Book Review :: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The eighties have become a nostalgic laden, cheese-induced stereotype that seems to be overused and overrun in every flashback radio weekend and throwback television and movie portrayal. It is all way over-the-top neon colors, headbands, leg warmers and a heavy rotation of one hit wonder hits such as Come On Eileen and I’ll Melt With You. No one seems to acknowledge that most of us never dressed that way and that though those songs were popular; there were volumes and album stacks of other music that was played and enjoyed. There is a reason that the term alternative became a music genre, just as there is a reason John Hughes movies still possess relevancy – there were memorable and meaningful things in the eighties – scads of it.

One of the elements that Ready Player One gets so right – I mean, completely right – is the eighties. From the film choices, to the music, to video and in-person games, to books and television, it is spot on.  The book itself is filled to the brim with pop culture references. Not since reading Rob Sheffield’s books have I felt so personally drawn back to my adolescence, and so connected to the time and place of what it was really like (at least for me).

The other thing that I truly believe Cline gets so right is the draw the internet holds to society and sociology, the enormous impact social media, online role playing games, and the shrinking of the world with a click of the keyboard has had on our life now – and in the case of Ready Player One, what it could do to the not so distant future.

Wade is a young, desolate orphan who lives in both poverty and family neglect. The world he resides in is post-apocalyptic (or perhaps post-global warning/post-financial crash/financial ruin), and the majority of society are leaving in poverty. A socially inhibited, possibly Asperger/autistic, technological genius, James Halliday, with the help and partnership of his best (only) friend have created a literal oasis called the Oasis, which is a computer generated universe – scratch that, universes – that work like a next generation World of Warcraft.

The Oasis is available to everyone, costing only pocket change to join up, and once a user name and avatar are created one can live their entire existence online – including school, career, relationships, competitions and even sex. A user is fit with a haptic suit and gloves which physically make one feel like they are not playing in a game setting, but living within it.

The appeal to this is hard to deny.

When the creator of the Oasis falls ill he decides to create an intricate, near impossible mysterious puzzle of a game, a coveted egg to be found at the very end. The winner of said game will inherit all of his fortune, and control of the Oasis. Here is where the story begins.

Oasis, being available to nearly anybody, means that for a while nearly everyone was trying to solve the game and find Halliday’s egg. Time went by, though, and this was not an amateur treasure hunt, so many but the truly persistent (i.e. obsessed) continued this quest – the persistent and the big corporation. As big business is wont to do, the biggest corporation in the world wants its hands on the egg, and in turn Oasis, so that they can turn it into a profitable, only for those who can afford it space. And the persistent, or gunters, as they are called – well, they want it to prove they can solve it, and in the case of Wade, in order to escape his nowhere life.

Wade, or Parzival as his avatar is called, has a best friend who he has never met in “real life”, Aech (pronounced as the letter H). He also has one hell of a huge crush on a smart, sarcastic, pop culture maven of a girl hiding behind her avatar, deemed Art3mis. Though Wade was easy to care about, and root for, I have to say it was Art3mis and Aech that I really loved.

The adventure is fast-paced, addicting and impossible to stop reading. At times I felt my heart racing along with the three gunters, wondering how they would survive. Other times I cringed and grew irritated with their choices, often catching myself talking to the pages of the book, as if the characters would hear me and take heed.  And, in the end (which I will not spoil), I was touched by a reminder that I try to hold true, about life and love, choices and risk, and persistence.

This book is categorized as young adult, a genre, or category, an admitted favorite of mine. That said, I hope the category does not scare off older readers, as I do believe that the reader who grew up in the eighties may enjoy it just that much more than a younger aged reader. Especially moments, like one of my favorites, when a quest in the game is having to act out an entire film, word and action for word and action – the film being 1983’s WarGames.

Rumor has it Ready Player One is soon to hit the movie screen, which I am both excited and apprehensive about. I hope they can capture the pacing, the imagery and the overall feeling of being digitally and emotionally immersed in a created reality without making it a movie full of badly animated avatars. I hope the humanity is kept intact, as it is in this awesome book.

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