Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
This edition published by Broadway Books in 2012.
Ready Player One reads like a combination of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and the very classic adventure games this book pays homage to. With more pop culture references than an entire season of Farscape (a tv show I highly recommend if you are a scifi fan and have never seen it). In fact, Farscape seems to be the only scifi show I didn’t see referenced, even though Cline delights in displaying his “geeky” interests and hobbies– from 1980s video and arcade games, to pop songs and classic samurai films, there’s plenty for everyone. And, while knowing the references may help, not knowing them all won’t take away from your reading experience.
Anyway, what’s it about?
Ready Player One follows teenage hero Wade Watts, also known by his avatar name Parzival. Wade lives in a near future dystopian America. In Wade’s universe the depletion of fossil fuel resources has led to an energy crises beyond comprehension. This has, in turn, led to extreme poverty (Wade lives in the “Stacks”, a ghetto filled with unusable trailers that have been stacked on top of each other to form dangerous swaying towers), unfathomable unemployment rates, crime and corruption. You name it, they’ve got it.
But it’s okay, because in Wade’s universe, everyone spends all of their time in a virtual reality called the OASIS, which is kind of like a super-realistic, fully immersive version of Second Life, World of Warcraft, and every other MMORPG combined. In the OASIS literally anything is possible. Designed by James Halliday, a legendary game designer, the OASIS has at once provided both an escape from reality for the inhabitants of this world, and the means for that reality to continue being neglected. When Halliday dies, he announces that his entire fortune and the right to control the OASIS is to be left to one person—the winner of a massive OASIS-wide “easter egg” hunt. We join the story five years after Halliday’s death (and the subsequent competition announcement) with Wade and his quest to find Halliday’s Egg.
What I liked most:
The relationships between Wade, and his fellow Gunters (that’s short for Egg Hunters) as they compete for the ultimate prize. Having myself had several online friendships (shout out to Samantha, who I mention in almost everyone post. . . ) I can say that Cline writes truthfully as he illustrates the power of these friendships. Even in a vastly digital world, Wade still hesitates in fully embracing an online-only existence, but the ultimate feeling I got was that even though many people (in the book and in present day) may feel like these relationships aren’t legitimate, the internet – or in this case the OASIS—has the astonishing ability to bring together people who might not otherwise have been friends.
The OASIS. I have to admit, Cline made me want to join an MMORPG just to try and simulate an experience close to the one that Wade and his companions might experience in Ready Player One. The details of this online world are breathtaking; the thought that went into just the idea of it is amazing. Cline has created a world that I’d love to live in, despite the ongoing chaos, death, and destruction around them, just to get a chance at the OASIS. It’s easy to see why this virtual reality might become so much more appealing to people than the crumbling ruins around them.
What I didn’t like as much:
The nostalgia. The book is rife with 1980s pop culture references, and in the beginning it gets a little bit tiresome. I’ve never found the 1980s particularly interesting from an independent point of view, though I do love watching 80’s movies and the occasional TV show. At times, I felt like I was just being bombarded with references, just for the sake of it. Still, the nostalgia does work, even if it gets irritating; the whole point of the book (in my opinion) was an argument against the idea of nostalgia as an escape. To the characters, the 80s seemed perfect and completely without flaw when the 1980s, like every decade, had it problems of its own. Wade, his friends, and especially the mythical figure of James Halliday, use it as a distraction and escape from their own world, which is falling apart around them.
I found the book compulsively readable. There was a good mix of science fiction and adventure, with believable characters and an overall likeable narrator. The action is face-paced and unpredictable. I really really loved this book!
Random last thoughts:
Is there a list of every pop culture reference made in Ready Player One? If so, I need to see this.
Coming soon from Ernest Cline:
If you like this, you might also like: