Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Posted November 29, 2011on:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Published August 2011
Where I got it: Library
Why I read it: Heard it was nerd heaven!
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.