Book Review: Fifteen Dogs

The synopsis:


And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto vet­erinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.

André Alexis’s contemporary take on the apologue offers an utterly compelling and affecting look at the beauty and perils of human consciousness. By turns meditative and devastating, charming and strange, Fifteen Dogs shows you can teach an old genre new tricks.

Some thoughts on this book:

I liked this book. But I have issues with it. Alexis played the fable a bit too safe. The writing was beautiful, the tone well-tuned, the story full of promise. But, in the end, there was no original thought on the human-dog bond — nothing well said about what makes a dog a dog or what makes a human a human…or what makes intelligence intelligence.

Qualms:

There was no exploration of what it was like to be spayed or neutered. Humans aren’t often un-sexed, so this would have been interesting to actually get into. All the dogs are quite intact, it seems. It was quite illogical that 0 out of 15 dogs wouldn’t have been altered in some way (by humans). Not even an ear trimming, a tail trimming, or an etc. is explored (i.e., the dogs’ reactions to it).

And, what is more, the female dog never gets pregnant, apparently. Puppies/babies and how they affect those with intelligence would have been interesting to read about from a dog perspective (like, would they ruin dog lives as they do human lives? ahahaha…).

The dogs were given the ability to see color, but not to speak properly. Seeing color is no sign of intelligence. There are colorblind humans, so this bothered me. Why not vocal cords? It seems Alexis just wanted to create obstacles for his characters to overcome. It was contrived. The story could have moved forward much more quickly if Alexis had just altered (*cringes* …what’s a better word?) the dogs that way as well.

The last half of this book is arguably a love story — one where the dog Majnoun falls in love with his human female owner. Granted, the relationship is a bit more complicated than that and I don’t have the library book any more to pick out passages to support it, but that’s what it felt like. But for me it didn’t fit the fable mold, because there was no message to be gained from that part. (If there was a message, can you tell it to me?). Was it a statement on race? On how sex shouldn’t be the main point in love? About slaves and masters? Or just about friendship?

Verdict:

Might as well read it, because it is so short. And it has dogs. And gods. And pretty passages.

Other reviews I agree with:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1315463745?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Philosophy, Empathy, Poetry and Talking Dogs, minus the gimmick: ‘Fifteen Dogs’ by Andre Alexis [Review]

#BLAThoughtOfTheDay: Only dipping your toe

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DNF The Humans by Matt Haig

Disclaimer: I attempted to read this book months ago and am just now writing about it.

Cover

The HumansThe Humans by Matt Haig

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was willing to give this book a shot only because I had hoped it would put humans in a bad light (I had assumed it was supposed to be mirror in which to help us analyze our ways – I think I picked up the book because an environmentalist blog I follow mentioned it. Not that the book didn’t put up a mirror, it just wasn’t a clear enough reflection to keep me interested. I could tell it was going to romanticize the human race – despite our flaws – early on and I just don’t have the patience to flirt with such an idea anymore). Also, I think my “environmentalist” hopes for it went a bit too far. I don’t think Haig took the issues deep enough.

100 pages in, I found myself putting it down. I became bored with the pace of it and the cliches shoved in to make it more interesting (the alien having to deal with the man’s marital and family problems – not very original or inventive in my opinion).

View all my reviews

Book Review: THE JUST CITY by Jo Walton: When robots take over – take over a story, that is.

(This is really for people who have read the book. Semi-spoilers throughout).

There is quite a lot of repetitive exploration/dialog in the book—where some topics are reexamined over and over just to get to a new point about said topic. That could have been chiseled down, but I get why it was done. This book deals with the Socratic method, after all.

The robots—or, as they are called in the novel, the “workers”—seem to be explored way too much. They are a subplot that wasn’t necessary. I found it hard to believe that a goddess (Athena), who could see and visit the future, wouldn’t foresee robots becoming self-aware at one point. Sure, gods could (theoretically) overlook things, but… Really, the whole robot plot point could have been removed from the book entirely and it would have made more sense (I mean, keep the robots, but ignore them becoming self-aware),

They seemed like just an excuse to talk about slavery when, really, they could have been written in is as normal mindless machines that, when they wore out, the iron and bronze children could take their place. They were only necessary for a couple of years, theoretically. No need to introduce AI into the mix. If you were going to do that then why not make an excuse to talk about animal rights in the novel, which was never done). This is why I took off one star on goodreads, because it just wasn’t fun or necessary to read about.

