i read Flex and The Flux over the holidays. enjoyed the heck out of them.
i was thinking about why i liked them better than Ready Player One or His Majesty's Dragon, since they're falling apart in similar ways as soon as i examine them .
let me back up.
Ready Player One was enjoyable, but it annoyed me with its obsessive reliance on references,and using them in ways that didn't serve the story. (it annoyed me even more that the dead character was too young for the content he was obsessed with.) the references got intrusive and painful and masturbatory and overrode the otherwise interesting worldbuilding and story.
His Majesty's Dragon failed on its premise. somehow, intelligent dragons have always been around,and somehow, world history and culture is almost entirely unchanged. oh, and Napoleon is the first person to think of using dragons as dropships for ground troops. complete and utter bullshit. i kind of hate-read some of the sequels, not sure why at this remove, because the writing style annoyed me - i know that she considered Patrick O'Brian to be a major influence and *shudder* she is no Patrick O'Brian. i just kept hoping the world would get better, i guess. (i do HIGHLY RECOMMEND Novik's unrelated book Uprooted. i don't know how they come from the same person.)
in the 'Mancer books, magic is powered by obsession. so you get powers based on fire, or art, or paperwork, or video games. every time you warp the world with your obsession, you have to deal with a flux of bad luck. magic is illegal because it's stupidly dangerous. Europe is a no-man's land post WWII.
the books hinge on an AU where technology and popular culture are basically exactly the tech and culture we know today. one of the main characters is a video game 'mancer who uses familiar console tech and game characters and mechanics to manipulate the world.
if you think for five minutes about how a chunk of the industrialized world disappearing 70 years ago would change both the economy and art, the soufflé deflates. (and that doesn't even address MAGIC,or what happened in the Pacific...Japan must be fine because there's Nintendo and Mortal Kombat. but why? why? why?)
Steinmetz wears his influences on his sleeve. but he's very clever with them, and it so happens that i like his influences.* there was a moment where i literally pumped my fist in the air. (there was also a moment where i stopped and said, yes, Ferrett, i also liked that scene.) but the key here is that the characters are great, their motivations and actions are organic to those characters, and the cultural stuff is almost entirely crucial to the plot and integral to the action instead of "look what i did there".
will you love it if you have never played a video game? i think it's quite possible. and it's pretty hard to be a nerd without having been exposed in a general cultural way to the stuff used in the books. there's certainly enough friendship and adventure to make up for all the Mario. (and there's a fat female nerd with a sex life. *sparkly heart emoji*)
*well, okay, i really really wanted to like Breaking Bad but was blocked by the stuff with his inlaws and his wife. ironymaiden: loves making drugs, killing people,and becoming a horrible person. can't stand mundane family conflict.