Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

In times of national economic upheaval the public seeks escapism. Some have credited Shirley Temple films with helping pull the nation's mood up out of the Great Depression. In this day and age we are no strangers to the economic chaos that surrounds us and the faceless corporations that seem to be gaining more and giving less. Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is strangely visionary in that it provides us with a foreboding future in which nearly all of humanity is destitute and starving. Their only escape is an immersive virtual world called the OASIS, but now even that is at risk of being taken over by a corporation that wants to make the OASIS exclusive and expensive.

The OASIS was developed by a brilliant billionaire with Asperger's by the name of James Halliday. Halliday invents the OASIS as a place where people can go and interact and learn under assumed identities using Avatars. The OASIS grows, spawning worlds full of games and challenges, but it also has its practical uses for business, news, and education. The most important thing to the protagonist of the story, Wade Watts, is that education in the simulated world is free. Not just free of cost, but free of bullies that made his real-life schooling experience a nightmare. 

What sets this story into motion is the death of James Halliday. For it us upon this fateful day that Halliday's avatar Anorak, announces to the world that he has arranged a contest open to everyone within the OASIS to uncover the Easter Egg that is the key to his fortune and power over the OASIS. Halliday programs three keys to three gates within the expansive universe of the OASIS, and he provides the public with the first clue to find the first key. And thus the race for the Egg begins. 

"Stacks" by Robotnicc
Wade, whose avatar goes by the name Parzival, begins his narration of the story five years after the announcement of the contest. He's a poor kid from the stacks (or the ghetto) and lives with an uncaring aunt and a couple of other families in one trailer. So, you can identify with Wade's motivation to access the Halliday fortune. The most interesting aspect of this story, which I haven't even mentioned until now, is that Halliday was obsessed with 1980's pop culture. Wade has become a connoisseur of 1980's pop culture. He knows the movies, the music, the video games, the first home computers and computer games, the toys, the television shows - EVERYTHING. 

Wade has spent five years studying the 1980's and Halliday's life in an attempt to locate the first key in the contest. But every day the classic 80's video game scoreboard reflects no scores. Wade is classified as a Gunter, the people who consume all the 80's knowledge available to fulfill the quest to find the Egg. Some Gunter's work in clans, but Wade works alone - a status symbol in its own right. Then we are introduced to the evil corporation that wants to find the Egg and start charging the public for the use of the OASIS, they want to privatize it, and wait...does this remind anyone else of the battle for net neutrality? I think that's a purposeful parallel. 

I don't want to give away the story, because the adventure is worth the ride and the conclusion is satisfying. Cline's level of detail in writing is modern, accessible, and yet still greatly informed by technology and 1980's pop culture. Even though I didn't get every single 80's reference made, I was still able to enjoy the story. I was born in that decade, but I had older siblings, so I felt a kinship to the text, and I think Cline is likely to find a receptive audience among Generation X and Y for pop culture content. But Cline doesn't alienate the Millenials with this 1980's Renaissance. The story involves teenagers, coming of age, technology and external social issues that feel very real to some of the issues we face as a populace right now. 

I guess this is a good place to add that I listened to this book on Audible, and it was narrated to perfection by none other than Wil Wheaton. Ready Player One is one hell of a ride, and the narrative flies, though in some places the descriptions of the technology or aspects of OASIS feel cumbersome. Wade is an admirable protagonist who becomes a hero, and his journey is completely believable. If you're looking for some fun reading and you're up for the 1980's nostalgia, give it a read. 

Btw - Ready Player One is slated to become a motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg. The copyright challenge will be a journey all its own, but to have the quintessential 1980's director behind the camera makes me very excited.


  1. I love this book! I read it, but I can imagine Wil Wheaton's narration was fantastic. What a perfect choice!

    I graduated from high school in 1985, so the 80's references were right up my alley. It brought back a lot of memories.

  2. I also had the book in print, but Wil Wheaton's narration was so perfect that I didn't want to break away from his voice for the story. This was definitely a fun book.