Also, Apollo could have predicted the thing about the robots too. He talks repeatedly about the future. He knows fancy words like “postpartum depression” and that we explore space in the future. I found it EXTREMELY hard to accept this fact about the robots. Not that I wouldn’t care if robots did become self-aware (and of course they deserve their rights acknowledged). I’m saying Jo Walton could have made Athena find some less complicated robots. Or, better yet, Athena could have used “magic beings” to be the servants until the children got old enough to be the workers. Hell, food could have magically appeared to them until they got enough children who learned to grow it and prepare it.

…Now that I think about it there was a surprising lack of “magic” in the book. Not that it’s a bad thing, but Walton could have used it to her advantage more, clearly.

The real plot of the novel was “Can Plato’s ‘Just City’ work?” but when the robot subplot appeared everything began to be contrived narratively. But beyond this, everything story-wise was fine. HOWEVER, it may bother some people that there was no real climax and resolution; sure, Athena was just as interested in seeing how the city would fall as she was seeing how it would work, but the reader therefore expects the city to fall so there is no real twist or resolution at the end. Just chaos. The only arguable “resolution” the reader gets from the story is that Apollo learns why Daphne chose to turn into a tree. A good resolution, but not one that resolves the novel’s titular purpose or the reason we’re reading in the first place.

Other problems I had with the story were:

1) If Athena could take people from their times, then why did she not just “rescue” the artwork and etc. from their times as well instead of making a whole ordeal of it that involved the masters jumping from era to era? Sure, it sounds fun for them (though we never actually get to see it anyways). But it also got tiring to read about.

2) Jo Walton tried too hard to reconcile Christianity (or, the Christian beliefs of the masters) to the Greek gods she was writing about. Her characters—even the god Apollo—come up with a very Miltonic view of “Divinity.” Yet John Milton was never once mentioned or given credit for such an idea.

3) On every level, Walton missed opportunities to talk about animal rights. Instead, she worried more about robot rights, which was a topic she had to engineer—a topic that didn’t come “naturally” to the story. The fact animal rights weren’t even a thought was very hard for me to wrap my head around, because the children, in a lot of ways, were treated just like animals—forced to breed, grouped by eugenic standards, etc. And yet, despite this effort of avoiding pro-animal conversation, she directly sidesteps the fact that animal sacrifices are thing Apollo and Athena’s worshipers were totally into. Never really addresses it.

4) The gods aren’t bothered by the fact humans have spread to outer space in the future. Apollo says we colonize Mars at one point (he knows this and yet Athena doesn’t blink an eye about the possibility of her robots becoming self-aware? Jesus, Athena, couldn’t you have found some less-advanced robots or something? Or, built them some of your own design? Or, oh, I don’t know, asked Hephaestus to build you some? Whatever.). Back to my point. If the humans can’t even make it in the Just City with Athena helping them then why the hell would the gods want us to colonize other planets?—And be amused we do so? (Apollo seemed amused when thinking about it).

5) The debate between Socrates and Athene. Really, the thing could have just been him accusing her of cheating and then she could have been like “Fine, I’m out. You do this on your own, bitches!” Which Jo Walton totally should have let her do instead of dragging out what the reader already knew. Instead of disliking Athena, I found myself wondering why she would let the conversation go on so long in the first place. Though, to a point, this debate seemed like it was part of her plan in watching the city fall (I think?). But if so, it didn’t come off clearly in the book.

Things I LOVED about the novel:

1) The concept itself. I can’t believe a book like this was published. It’s so smart and not normally what legacy publishing is into. And, it’s not YA.

2) How Jo Walton addresses rape in every main character’s POV. I have never seen it handled so well in a novel. Really, this is what the novel is about. Rape.

3) The cover. Just….The cover!

4) The fact that Lucrezia Borgia was involved in this story! #TheBorgiasFan

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wrecker, a book review:

This post was originally seen on Ohsocleverreads.

the-golem-and-the-jinniI had really high hopes for this book. It was probably my most anticipated read of the year, but it let me down. This review will contain spoilers.

The Golem and the Jinni is an immigrant story – 1890s, respectively. A golem woman is made for a wifeless man by this creepy dude (a mystic ex-rabbi, if I remember correctly) and as her master takes her across the ocean he conveniently dies, leaving the golem masterless. The golem is quickly found by a nice rabbi who teaches her all the ways of humans (i.e. how to blend in). He conveniently dies later on as well, but thankfully only after he gets her a job somewhere.

