find all the eighties nostalgia mystifying.
Nonetheless, it seemed to be pretty popular back in the day. I saw reviews everywhere that pretty much loved it, and I don’t remember much overt negativity about it. Perhaps all that love for the book was part of what brought Steven Spielberg (himself the subject of a number of shout-outs in said book) to helm the movie adaptation of it.
But ever since the trailer to said movie came out, it seems like haters have been coming out of the woodwork. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see some new article about what a terrible, terrible thing the book is pop up in my daily Google news feed on my phone. It gets called out for “catering to male nerds.” People call the main character a Mary Sue. Even the more neutral articles nonetheless quote passages out of context and call it out for its “attempted wokeness.” Where did all this sudden hate come from? Did Ernest Cline suddenly start running over people’s dogs wholesale or something?
I’m not the only one who noticed this. A piece on US Gamer points to all the positive reviews from back when the book first came out, and suggests that they effectively came about because everyone else was breathlessly enthusiastic about the book, and they just got caught up in the excitement. Even outlets posting negative reviews now were more positive about the book back then.
The problem with pop-culture journalism is that sometimes it’s easy to get carried away in the zeitgeist, even when it’s so evidently manufactured. Eventually, the fogged glasses clear, and critical thought returns. It’s how overlooked bits of entertainment gain cult status decades later, or popular titles of nostalgia become less endearing in the proper light. Laura Hudson wrote in her 2015 Slate review of Cline’s second book, Armada, a preview of the Ready Player One backlash in 2017, “Ready Player One was far too joyously self-absorbed in its referential excesses to step back and examine what they might mean.”
I caught myself wondering if perhaps it was just that people who weren’t interested in that sort of book simply didn’t read it, until the new movie trailer brought it to their attention. But this sudden backlash seems bigger than one could account for by a few people suddenly noticing it for the first time.
As one who’s been reading genre fiction for a long time, a lot of the criticisms of Ready Player One and Armada seem awfully familiar. The same sorts of pejoratives are often used to dismiss genres, which are often deemed juvenile and shallow by comparison to “serious” fiction. Science fiction, mysteries, romance…who reads that “trash”? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see that same sort of argument resurface when another work of genre fiction becomes popular enough to be adapted by Spielberg into a major motion picture.
I’ve even seen some people (such as that Slate review linked above) tying these books to Gamergate, apparently for no other reason that they feature male gamer nerds as heroes. (Hey, guess what? Many of us who abhor Gamergate are nonetheless gamer nerds ourselves, and we actually can enjoy reading about video gamers being depicted as awesome while still feeling that women are people and worthy of respect, too.)
I don’t think these are the greatest books in the world—but then, that’s the same way I feel about the Harry Potter series. I think they’re a fun exercise in nostalgia, and a clever way to string together pop culture references. And, honestly, the world would be a lot duller if we were only allowed to read Great Literature.
I hope all this backlash is just a flash in the pan, and won’t hurt Ready Player One at the box office. I know I’m looking forward to seeing the movie when it comes out.
I don’t understand the hate either. I’m convinced that it is only a few loud people with some irrational dislike for fun things.
I reread Ready Player One just this week. It was still a fun book.
Flappy Bird went through a similar transition when it suddenly became extremely popular. The media coverage turned nasty for really no reason at all.
They need something to write and it has to be different. Periodic news / content outlets are loathe to repeat themselves or to do what others have already done. In this specific case, RPO has a lot more visibility lately (It’s on Amazon’s Charts at #2 selling and #7 reading) so people who would not be organically attracted to it are reading it and trashing it because it’s not for them, and without the best seller lists they would never have known about it. Now that they have, well, hey, they could squeeze a column out of it, right?
I suspect it has to do with believing the book has risen above its proper station. The argument goes, “There are so many great books out there–why did this one get the Spielberg treatment?”
I have to agree with the sentiment, actually. I tried reading RP1 when it came out. Despite being of the perfect age and geekitude to get most of the references, I couldn’t finish the book for its weak story and other problems.
But! While I agree with the sentiment, I don’t necessarily care enough to preach about it. Hollywood will make the movies they think will make money. This book had a broad and ready fan base. That’s what movie makers look for–ROI. And sometimes, the movie outshines the book. Some books that aren’t worth reading make decent movies.
So, what the heck. Lots things that get popular don’t make sense to me. *shrug*.
