Earlier this week, I featured the book lover’s website Goodreads as my Pick of the Week. Keeping with the literary theme, here is a round-up of some of my recent reviews. In true ESO fashion, all these books can be classified as geeky in that they are all sci-fi, fantasy, or (gasp) real science.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Imagine a world where Apple’s only consumer product is a digital universe. Imagine that Apple bought out everything from World of Warcraft to City of Heroes; that Steve Jobs negotiated the rights to use everything from Star Wars to Firefly within a massively multiplayer game. Now imagine Steve Jobs died (it’s a stretch, I know.)

This is basically the setting for Ernest Cline’s book Ready Player One. From here on out, we follow the hero on a digital scavenger hunt against pretty much every player in the world including clans of hacktivists, a corporation with morals somewhere between Microsoft and the Russian mob, and, of course, the obligatory love interest.

The Jobsian catalyst of the hunt takes the role of a post-mortem Willy Wonka upon the news that the final treasure is complete control of the company and the on-line universe called the OASIS. The hunt leads from one riddle to the next and spans years of searching while the public at large follows along. If you expect to answer the riddles for yourself, you better have encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture trivia, mostly from the 80s.

Honestly, most of the references were over my head, and I’m a self-proclaimed geek, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a thing or two. You have characters decked out in wizards cloaks with anime pets and flying in a X-Wing. I’d classify the book as sci-fi, but in identifying with the characters it becomes the ultimate nerd fantasy. I recommend Ready Player One to anyone who has ever played or wanted to play a MMO, as this book takes the genre to it’s logical conclusion while delivering a very compelling thriller.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan

I started reading Y when my media worlds collided. I learned that a writer from my favorite TV show, LOST, was also a comic book creator. A little background about me, I’ve read a lot of comics. It is a weighty statement when I say “best comic book series ever.” So weighty, in fact, that I’m not going to say it. Y is tied as my favorite with the likes of Watchman, Kingdom Come, and Identity Crisis. Those books are all tied with a rich history of capes and cowls. Y is a fresh starting point for a fan of any fiction, graphic or prose.

Spoiler for issue number one, which is also given away in the “Last Man” title…
The concept of Y is that all the men in the world die save for Yorick Brown. Hilarity ensues. Actually, mostly drama ensues. The series does a wonderful job exploring a cast of characters while moving forward the mythology of the world. There are one-shots were the main cast are barely featured, points where the story seems to go a completely new direction and cliffhangers at the end of most issues. Ah, I miss LOST.

In retrospect, Y is better than LOST. The questions posed by the series are answered in full. The fate of the world is decided. Does humanity die off? Does the last man stud himself out to repopulate the planet? Does something else happen that makes losing all the men seem like no biggy? No spoilers here except that it finished STRONG. The final issue, more of an epilogue than a climax, is the best single issue comic I’ve ever read. I still think about it from time to time, after my first reading years ago.

Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing “Hoax” by Philip C. Plait

The first half of this book reads as a basic course in Astronomy, reviewing everything from the moon’s phases and the seasons to why the sky is blue. I considered myself educated in the subject before reading Bad Astronomy, but was surprised (embarrassed) by how much I either didn’t know or knew wrong. For the first half alone, I highly recommend this book.

The second half focuses on debunking rather strange claims about Astronomy and science in general. For a lesson in skepticism, I approve, but I can’t say exactly what I got out of it. I already understood that the moon landing was not a hoax and that biblical claims don’t jive with research. If you are on the fence on these subjects or want to debate the crackpot in your life, then all the more reason you should check out Bad Astronomy.

Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel by Joe Hill

Even if author Joe Hill wasn’t Stephen King’s son, I would immediately compare him to Stephen King. I imagine Hill shies away from the comparison considering he likely changed his name to have his works’ merit stand on it’s own. It is hard not to notice that their writing is very similar. This is the first Joe Hill book I’ve read and I honestly enjoyed it more than most of King’s work. It is a ghost story with a very The Shining feel.

The story follows an eccentric rockstar, who is right away a more interesting character than The Shining‘s victims, as he is tormented by a single ghost with a history and motivation that is well explored. Hill matches his father’s suspense and strange happenings with a better realized plot. If you like King and/or The Shining, as I do, then you should love Heart-Shaped Box.