Monthly Archives: August 2012

In Review: Brave Story

Author: Miyuki Miyabe (Translator: Alexander O. Smith)
Year of publication: 2009

your brain on books rating: 3

Wataru Mitani was rather surprised to discover that the abandoned building down the street from his family’s apartment houses a gateway to another world called Vision.  And he’s not the only one who knows about it; Mitsuru Ashikawa, one of Wataru’s classmates, has not only seen the gateway but stepped through it and has been granted Traveler status so he can move freely throughout Vision.  Wataru and Mitsuru have something else in common, too.  Their families have been torn apart – Mitsuru’s by murder, and Wataru’s by an impending divorce.  When Mitsuru visits Wataru in the middle of the night and hands him a Traveler’s token, Wataru leaves the real world for Vision, and the two boys begin separate quests to the Tower of Destiny in the hope that the Goddess will change their fates.

The problem is, their own destinies are not the only things hanging in the balance.  The very different paths that Wataru and Mitsuru walk on their way to the Tower have serious consequences for the world in which they are Travelers, and Vision may not survive their stay.

Miyabe’s greatest success is the degree to which her characters are well-crafted.  Wataru is believable not just as a young boy in unfamiliar surroundings, but also as the Brave (literally, this is the category of Traveler into which he falls) he turns out to be.  He experiences nearly every emotion during his journey across Vision, and he bears them all with the amount of grace possible for a person of his maturity in increasingly challenging situations.  Wataru’s traveling companions complement him; they are the humor to his sadness, the certainty to his indecisiveness, the fear to his courage.  In contrast, Mitsuru’s cool indifference to the moral conflicts he faces places him at the opposite end of the spectrum: a testament to Miyabe’s range.

Unfortunately, Miyabe’s efforts to write a story that will (or should) endure fall flat once readers look past her characterizations.  Though the plot is interesting, it is disappointingly unoriginal.  Vision is a realm created and influenced by the imaginations of humans who live in the real world.  Wataru is an ordinary boy who accidentally happens upon Vision and subsequently embarks on a quest to reach a distant, sacred tower where a goddess lives.  He wears a pendant that identifies him as one of the Goddess’s chosen and protected Travelers.  At one point, he passes through a region known as the Swamp of Grief.

Sound familiar?

You’re right – it’s The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende.  Wataru even manages to find himself a nice dragon friend to fly him around sometimes.  Each of these uncanny similarities to Ende’s revered contribution to the children’s literary canon detracts further from Miyabe’s work, until there is little left to applaud that wasn’t already written by Ende thirty years prior.

Readers with a taste for adventure should certainly give Brave Story a try, but they should measure their expectations; this story doesn’t test the borders of the map.

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In Review: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline
Year of publication: 2012

your brain on books rating: 5

In 2044, the world has reached such a state of economic and environmental decline that those who can afford it choose to spend their time living in a virtual online world: the OASIS.  Wade Watts, better known to his online acquaintances by Parzival, the name of his OASIS avatar, is one such person.  The OASIS contains countless virtual planets and quests to occupy players’ time, but somewhere within its vast expanse also lie hidden clues to the fortune left behind by the OASIS’s creator, James Halliday.  Years after this contest was initially revealed upon Halliday’s death, players have yet to gain any ground in the hunt; that is, until Wade suddenly cracks the first clue and begins a dangerous race to the finish line.

As far as narrators go, Wade gets a high score for trustworthiness.  He knows how to take care of his readers by providing explanation of his actions or his world when needed, and we believe he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the 1980s trivia and video games around which Halliday framed the contest.  Using Wade as a knowledgeable mouthpiece, Cline details these movies, songs, and games so that readers unfamiliar with the pop culture of that particular decade will not just follow along, but become engaged in Wade’s quest for Halliday’s prize.

And what a quest it is.  With real and virtual danger around every corner, readers’ emotions will rapidly change from excited (with each of Wade’s breakthroughs) to anxious (with every setback as time runs short) and back again in a roller coaster that will leave them unsettled but absolutely sure of one thing: we all want Wade to win.  Whether he will actually make it to the top of the scoreboard is the question that will have readers reaching for this book whenever they have a spare moment.  There are no slow sections of this work, because whenever Wade leaves the virtual world, he has the real world to deal with.

Readers won’t just love this story for its ability to keep them guessing, but also for the strong feeling of nostalgia it leaves behind.  Compared to the harsh background of 2044, the 1980s embody a simplicity that Wade and his peers have never known.  Each plot point brings readers new factoids about a mecca of culture long past that, due to the international familiarity with Halliday’s contest, has practically become a collective memory for most of 2044 Earth.  Even readers who lived through the 1980s themselves will find a new respect for the decade’s pop culture.

Ready Player One is Cline’s first novel, and readers who race to the end along with Wade will find themselves eagerly anticipating the next work that this author might dish up.

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