the Little Red Reviewer

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Posted on: November 29, 2011

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Published August 2011

Where I got it: Library

Why I read it: Heard it was nerd heaven!

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In the future, everything is online, in the OASIS. What exactly is the OASIS? Think Second Life meets World of Warcraft meets Star Wars Force Unleashed meets The Sims, meets any other online sim or MMORPG you can possibly think of. OASIS isn’t just a game, and it isn’t just a sim. It’s an online space where everything happens: schooling, gaming, business transactions, and of course all the fun stuff that gaming is all about: PvP, leveling up, space travel, planet creation, armor, character design, and awesome weaponry. In OASIS, your avatar can fly the Serenity, land on Gallifrey, and listen to Klingon Opera all afternoon, or do any one of a billion other activities.

In the year 2044, humanity is happy to live their lives online, as the Earth is pretty much a mined-out shithole anyways.  Wade Watts lives online just like everyone else. He’s orphaned, desperately trying to finish high school, and hasn’t a penny to his name. But he has got a free internet connection thanks to his online OASIS based high school.

James Halliday, the creator of OASIS left nothing to chance.  He may have had the social skills of an unplugged toaster oven, but he was a brilliant programmer, and designed his online world to be free, accessible, and open source. An online playground where everyone was welcome and everything was possible. He wanted to make sure people like Wade had hope that life could be better than living with an abusive Aunt in the world’s worst trailer park.

The story opens with Halliday’s death.  With no family, no heirs, and very few friends, he leaves his entire fortune to the first OASIS player who can find his Easter Egg in an almost Willy Wonka style contest. But this Easter Egg is hidden behind three gates, requiring three keys, each of which are guarded by three riddles dealing with the trivial details of Halliday’s life. Born in the 1970’s, Halliday was a total 80’s geek. Everything from Intellivision to Highlander to Star Wars to Ladyhawke to you name it.  Whoever finds the egg would need to have done extensive research on Halliday, nearly to the point of obsession. Someone who is willing to completely lose touch with the real world and devote every waking moment to studying 80’s pop culture and working their way through OASIS. Someone like Wade.  When Wade finds the first key nearly by accident, his life changes forever, hopefully for the better.

But Wade and his casual OASIS buddies aren’t the only ones after the three keys to the three gates. A competing technology company knows if they can gain control of the Easter Egg, they can gain financial control of OASIS, with plans to  turn it into a profitable, pay for play, advertising filled world.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is part adventure thriller, part coming of age story, and part love letter to anyone who was a geek in the 80’s. And it doesn’t matter what kind of geek, this is for everyone, be you Brat Pack fan, Trekkie,  video game nerd or BASIC programming geek. This is the book for anyone who wished they could wake up in The Last Starfighter and ride the DeLorean all the way home.  With humorous 80’s references peppering nearly every page, a breakneck pace, a future that should serve as a warning and a few red herrings thrown in for good measure, I stayed up way past my bedtime to make sure the good guys at least survived to the final boss fight.

My nit-picks are petty, but I feel the need to voice them. Ya’ll know I love nerd references in books, Stephenson and Doctorow do it all the time, and it’s part of the reason why I love those authors so much. And when I don’t get the joke? It’s off to Google or Wikipidia for me.  Cline has a different way of doing it: he’ll drop the reference, and then immediately, via parenthesis, tell you what it is and where it’s from. I’m not interested in being told exactly what everything refers to. If I don’t know what something was, I’m perfectly capable of looking it up. And if I do get some obscure reference? Then I can feel all smarty-pants that I picked up something that maybe someone else didn’t. I think the “reference dumping” was perhaps an experiment Cline tried, possibly as part of Wade’s internal monologue, and it just didn’t work for me. Petty nit-pick number two is that I felt the book had some pacing issues. While many scenes zipped along, others were dragged down by infodumps or clunky exposition.

Little nit picks aside, I can already think of a handful of people I want to recommend this book too. Not a perfect book, but quite good, Ready Player One is mainstream enough for the casual contemporary fiction reader, yet geeky enough for the SF nerd. This book may not change your life, but you’re gonna have a helluva good time reading it.  In fact, I better get this baby back to the library so everyone in town that I told about it can head over there to fight over it.

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13 Responses to "Ready Player One by Ernest Cline"

I loved Ready Player One. It was such a fun and nostalgic read.

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I’ve had this one on hold from the library for awhile and am slowly making my way up the list. I was sold on reading it back when Scalzi featured Cline on his website several months back. I skimmed most of the “what the book is about” portion of your review just so that I can be surprised but was interested to read about what you liked about it and your quibbles. I agree with you, I would much rather wonder about the references and do my own research rather than have them spelled out for me. I don’t need a “pop culture references for dummies” guide to accompany the novels I read.

All in all though I am really excited about giving this one a read.

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I’m torn on reading this one or listening to the audio book. I’ve heard good things about both. I do want to get my hands on it. Great review!

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Linda, I don’t think you could go wrong either way. The audio book is done by Wil Wheaton and from what he’s said about the book, he had a lot of fun recording it.

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I really loved this one! Glad to see you enjoyed it!

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This was as you said a real fun ride. I loved it, and it’s one of my top 5 reads for the year. It probably also helps that I’m a bit of an 80′s geek myself.

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This book sounds really good. I am hoping to get to it soon!

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Y’know – this book is a good example of a cover that does not say Scifi to me and I wouldn’t have picked it up event to read the back cover without your review.

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couldn’t agree more. Just by the cover, I probably never would have picked it up, it just looks like a contemporary fiction book, right? But then again, I could say the same thing about Stephenson’s Reamde.

I got interested in Ready Player One from reading reviews online at other SF blogs I go to. Just shows the power of blogging!

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Added to the “to-read” list. But I have to agree with “nrlymrtl” – definitely not a cover that shouts its genre. In a store, for example, I likely would have passed it right by – but then, that’s why reviews like this are so helpful. Great evaluation!

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This book should be in my hands by early next week:) Ready Player One is In Transit from my library. I have heard great things about this work from you Andrea and NPR books.

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NPR did a story on it? Neat! I love it when they do little geeky genre pieces.

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[...] Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday) Ready Player One, Ernest Cline (Crown; Century) God’s War, Kameron Hurley (Night Shade) Soft Apocalypse, Will [...]

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