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Posted on Nov 13th 2015 at 08:00:00 AM by (singlebanana)
Posted under Ready Player One, book review, Earnest Cline,


This past Christmas, I was fortunate enough to get a copy of Ready Player One from the wife as one of my gifts.  She’s always been good with gift-giving and I attribute this to her knowing me pretty well after being together for 19 years, and a little thing I like to call an Amazon Wishlist (if you don’t have a Wishlist and share it with your loved ones, I highly suggest it).  Anyway, I’ve had the book for 10 months now, I’ve picked it up and put it down several times and it wasn’t until recently (during my travels to RWX and a subsequent beach vacation) that I settled in and gave it a go. You see, I’m kind of what you would call an opportunistic reader. I read when a good opportunity presents itself and those opportunities are typically when I’m not around my kids or when I’m on a nice warm beach…..so yeah, pretty few and far between.  It’s not that I don’t love to read, I use to do it all of the time, but a busy adult life and being heavily force-fed a lot of “classics” I didn’t want to read in grad school kind of sucked a lot of the enjoyment out of it for me. Again, I still love to read, it’s just that I’m a lot pickier about what I choose to dive into these days.

Ready Player One sat near the top of my stack for those 10 months, and did so due to strong recommendations from site members and a New York Times reviewer’s blurb on the cover which reads, “Willie Wonka meets The Matrix.” (The Huffington Post’s “The grown-up’s Harry Potter,” not so much a draw for me.)  Was the New York Times right?  Well, in a way. Mr. Cline takes great liberty in borrowing pieces of 70’s and 80’s nostalgia to craft a story which tugs at the core of his reader and unlocks images from the deep recesses of our childhood memories.  You see, Ready Player One is more than a book, it’s a love letter—one directed at the late 30 and 40+ year old dinosaurs who grew up during the infancy of video games and helped cultivate what we now so lovingly refer to as “geek culture.”  However, to limit the book to a specific audience is not only unfair, but inaccurate. Any lover of science fiction, apocalyptic landscapes, high-tech gadgets, action, and even romance, will appreciate and enjoy this book. However, it doesn’t hurt to have a good working knowledge of, or at least a healthy interest in, early video games and 80’s culture.



Ready Player One is the story of Wade Watts, a Senior in high school in the year 2044.  He’s just like many kids his age, he dreads school, is awkward with the opposite sex, loves video games, and is hopelessly addicted to the OASIS, a virtual world where most, if not all life now takes place.  The OASIS was created by Mr. James Halliday, a child of the early video game generation and billionaire, who has recently passed away with no heirs to his fortune.  As a result, he has created the ultimate “game” inside of the OASIS in which the winner, the person who finds his “Easter Egg” gains control of his accounts, the OASIS, and basically, the entire planet.  As a result, everyone is in search of three keys that unlock the gates to the egg, including elite clans of seekers called “gunners,” and even large corporations with mercenaries that will stop at nothing (even murder) to gain control of Halliday’s assets.  Things have been quiet for several years after Halliday’s death, but Wade Watts (and his OASIS avatar, Parzival) has just uncovered the location of the first key, and the game is about to break wide open.

One of things I appreciated most about the main character is that he is a product of his dystopian environment and as such, is a flawed character. All too often, authors create heroes that are "perfect" in the sense that they are always morally good and are not swayed by the immorality that exists in the world in which they live.  Wade comes off as a good-hearted boy, but poverty has forced him out of the physical world and into hiding within the OASIS. This is where he spends the majority of his time, when he is not eating or sleeping. There are great benefits that come from being one of the top gunners in the world and as we find out, Wade is not immune to the glam and glitter of the "good life."  While this concept may be frustrating to some readers, I think it's a pure and accurate portrayal of a poverty-stricken, young man who finds himself in the virtual limelight.  While implementing newer and more high tech gadgets seems to be the most logical way to gain an advantage over the other gunners and the IOI (one of those "evil" corporations I was telling you about), it's only when he sheds this ill-fitting and unnatural skin, that he is able to progress within the game.

The supporting cast of characters in Ready Player One are diverse and interesting, but not fully flushed out in terms of their backstories. What we essentially get are tiny fragments of their backgrounds and relationships with other characters that are best described as awkward. I think this fits well with the nature of the book in that the OASIS is like the modern day Internet where people hide behind handles and avatars as a means of concealing their true identities and take on the persona of how they would like to see themselves.  While this ideology works in the book, there are moments where you get flooded with too much information all at once and the narrative becomes a bit unbalanced. Cline isn't afraid to get on his soapbox in critiquing modern culture, but at times it would be better left alone or even handled in a more understated way.  With that said, none of the characters are without purpose and Cline does a nice job making them all fun and interesting for his readers.  I cared about the majority of these characters even with the lack of background provided, and that says a lot about the author.   

