Ready Player One was a fun sci-fi adventure that became a favorite of gamers everywhere, including myself, and it went on to also become a successful movie directed by Steven Spielberg. With so few good gamer centric novels being written I was instantly worried when I saw this sequel was in the works because I felt there would be no way for Ernest Cline to recapture the magic of the first book. Sure he could load up another novel with a ton of pop culture trivia but it was the magic of the giant Easter egg hunt with a fortune at stake that truly captured one's imagination. So I went into this one with trepidation, and while it is not as good as the original, it was able to grab my attention with all of the tantalizing possibilities of where gaming and technology might go in the future.
Fuzzy Nation is a modern take on the classic tale of a large corporation exploiting natural resources for profit, destroying the environment in the process, and then running into an environmental snag. In this case the exploitation happens to be occurring on a distant planet and the snag is the discovery of a new life form that mucks up the works. Because these new creatures are small and furry they are given the name "Fuzzies" and the bulk of this story is the ensuing legal battle between scientists and lawyers over whether or not the Fuzzies are sapient. Of course if they are deemed sapient then interplanetary law dictates that the corporation must stop exploiting their home world and leave it to them, so vast sums of money are at stake on the outcome. Don't be fooled into thinking that a legal battle must be boring as John Scalzi injects his usual amount of humor into the tale and makes this a fun short story that doesn't outstay its welcome.
The Yherjak are an alien race that has traveled for many years across the galaxy to reach Earth with a plan to make first contact with us. Being a benevolent people they decide take it slowly and they spend time monitoring our communications in order to figure out how best to proceed with reaching out. After careful study of our culture they realize that their appearance, a translucent gelatinous mess, combined with the fact that they communicate through smells, bad ones at that, will likely result in a poor first contact scenario. Since the Yherjak have dedicated many years of their lives to making successful contact with us they are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure it goes well. Of course that means that they hire a top Hollywood agent to represent them and handle their introduction to the rest of the planet. :)
There is a lot to like about Redshirts and John Scalzi creates an interesting meta-universe that gives a backstory to all of the disposable extras the filled many an episode of Star Trek. The book pokes fun at a storied television franchise and goes from silly to absurd as the junior crew members do what they can to avoid going on away missions. These crew members are more savvy than the original redshirts and they fully understand their odds of returning from an away mission when they go down to a planet along with more important ship personnel. Seeing things from the perspective of an "extra" is somewhat unique and one inside joke after another keeps things entertaining.
Anyone who has ever played a character in an online game or assumed any kind of persona in a virtual world will identify with this book. Serious MMO players in particular understand the challenge of managing the demands of the real world versus a virtual world and know the perils of trying to live in both at the same time. The two have a way of bleeding together with each having the ability to negatively impact success in the other. Ernest Cline take this concept and creates a virtual utopia known as the OASIS and juxtaposes it against a dystopian society that is in near ruins. Many people live in poverty in the"stacks", which are trailer homes vertically stacked on top of each other, and the only grass they ever see is virtual grass when they are online.