Book Review – Ready Player One
Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Random House, 2011
Pages: Paperback Edition, 384 pages
Ready Player One is the ultimate underdog story written by 2009’s Fanboys screenplay writer Ernest Cline. Set in the not-so-distant future of 2044, the world has changed and is more depressing than ever, and we’ve finally run out of our Earthly resources. We’ve also overpopulated and destroyed our planet so that living in the real world is almost completely intolerable. The world described in the story is scary in that it doesn’t seem too far off from where we’re headed, if we continue to do things as we have been.
Large corporations have a more sinister foothold in society and the majority of people have begun rejecting real life in favor of the OASIS, a virtual reality MMORPG in which users can attend school, work for money and live like a normal person on a variety of programmed planets and worlds. From the Whedonverse to entire worlds created to act as a simulation of various films and video games, OASIS is basically a virtual reality paradise.
When the OASIS creator James Halliday dies, he leaves his entire company and more money than a person could ever need for themselves to the first person who can solve a series of puzzles and quests, all focusing on pop culture references, 80s knowledge and video games. This starts a whole new obsession with the era, and a league of people determined to solve the mystery and find the hidden Easter egg, called gunters, compete with each other to know the most obscure knowledge and be the first beat Halliday’s game.
Unfortunately for the gunters, those scary corporations mentioned above are also on the hunt for the egg. One specifically is intent on winning the prize and taking control of the OASIS so that they can charge users a fee for the experience – something that would greatly commercialize and limit the experience for its users. The gunters can’t let this happen, understandably, and we follow Parzival, aka Wade Watts, on his quest to solve Halliday’s puzzles, beat IOI and every other gunter to winning the ultimate game. Because he is poor in the real world and thus has no credits in game, he lacks the ability to travel through OASIS like many other players. This limits his ability to progress in the game, or so he thinks!
The reader is almost literally assaulted with references and trivia – every other line contains a name dropped game or film, a joke about bad 80s songs, little nods that pay homage to things widely considered as classics even today. These references are welcome to those who love the genre and remember fondly the days when arcades were in every pizza shop and a single quarter could keep you entertained for hours if you were good enough (and knew the secret cheats to get the extra credits!).
The downside to this approach to storytelling is that if you’re not familiar with and/or don’t particularly care for 80s trivia or nerdy references, there’s a high likelihood that you won’t enjoy the rest of the book. The plot and the entire culture in it both rely heavily on these subjects, and while reading about such an immersive and incredible virtual experience is really awesome, not getting any of the references made may lessen your ability to stay in the story.
I got sucked into this book as soon as I started it, and I spent many late nights propped up in bed trying to just finish “one more chapter”. The virtual reality universe described in Ready Player One is the one from my dreams, and my biggest sadness is that something like this probably won’t exist until after I’m dead and gone. The possibilities are literally limitless, and Cline jumps on that and takes you on a journey through multiple fandoms and experiences while also keeping the plot on track – a giant person-operated Godzilla, taking your Firefly-class ship to the garage for repairs, ordering pizza in the simulation and having the order go to a real pizza parlor and having them deliver it to you so you can eat it in real life while also eating it in the game.
Anything you can possibly think to do or have in the OASIS is there, and if it isn’t, there are opportunities to purchase and program additional worlds and universes, limited only by your imagination.
The book was really easy to get through, but that also had a lot to do with most of it being written in a way so that information was given to you rather than having to figure it out or read between the lines for it. Some people may not like this sort of heavy handed, straight-forward approach, but I thought it was perfect for an entertaining summer read, and it didn’t disappoint! I’d definitely recommend it to anyone whose interests lie on the nerdier side of the spectrum, or of anyone who lived through (and didn’t totally hate) the 80s.