As much as Ready Player One is a love letter to the gaming dinosaurs, it’s also a warning of the impending “Ice Age.”  The Earth’s resources have been diminished over time and its larger cities have crumbled. Poverty and famine are at an all-time high worldwide and humanity has retreated to the OASIS to forget about the real world.  Though the majority of Cline’s story takes place in the OASIS, it’s hard to ignore his portrayal of the “outside” world and the social criticisms presented via this setting throughout his work.  Ready Player One is not preachy, but instead uses a dystopian setting, the obvious lack of a middle class, a flawed political landscape, “borderless” nations (as all seem to be one inside the OASIS), and the frailty/materialistic tendencies of human nature, as a platform to deliver its sermon.  None of these societal faults are implicitly pointed out and discussed in detail in the text, but instead fall naturally into the background. In my opinion, this subtlety has an even more poignant effect and is what I like best about the book.     

I would be amiss if I did not mention that there is really nothing special in terms of plot of Ready Player One.  It has a very linear flow and there are no big surprises, great mysteries, or grand revelations along the way.  Does that mean that it's a bad book, or not worth the read?  No way! The narrative is well-constructed, the action scenes are on point, and all of the timeless references to 70's and 80's culture will put a huge grin on your face. I won't spoil it, but if you know me, there's a segment at the end of the book with a certain arcade cabinet that really got me jacked! Even if you didn't live through the 80's, I think most readers would have enough reference to grasp most of the allusions and might even find it fun to do some research. Honestly, I didn't remember a good deal of the Japanese anime mentioned in the text, but I had a great time looking them up to give myself a better mental image for what was going on in the story.  Ready Player One is a page turner and a book that is really hard to put down. Each chapter is well-crafted and many leave you hanging on or seamlessly moving your eyes through each break; it definitely creates that okay-just-one-more-chapter feeling.   Ready Player One is a book that I would recommend to anyone interested in distopian science fiction (possibly not too far from non-fiction) and the history of video games and video game culture.


*****************************************************

Though I didn't want to include it as part of my book review, I feel that it's necessary to mention that Ready Player One is supposed to be made into a movie.  As I've mentioned before, the book makes references to a ton of video games and lots of 70's/80's pop culture, so it has become sort of a nightmare in terms of getting all of the rights and licenses to these products.  Right now, it appears that Steven Spielberg is slated to direct the film and IMDB has its release date scheduled for December 2016.


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Comments
 
This was my beach read last year - the problem was we didn't go to the beach enough, so I never finished it. I really enjoyed what I got to read though, which is saying a lot because I very very rarely read fiction anymore.
 
I listened to most of the audiobook while trying to clean up/organize the new game room. I need to make some time to finish it as I like what I've heard.
 
I believe I've shared my thoughts on this book.  I really love it.  Ready Player One, The Name of the Wind, and Hyperion are the best books I've read in the last few years.
 
My brother listened to the audiobook while driving cross country and has a special recommendation for it, telling me that Will Wheaton adds a special spirit to it (much in the way that Paul Giamatti did for A Scanner Darkly).  Personally I'm drawn to any well written book that deals with dystopian futures and virtual environments (a la, Snowcrash and Neuromancer).

I'm probably just going to pick up the book, but I thought I'd mention that anyway.
 
Much like Speilburg being chosen to direct the film, Will Wheaton would be a perfect choice to do the audio book. I won't tell you what it is, but Will's name pops up in the book and it made me chuckle.
 
Great write-up Rich!

Ready Player One and 1Q84 are the two books I read in the time I was living apart from my wife, so they'll both forever be locked in my memory.

I only read RPO because my wife had read it, and it gave us something to talk about while apart.

I could really never get down with all the referential stuff, I really think Cline took his explanations just a bit too far way too many times. As you mentioned Rich, this was probably necessary to keep those not in the "target audience" in the loop, but I believe it was Greg Sewart who said "No thanks, I'll just read the wikipedia article" and I was left feeling exactly that way many times.

If you were to take out all the references, you'd be left with a short story. I won't go so far as to call it extemporaneous, but I find it hard to take the stance that is does anything other than color the backdrop and give readers nostalgic warm and fuzzies.

It's a lot like the "Juno effect." When I first saw that movie I was like "Oh wow, they're talking about Sonic Youth! I love Sonic Youth!" but then you realize there is actually a line in that movie where Ellen Page says "You'll have to speak up, I'm using a hamburger phone."

Show me, don't tell me. In RPO as with Juno, the writer would show, and then tell, a few too many times.

Having said all that, the rapid fire references cooled off after the first third of the book, and Cline lets the story breathe a little bit. As you mentioned, the story itself is serviceable and ended rather nicely.

Definitely an interesting piece of work, and as far as your notes about the movie and all the intellectual property pitfalls they might face, just remember: they've got Spielberg, and we have seen IP mash-ups before, a la The Lego Movie as just one example. 
 
@GrayGhost81: I completely agree. There are times when Cline goes way overboard with the references and sometimes explaining them gets a little annoying. However, like you mentioned, this eases off quite a bit toward the middle of the book and it makes for a better read.  It's not a groundbreaking text by any means, but simply a fun read.

One thing to note about Spielberg is that he said that we will not be using the IPs of any movies that he was involved in while directing.  I think it's kind of shame, since some of his films were are very integral part of the 80's. 

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