Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)
YA Fiction | Sci-Fi | Dystopia
“It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.
And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.
And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.
Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?”
pooled ink Review:
Wow, I’m not sure I was mentally prepared for the level of geek this book took me to haha. I don’t mean that in a mean way! I just expected it to be more of a fast-paced action plot with gaming elements but the emphasis on gaming was intense. Rather than a race against time that gets dirty for the prize of a lifetime set within a dystopian world that escapes within virtual reality, this was…this was largely an info guide for all computer systems, gaming systems, and video games from the 1980s packed in with other 80s trivia.
All of these constant references and name-drops and explanations are kind of fun but most of the time it really felt as if it just hindered the plot from moving forwards. The result was that this book moved very slowly until about 100 pages into the story (although if you’re a big fan of 80s gaming then it might go faster for you).
So if I’m not a massive gaming geek then why did I read this book?? Well because the premise sounded awesome, that’s why. And it was…it just took me a while to uh appreciate it. Ready Player One is set in the not too distant future where life is far more bearable in the OASIS (virtual reality) than on Earth. We meet Wade, a high school kid who’s a dedicated hunter (called a “gunter”) for the easter egg left in the OASIS by the deceased creator and by almost 100 pages in he suddenly becomes the very first person to find and capture the first key. Little friendless geeky nobody Wade is suddenly launched into fame, shoved into the crosshairs of deadly competitors, and running for his life and the life of the OASIS. If he fails there is far more than money at stake, the OASIS could fall into irreparable corruption.
This book is truly an ode to the origins and spirit of classic videogames. The plot bleeds gaming geekdom and was like stepping into an 80s game quest itself. It was pretty cool to see how Cline crafted this world that shifts so seamlessly between physical reality and virtual reality – I can easily see how this will make an exciting movie. This book was also really descriptive which was quite helpful if you’re not overly knowledgeable with videogames and was cool if you are, but it often danced on the edge of creating irrelevant info dumps.
Throughout the story you meet some different characters and there’s the odd twist in the plot. OH, but wow this book goes from 1 to 100 so fast I was blinking! The beginning of the book was slow (to me) then the first key is discovered and things get a bit more interesting as the plot finally starts to move, and then things get REAL. Things don’t just escalate, they take a freaking elevator through the roof! By this I mean at first a bunch of nerdy kids are merrily bantering and forgoing food and sleep to hunt for a multibillion dollar easter egg then suddenly an entire residential tower is blown up killing tons of innocents and all to get rid of some pesky competition. OKAY THEN. (This excitement is then followed by another stretch of the dull and uneventful).
The romance in this book (if you can even call it that) was rather amusing. Their conversations may have been intended to come across as funny, endearing, perhaps even witty…but they didn’t. The dialogue reflected exactly who Wade is: a socially awkward geeky teenage boy who almost never goes outdoors, has no friends and absolutely no experience talking to girls (purchasing that ACHD was a real pathetic low point for him and an embarrassing turn-off if any real human girl ever found out). It was just another facet of how geeky this book is. Much of this book comes across as a fanfic written by a geeky teenage boy about the life he wishes he had.
Overall this book was a blend of the relatable and creative but also of the cliché. If you have a love for classic gaming algorithms brought into a high-tech dystopian age then you’ll probably really like this. In fact Wade’s adventure is probably almost every gaming geek’s dream.
I do wish the story did a better job of making the OASIS lifestyle “normal” as it claimed to be. Even though it was explained that just about everyone spent most of their time in virtual reality to escape the world it still came across as if only sad, lonely, friendless teens hung out there (plus a greedy corporation hoping to take it over). I also wish Cline would’ve calmed down with constantly dropping in obscure references every other sentence and instead focused more on the action of the plot as well as the flow (which was inconsistent at best). The result was that this book feels geared towards true deep gaming geeks and isn’t quite as accessible to us mere plebeians. This is definitely a niche type of book.
The movie adaptation will probably be much more exciting in that it won’t have to stop the story every two seconds to explain a bunch of obscure facts or name-drop a slew of 80s references. Instead the movie can just show us the clear 80s homage with the set design and focus on what’s important: the plot.
Anyway, this book was a struggle for me to get through, not because it wasn’t cool or interesting but just because the plot struggled to move forwards constantly hindered by the lengthy explanations and info dumps that in the grand scheme of things really weren’t necessary. It was like watching a cult classic movie only to have your friend constantly press ‘Pause’ just to vomit up a bunch of movie trivia that you really don’t care about nor need to know to understand or enjoy the movie.
But like I said, if you’re a true fan of 80s gaming then you really might enjoy this book. I bet the boys from Stranger Things would love this book. So if that’s you then huzzah! And if not then maybe wait a few months and check out the movie instead.
Purchase here: Ready Player One
Meet Ernest Cline!
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. His second novel, ARMADA, debuted at #4 on the NYT Bestseller list and is being made into a film by Universal Pictures. Ernie lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-traveling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic video games.