At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut–part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by “Blade Runner,” and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed. 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?
Holy moley is this novel nerdy. The story is nerdy, the characters are nerdy, and the style is nerdy, and the overall experience is rife with nerdy references, and even nerdy themes. Written by long-standing geek, Ernest Cline, the book is aimed at those readers with interests in technology, video-games, literature, and music, and if you’re part of the often shunned cultures whose enjoyments of these pursuits left you mocked and alone, prepare for a treat. Set in a deteriorating future, Ready Player One sees nerds inheriting the earth (more specifically a digital universe, but same principal).
We’ll start with the references; a plethora of tip-offs to books, games, bands, hardware, authors, characters, programmers, and the list goes on. It’s a fun way to hold the style together with the plotline, allowing for the certain satisfaction that comes with affirmation of knowledge. In the majority of instances, the references are an added charm, and in all cases of story significance they’re fully explained, but Cline does overdo it a tad, often overfilling pages with random, throw away citations which can upset the story’s fluidity. I can image that readers less informed on the nerd subject matter, and without an understanding for the niche fandom that goes with it, may be turned off completely not only by the references, but the novel as a whole. Really, the references aren’t the reason I enjoyed this story the way I did, by the end I was actually getting a little tired of them.
One of the great strengths is the world, which, unlike a lot of science-fiction and dystopia, reflects the future of the planet as it is today. The domination of a massive multiplayer online game, and a global community functioning in a digital construct was really interesting and realistically portrayed. Outside of the game, the world-building begins really well, with multiple story trailer-parks, but trails off as the story progresses, and focuses on the online world-building instead, which is kind of a cheat because the game doesn’t have structural limitations. It would have been interesting to see the contrast between the two a little better, but it doesn’t really diminish the sense of world, thanks mostly to the first-person perspective of the protagonist. The story suffers slightly for it though, with convenient devices appearing at just the right moment to facilitate the progression of the story.
Characterisation is brilliant for the entirety of the main cast, with some impressive and often comedic dialogue. I particularly enjoyed Aech, whose armoury of witticism does for some hilarious exchanges. They come with complexities and twists apt to their social environments (or lack thereof in this case). The lesser characters don’t get much look in; in a couple of cases there are one-time appearances, where tell instead of show is used to convey how we should feel about them. The antagonist is a faceless group, which works well in the context of the storyline, and aids with the nerdy feeling of camaraderie towards the protagonist and his associates. Despite only having a tack-on individual as a means of connection, the bad-guys are aptly aimed at the desired readership, and linked in with themes and issues we experience today.
The story is fun, easy to follow, and clever. It’s really charming to follow the protagonist on his journey to the top of the scoreboard, and it’s equally as frustrating when he fails and flounders, and when the antagonists are winning. The only big drawback to the story is the inability to follow the clues alone. It would take the nerdiest of nerds to conclude these mysteries singlehandedly. A lot of information is repeated, and some of the scenes are slow and overly drawn out, while the more tension built chapters are too quick. However, these points can be overlooked for the immersion into the online-realm, the well-constructed themes and meanings. There are slights to SOPA in here, really subtle and cunningly executed.
Overall, this novel offers something special for its intended crowd, but I warn against it if you don’t fall into that category, and you’ll know if you do. Cline really knows how to play with his subject matter in a way that keeps it entertaining, while maintaining serious meanings. Everything has an element of fun attached to it, but it’s all well written and realistic. Indulge your nerd with this one, just keep Google handy.