I grew up in the 80s, read science fiction, played D&D, and went to a lot of movies, so knew the references in the book first hand. It was fun, I guess, in a droll way, but it was a very adolescent book. Not an iota of depth. It was a two or three star novel buoyed up by nostalgia. Maybe some people like that, but I want more from a novel especially now that I’m older. The odds of me watching the movie version is approaching zero probability.
Its not PC enough
It may be the perception that existing positive buzz is intended to shape your opinion – that is, if the media is reporting how popular a book is, that’s partly because they want you to have an opinion that matches theirs, even if you never read the book.
Personally, I don’t understand hate for the movie given that the book was so popular.
I hated the book – just finished it last week. I thought it was horribly written. I went in completely cold – reading no reviews or blogs or anything. RPO was a book I had been wanting to read for some time, which made the disappointment that much worse.
It was afterward that I went online and realized that it was hugely popular, that a movie was coming out soon, and that Cline had written a bunch of other books afterwards.
And yet, looking at the trailer, and with book still fresh in my mind, I can’t understand why the two would be treated differently. I’m guessing I’d hate the movie…for the same reasons I hated the book, and that people who loved the book would go nuts for the movie.
“ever since the trailer to said movie came out, it seems like haters have been coming out of the woodwork. ”
The haters? So, 2011 is now “back in the day”, but you’re still dismissing to people who don’t share your opinion as “haters”?
People who couldn’t stand the book have always been around, and vocal – but movies are often meant to appeal to a wider cross-section than books do. It’s therefore unsurprising that feedback over a more diverse group will reflect greater difference of opinion.
I couldn’t stand the book, but I was able to accept those seeing things differently.
“I caught myself wondering if perhaps it was just that people who weren’t interested in that sort of book simply didn’t read it, until the new movie trailer brought it to their attention.”
You could have saved yourself the wonder by going to a site like Amazon, where readers post their reviews – both favorable and otherwise. You would have seen why “haters” feel the way they do…you would also have seen that they’ve been around for about as long as the book has been.
“The same sorts of pejoratives are often used to dismiss genres, which are often deemed juvenile and shallow by comparison”
You mean how the story is tied to shallow narrator who is a thin stand in for the author, who manages to solve problems that other people haven’t for no reason? How the narrator goes through the story describing stuff instead of experiencing it? How the book reads like a story of a videogame…being played by someone else? Can’t remember when I saw those specific complaints used on a book like this.
“I don’t think these are the greatest books in the world—but then, that’s the same way I feel about the Harry Potter series.”
I don’t think that Harry Potter books are the greatest books in the world either, but I can easily see how JKR kept the momentum going – there’s a talent for storytelling and world-building that JKR has that makes Potter fandom plausible.
“honestly, the world would be a lot duller if we were only allowed to read Great Literature.”
Seriously? People who dislike this book are book snobs?
“I hope all this backlash is just a flash in the pan”
No worries. If Justin Bieber can stand the test of time, so can “Ready Player One”.
I liked the book a lot.
It seems like a bunch of hipsters spewing pretentious hate and then shouting down any dissension to their opinions. I saw the same thing with Cloverfield which I thought was a great movie and now everyone hates it.
Wow…the above article (reblogged from Vox, which didn’t send a blog ping) is right on point. It explains so much in retrospect that GamerGate itself should be the reason why people are so down on the book now. I’m kind of embarrassed that I came so close, but entirely failed to figure it out.
I’ll tell you why, because we need content….the world needs content! So, the movie is coming and we get every hack from here to ever multiverse trying to tell us why gamer-gate effects it, or how it portrays some group of people. Those that really love it could care less about these buffoons or their little thoughts which ironically offend in the very same manner to which they argue; but its ok when they do it because its their opinion. I have to say, for people who seem so worried about different groups of people and how they are misused…they sure like to objectify them quite a lot for their own purposes. Take Constance Grady’s article in which he states, “Wade should care that his best friend is a black lesbian because those are important facts about his best friend’s life. But in this world, they’re unimportant, because only things that affect straight white dudes really matter.” So he is saying the character begins the book the same person he started as? Rubbish. He, like the rest of the hacks are simply getting words on paper and using whatever means necessary. Is the book a modern work of literary genius….no. But it isn’t trying to be either. The hacks want to take their hangups and apply them to whatever they can to create content and generally show how much of an ass they really are.
the trailer is so freaking annoying “are you willing to fight.” personally i think the movie is retareded
I cannot believe there are people who STILL believe the media lie that gamergate was about hating women.