Ready Player One
Okay, I admit it—I was a teenager in the Eighties. I grew up on sitcoms, arcade games and MTV… although I avoided getting involved in the big hair phenomenon. Still, I and many others harbor a fondness for that wacky decade, and in Ernest Cline’s first novel, that love is given an outlet. Ready Player One revisits the fads and trends of those years with a geeky adoration wrapped in a first-rate quest tale.
(Description nicked from the back of the book.)
“It’s the year 2044, and—like most of humanity—Wade Watts vastly prefers the online utopia known as the OASIS to an increasingly grim, poverty-stricken real world. And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual reality. For somewhere inside the OASIS, it’s rumored, are 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 the riddles are based in the culture of the late-twentieth century.
And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.
Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize—a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.”
This novel combines the best of all the geekiness that I grew up with: memorable Eighties films, classic arcade games, a Dungeons and Dragons-like quest, and all the in-jokes and references that anybody who lived in that decade will get. It’s a cornucopia of awesomeness that has no equal. I loved this book with every molecule of my geeky little heart!
But it’s not just the memories that it invokes that make it work. Even as it hearkens back to our culture’s past, it forges forward into the technology of the near future. Virtual reality is, indeed, a reality now, and it can’t be much longer before Cline’s immersive VR environments are actually available.
But the author doesn’t shy away from one of the constant issues of a massive multi-player environment: namely, its monetary cost. The clash between Halliday’s freedom of expression and access shown in OASIS, and the corporate mindset of Innovative Online Industries and their desire to take over the OASIS and use it for profit, is one that many gamers can empathize with.
But first and foremost, this is a quest novel with a great protagonist who is the geek version of an “everyman”. What I really like is the fact that while most sci-fi/fantasy novels give the reader an idealized protagonist to ride along with, this novel puts readers into the mind of the guy who emulates those ideals and, as a result, grows as a person. It’s a compelling statement for the power of the imagination, and one that I’d love to promote.
I hope to meet Mr. Cline one day and thank him for his wonderful book. It delivered a great story and brought back a lot of great memories at the same time. It doesn’t get much better than that. You don’t need to be a geek to enjoy Ready Player One, but if you are, prepare for a novel that will make you squee!
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on August 11, 2011.