In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.
About the Author
ERNEST CLINE is a novelist, screenwriter, father, and full-time geek. His first novel, Ready Player One, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, appeared on numerous “best of the year” lists, and is set to be adapted into a motion picture by Warner Bros. and director Steven Spielberg. Ernie lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-traveling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic video games.
For more information, please visit ernestcline.com
Given all the hoopla, the insistence of several of my peers telling me, more than once, that I had to read this book, and the outpouring of fan-boy geekery surrounding the release of Armada, I thought it a good time to finally check out Ernest Cline's debut, Ready Player One. I'm only four years late, which isn't too bad all things considered.
However, that's four year of praise, hype, and build-up, which can be a rather significant hurdle to cross. I'm pleased to say that, for the most part, I enjoyed Cline's work here quite a bit. There's a few small caveats that I'll get to shortly, but this is a book that I largely enjoyed.
Ready Player One is infused with 1980s pop culture - I suspect that how well you are versed in the minutiae of 8-bit video games, John Hughes movies, Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons lore, and so very, very many more things of the like will play a critical role in how much you enjoy this book. This is a complete festival of nostalgia, and if you scratch your head wondering "What the heck is Starlog" or completely miss the importance of why our main character, Wade (aka Parzival), stands outside his love interest's moon base holding a boom box over his head and blasting Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" then you've got a fair amount of homework ahead of you.
But, you might protest, this book is supposed to be near-future sci-fi! And it is. You see, the story basically revolves a contest in which players compete in a massive, multiplayer gaming arena, called OASIS, to inherit the wealth of James Halliday. Halliday, the developer of OASIS, has not only left behind a massive pile of billions of dollars but is a total 1980s devotee. His career in game development was sparked by Atari, and he's an enormous fan of movies like Ladyhawke and War Games (more 1980s history for you study, if needed).
The real-world setting is a dystopian mess. The world has been decimated by climate change, and Wade lives with his nasty aunt in the stacks. I really dug the idea of the stacks, which sees high-rise towers made out of motor homes for the poor and disenfranchised to live in. The corporate entity IOI is chasing after Halliday's loot, and Wade and his top-scoring friends quickly becomes enemy number one.
I liked the 80s nostalgia and really enjoyed the trips down memory lane, even if, at times, it felt more like Cline was writing off a list of 80s references to incorporate. Some of them work, while others are mentioned just for the sake of it. I briefly wondered at the importance of Ecto-88, a souped up DeLorean modeled after the iconic time traveling car from Back To The Future with Ghostbuster and Knight Rider adds-on to accentuate it even further, which popped up ever so briefly being completely forgotten. We're told how incredible this car is, how worried Parzival is that it could be stolen, and why he, thus, protects it with all kinds of crazy magic spells. And then it just disappears entirely. For a very brief moment, this is Parzival's in-game hero car, but ultimately one of little consequence or importance as it's really just Cline inserting more of himself into the narrative (go Google Ecto-88 and you'll see). More interesting to me was his spaceship Vonnegut, a Firefly-class vessel (not a 1980s icon by any stretch of the imagination, but one that we'll let slide, because Firefly) piloted by none other than Max Headroom! That one got my geek flag f-f-flying high.
Where Ready Player One stumbled a bit, for me, was in its depictions of life outside the immersive video game OASIS. Like Ecto-88 we get glimmers and flashes of interesting ideas, but not any that are suitably fleshed out nor explored as deeply as they should be. I wanted to know more about the run-down, awful world that Wade perpetually escapes from. I was genuinely curious about his self-image and why OASIS was his ultimate escape. Again, we get small tickles of insight, but they only ever barely scratch the surface. There are some truly deep and fascinating waters of the psyche to explore, and I wanted to know more about our narrator and the real-world, as opposed to the virtual-worlds, that he inhabits.
That aside, it's rather difficult not to just simply enjoy the ride. Ready Player One is fun, even if it's not quite as deep as it could be. It's terrific brain candy and an enjoyable reminder of all those fun 80s games and gimmicks. For those who missed the 80s, your mileage may vary and you might even be asking yourself "Where's the beef?" while not even understanding that reference at all. For the rest of us who remember Lloyd Dobler, cereal box surprises, Galaga arcade machines, phone phreaks, Ultraman, and Big Trouble In Little China with sincere fondness, this one's for you.