But on to the Jinni. He is discovered/released by a metalworker fixing a flask. The jinni becomes the tinsmith’s apprentice because he can mould metal in his hands like putty. But this is not entirely a perfect arrangement. The jinni is trapped in human form and becomes restless with humankind. He meets a girl named Sophia and ends up having sex with her. I hated that part because it was just thrown in there. It was only to show that he wanted sex and would throw her away once he got bored with her. But I really didn’t understand why he would want sex with a human in the first place. (For example, he never has sex with the girl that gets him trapped in the flask in the first place – at least I don’t think so. He only wants to talk to her).

Sophia as a character could have been cut entirely because her role is useless despite the fact that Wrecker brings her back later on in the end to ‘save the day’ by inviting everyone to rest up at her house (after the Jinni tries to kill himself when he finds out his fate is tied to THE BAD GUY). It was an awkward non-twist.

The Jinni eventually meets the Golem about town. He and the golem decide to take walks each night because she is the only thing interesting to him and she doesn’t have anything else to do because she doesn’t sleep.

The Golem and the Jinni do not fit in well. The Jinni’s made up back story makes people suspicious and his temper gets him in trouble a lot. The Golem, since becoming masterless, can feel other peoples’ wants and desires and can therefore (basically) read their mind. She almost gives herself away a couple of times. They were very well-drawn characters and I fell in love with them. The Jinni is entertaining in everything he does – from the way he handles his cigarette to his flashbacks about how he came to be trapped in the first place (semi-spoilers: he makes a human girl fall in love with him and as he messes with her dreams he literally causes her to go mad – but not that he wanted that result, of course). And the Golem’s day-to-day experiences broke my heart. She could not sleep so she would take her clothes apart and then stitch them back together. She would play with her clay body – hedgehogging her arm by sticking pins in it just to see what would happen. I loved getting to know the characters more than the actual story.

Because then the story starts to lose its appeal. Wrecker introduces a quasi-handicap man who sells ice cream. He is an ex-doctor who is possessed by a demon and cannot look directly into peoples’ faces without seeing an empty void which scares him. His prestigious life had fallen apart because of it and so went to America to die. But he discovers that he can look at the Jinni’s face without being scared shitless and so follows him around. This ice cream man, Mahmoud Saleh, seemed like a sad ploy to introduce the three major Western religions. Because, well, he had a Muslim background. Let me explain: The Jinni is taken in by Syrian Christians. The Golem, of course, is Jewish. Of course we need a Muslim to complete the holy trinity here. UGH.

The ice cream man will later come back and save the day, but in reality his part could have been cut from the entire novel without making much of a dent. Saleh is not introduced until half the book is over. If Wrecker really wanted to make me care about him dying in the end then she would have called this book, The Golem, the Jinni, and the Demon-possessed. But she didn’t.

Then, the Golem’s maker comes to America on a whim (on his search for immortality – which isn’t apparent until later on). The reader isn’t sure what drives him to come to the U.S. and neither is he. And of course he eventually finds his creation, but not before he charms his way into the heart of the Jewish community. At the beginning of the novel he’s really just this interesting (albeit sinister) magician-guy who is willing to make a Golem (for a price, of course). But then we are suddenly supposed to think of him as evil and it just doesn’t work. At the end, we find out that he’s the dude that trapped the jinni so long ago…but not exactly. He’s the reincarnated guy who originally trapped the jinni. Which made things a little confusing.

The reincarnation thing seemed a little far-fetched in the book because it was just thrown out there. There was nothing for the reader to have seen it coming and so it felt like cheating. The Golem-maker, Schaalman, apparently wanted to trap a jinni so he could command it and the curse somewhat backfired making him have to reincarnate himself as long as the jinni was alive.

The Golem allows herself to be bound to Schaalman, her maker, which I found really stupid. At least plot-wise. I get that she is desperate to have a master, but she could have let ANYONE else be her master. She was suddenly very stupid to think Schaalman was the answer – especially since she had been contemplating destroying herself before (THAT would be the better answer).

But the issues continue: Instead of trapping the Jinni in the bottle, Saleh (the ice cream man) traps Schaalman. So, Schaalman cannot cause more trouble OR be reincarnated. YAY. But then again, he’s not dead. This is where things don’t make sense. Because, suddenly the Golem is herself (as if masterless) once more. But Schaalman is not dead. Her previous master had to die for her to be free. And even if Schaalman DID die, wouldn’t she still be bound to him because, oh I don’t know, he’d technically be reincarnated instantly and therefore she’d still be bound to him no matter what body he was in??????

