Science Fiction Repair Shop: Game Over Player One

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020-12-03 21:00:00 No comments

With Ready Player Two getting savaged by reviewers, since it appears to be arguably even worse than its predecessor, that reminded me of something I'd written down a while back and all but forgotten about.

What's sad about Ready Player One (and Two) is that there's an idea there worthy of being explored in a story that isn't just cynical exploitation: the commanding power cultural nostalgia holds over people in bad times. (See: endless remakes, reboots, sequels to marginal properties, vaporwave, etc.)

If I were to write something about this topic -- and believe me, I'm tempted -- first thing I'd do is use invented cultural references, not real ones. This way, the nostalgia in question would be chiefly of interest to the people in the story and not to the audience as well. The book would not itself be a bid for nostalgia, it would be about nostalgia. The trick here is to get the audience to also understand the pull of the nostalgia, so that it's not simply stated but actually felt.

The other option would be to implicate the audience, to start on the same notes as something like RPO and then to yank the rug out from under them -- to show them what suckers they are for having the same cuddly fondness for the detritus of decades past. That might send the wrong message, though: it's not love of past pop culture that's bad by itself, but the way that prevents people from looking forward to truly new things. You'd have to tread carefully with this approach.

But RPO (and RPT, from the sound of it) doesn't do anything like either of those things. That is, of course, on top of all of the other, far more blatant criticisms of the material: its atrocious writing, its smarm, its sexism, the sheer fact something this insulting to the very audience it addresses got published and made money (and got adapted into a movie, to boot).

More than once, I've written something as a kind of revenge -- a response to having read or seen something I hated so much I wanted to create a corrective for it, or at least a better take on the same ideas. I don't yet have a definitive firm sense of how to do it in this case, but give me a few. I'll come up with something.

Tags: popular culture science fiction