SO HOW THE FUCK IS SHE FREE – SCHAALMAN CAN STILL LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD THROUGH HER. UGGGH. DOES NOT MAKE SENSE.

This is why the book failed. Every qualm I had with it could have been overlooked if only the story had been properly thought out. It had so much potential. But it was wasted on this one overlooked plot point. It could have simply been fixed if the Golem hadn’t suddenly turned stupid and allowed her maker to become her master. It was so out of character in the first damn place. Honestly.

Other cons about the book: 100 pages into the novel, you are left wondering what the plot is. At first you think it could turn into a love story. But it doesn’t. It simply tries to be a statement on free will. Other reviews will also tell you this. But it is not so much a story about free will as it is about Freedom itself. Both characters have free will but very little freedom. I think this is a difference. If the story is about free will, then there are not many moral dilemmas faced. Though there was one: the Golem eventually marries a man because she is afraid to not serve someone. The human ends up being an asshole who didn’t deserve her, but I didn’t really see anything wrong with how the humans faired in all this. And it’s not like I could have identified with the Golem or the Jinni. Thus, my point is, all the free will issues addressed (if you can even call them free will issues) weren’t really that important. At best the Golem and Jinni’s journey is an example of outsiders’ perspectives looking in.  Humans are strange things. That is the only message you can get from this story, if you care to get one at all.

Also, there is a side-story about a girl the Golem works with who gets pregnant. That whole bit could have been cut from the book. The only thing that you get out of it was that the Golem beats up the girl’s boyfriend when he won’t admit that he got the girl pregnant/marry her. The girl become fearful of the Golem yet is willing to help the Golem later on and it just didn’t make sense. Besides, that whole part could have been simplified in the book.

The book could have been cut in half. Wrecker knows how to set up a story, but not to follow through. She is good at beginnings but not middle and ends. She is very good a writing at the sentence level, though her thematic elements are little above average.

I also take issue with the fact that a 500-paged book was published as first novel and that Wrecker apparently had an agent for this book before it was finished (her agent Sam Stoloff apparently “encouraged [her] to write this novel almost from its conception”), leading me to suspect nepotism within her career. This causes me to not respect her.  Also, my copy says the LC in-publication data has been applied for, making me think this was a rush job. Maybe they shouldn’t have rushed through it, obviously.

Pros about the book: It was one of the better books of 2013 and was a literary, historical ADULT fantasy. You don’t get a book like this every day. I’m proud of the publishing industry to produce a book like this. It was like looking at an Edmund Dulac piece. I just wish it had been thought through. Also, it is pretty open to a sequel and I wouldn’t be surprised if another one was made. Maybe there is a chance my cons with the book will be addressed. Also, this would make an excellent movie – especially if they reworked the plot.

Overall grade: 83%. (B-)

I reviewed The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

 51rhdatyekl
I ordered my book off of Amazon and when I opened my book a bunch of receipts fell out. All I can say is that this person shops at Target, Joann’s (twice), WinCo foods, and Family Christian. Fellow book owner, it was very interesting to see what you bought. lol
But to the review!
For this book, I purposefully didn’t look up information on Hadley. I wanted things to be a surprise, because the book was enjoyable from the start.  However, as an English Lit major for my undergrad degree, I already knew plenty about Ernest Hemingway to know what to expect.
It’s rare for a book to hold my interest as much as this one did – especially when the book is not EXACTLY my cup of tea (it was very gendered and very book-clubby).
To me, the book is a case study on marriage. The Modernists were very interesting characters despite their literature. My favorite parts included the glimpses of Stein and their (Hadley and Hemingway’s) interactions with her and Alice.
If you like the Modernists, then you will like this book – because it offers a perspective on them that I had not considered before (the perspective of an outsider so close to them). It was also very interesting to see/consider how the publishing industry functioned WAY BACK WHEN. Things sure have changed now.
Side note, I want a Gertrude Stein of my very own, thank you.
Though my view of Hemingway did not change after I read this book (I do not like Hemingway as a person. He is too cruel and too-self involved) I learned about Hadley and grew to dislike her. In fact, I like Hemingway more than her. Not because she is as messed up as Hemingway or anything, but because she is more selfish than he was. Well…at least her character in this book was.
Even I resented her for losing Hemingway’s manuscript. But I resented her more when she was careless about her birth control. She knew who Hemingway ‘was’ deep down and why the HELL would she want to produce offspring with him? She was the most selfish character in this book.
But I will stop ranting.
My overall judgment of this book: It is worth reading. Especially if you need something to calm you down after watching The Great Gatsby.  But it won’t change your life… It will certainly leave you reconsidering your life choices, but it won’t change your life. Was a B book.
I’ve reviewed quite a few other books here.

The Diviners By Libba Bray, A Review

I got 50 pages into the (basically) 600-paged book and called it quits.

It seemed too much like her Gemma Doyle books – but minus Victorian and plus flappers.

There were already too many characters and plot points in those first 50 – and already too much preaching about what I should believe. I didn’t like how she had crammed theology in with supernatural.

It’s fine and dandy to talk about theology, but only if it relates to your story.

Organized religion though, I understood that part in the story. Organized religion isn’t kind to the supernatural. Religion and superstition fit well together as plot points. I was OK with that.

But she should have left the more philosophical part of religion (theology) out of it. It made her point – her message – too convoluted.  I wanted to be entertained with a story. But instead I was given a lesson in theodicy right off the bat.

Yes, Christians burned witches/‘Diviners’ at the stake or hanged them. Religion did that. But I don’t see what the debate about why God allows evil was even relevant to the story. Bray was just trying to sound smart. Instead, she shoved her ideas down my throat without earning the right to do so first.

…But now that I’m done with my complaint, I welcome comments below. If you want to convince me that I really should continue to read the book, please do! Maybe I’m in the wrong because I didn’t give it enough of a chance.

Or, if you’ve reviewed the book on your own blog please link to it so I can read it and see if I’m judging this book too harshly.

I just don’t want to waste my time with a huge book (that could be 300 pages shorter) that I’ll eventually hate (even more than I do right now). I mean, I gave it a shot but I don’t think the book and I will work out.

I also review books here on this other blog:  OhSoCleverReads

Where I refuse to review Wild

I feel the need to warn you all against this book:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Panda grumbles: Wild was a DNF (again) for me. I read up to 146/315 pages, though. So, I’m still going to review what I read and tell you why I didn’t finish (Panda is nothing but helpful). 

By page 5, when I read she had been a homecoming queen and a cheerleader I already hated her. But I knew that “cheerleader” was kind of a different stereotype for back then, so I forgave her (something I felt like I was having to do a lot in this book, another reason I eventually stopped reading) and kept at it.
She, the author, is very self-involved – even going so far as to say she helped her ex-husband apply for grad school – as if she had anything to do with him getting accepted (because of course you’re accepted based on who you’re married to). It was her little comments like that that made me want to punch her in the face. She thinks the world revolves around her.  Everyone she meets on her “adventure” seems so poised to help her. She had no struggle at all – nothing she was really fighting against except her own stupid self – something I could not sympathize with because I AM NOTHING LIKE HER.
Another thing about the book that I hated was that… Well, she meets so many guys on the trail. She sexualizes ALL of them as if all they were – or should have been – into her. She goes on the trail to get away from her sex life (and other things) only to create a new one there. News flash, girl friend, you are not God’s gift to man and you are not God’s gift to the memoir. Your story was pointless and emphasizes the fact you are full of yourself.  

Writing a punishment post is a pleasure if I don’t have to finish your book! lol.

 

Read the full review (in other words, Helena’s review of the entire book) here.

I reviewed His Majesty’s Dragon:

I recently reviewed Novik’s novel His Majesty’s Dragon on my book review blog. It is also posted below:
HMD is book one of the Temeaire series. 
My grade: 6/10. 
I read this book years ago. The things I can remember about it is: it had dragons and is an alternate history set during the Napoleonic wars where dragons act as airplanes for battle. I can’t really remember names or the breeds of dragons. Nor do I really care to look them up. 
The dragon-concept is kind of like Eragon, where the dragon imprints on the human of its choosing (that was an Eragon thing right?). But it’s also like Pirates of the Caribbean in the fact that there are ships and navy stuff goes on. It was an interesting concept. 
 
Buuuut. 
The novel was 1) too long, 2) too much like a romance novel (as my Fantasy Literature professor pointed out to me: at one point the main character gives the dragon a NECKLACE. And, he – the MC – is super monogamous with her…to the point he doesn’t have a girlfriend or real human relationship

because he’s so devoted to his Dragon), and 3) there were not enough human interactions, 4) the Dragon types were too complicated to keep up with, and 5) the book is part of an overdone genre – dragon and historical fantasy-wise.   

In a lot of ways it felt like it was TRYING to be the Pirates of the Caribbean of Dragon tales. It also felt like Novik ripped off some of the POTC ideas. There’s even a Mr. Gibbs character – WITH THE SAME NAME. 
Read it if you’re into that sort of thing (as in Dragons). But it won’t change your life. I think it would make an interesting movie though. I would watch it. And it’s better than any other dragon book I’ve read (I hate Christopher Paolini’s books, if that helps decipher my opinion).In reality, I think it would have made a better game than a book – participating in the scenes would have been better than reading them (it was a dense read at times).
 
I only mention this because Novik actually used to be a game designer. Or, I could be wrong. But, if I’m right…I’m pretty sure she should stick to games, sorry.  
Another interesting thing is that all – or most – of the books in the series were copyrighted AT THE SAME TIME. That probably means she wrote them all before publishing the first one. Which means she either is 1) a really prolific writer or 2) it took a long-ass time to sell this first book, allowing her to work on the others as well. Not sure what that means, but… 
I recommend  watching How to Train Your Dragon. Dragons don’t get better than that.
I’m not really proud of this review. But meh. Here it is.

Where I sort of review Redshirts…

I “reviewed” Redshirts on my other blog. And here it is:

QUOTE:

Redshirts was a DNF for me. But, I will review the half of the book I did read. 
100 pages in and it still felt like the same long-running joke that was trying to remember the punch line.
Really, this book should have been a short story or novella. The characters were underdeveloped because they were just names on a page. I could hardly tell them apart. Except for the one girl character. 
I know it is supposed to critique Star Trek and TV shows of the like. I get that. But when your critique can be summed up in one sentence, it makes me angry. Something like this would be funnier and more effective as an uber intertextual episode of Community.
 
I read to exactly half in my book. And by then the logic was so thin I was like, ‘I can tell this isn’t going anywhere.’ So I stopped.

In sum, don’t waste your time or your money. Scalzi is a big name, but I’m not so sure he deserves it. Or his seat on the SFWA or whatever.

END QUOTE.

Ready Player One

ready_player_one_coverI recently reviewed Ready Player One here. Here is the review:

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One was a quick read. I read it over a year ago, and no longer have my book (someone borrowed it and is yet to return), so I will try to remember it as best I can. 
As other plot summaries will tell you, it’s set in Oklahoma (where I am!) – but in a dystopian future. I think that (if I’m remembering right) there are trailer parks where the trailers are stacked on top of each other – so they’re called “the stacks.” This is a most believable plot about Oklahoma’s future, lol.  In this future, because life sucks so bad for everyone, everybody wants to live online. It’s kind of like the Matrix but people want to be in the virtual world. That is how people go to school, work, etc – it’s all online, but more interactive and “real” than online classes are today. 
I can’t even remember the main character’s name, and I’m too lazy to look it up now, but he’s a boy who is a gamer. 
Now, the guy that designed the virtual world(s) that people “live” in dies. But, before he did, he created this game that whoever can figure out his puzzles inherits his estate, basically. And so all of these corporations try and solve his riddles (that are laden with 80s references which I didn’t always enjoy because they were before my time, but hey, that’s when the gamer culture really started to bloom so I get it) so that they can take over the game world – which is more like the actual world, since that’s where everybody wants to live anyway. 
That’s where the main character comes in. He tries to solve the game himself – and that means he upsets the big money corps who want to control the world (as if they don’t already???).
It’s actually pretty sad to think just how likely this future is for us, and how big corporations would do exactly what they do in the novel – which is try and beat out the little man. 
But about the book: The concept is interesting. But there are no major plot twists. At one point, Cline tries to create one, but it is so obvious:: OBVIOUS RED HERRING!!! OBVIOUS RED HERRING!!!:: that you roll your eyes and sigh. You can pretty much see everything coming.
Also, the fact that you’re not the player solving the riddles is kind of boring. The novel is literally like watching someone play a video game (which is funny because that’s what they ARE doing). 
Which is fine, but if you don’t like the game your friend is playing (without you) then you can’t just say “I’m going home.” No, you have to finish the novel.  
I’ve read that there are talks of turning it into a movie. Which would be good, because I think it would have been a better screenplay than a novel.  Maybe if I had read it when I was younger, it would have impressed me more. But as a 20 year old, I was like “Mer.” Plus, the novel constantly references movies – movies I haven’t even seen. So it lacks context for me.
And, I want to add that this episode of Community pretty much sums up “the idea” of this entire book. And, it’s better.