Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Published: 2011 by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.
Read: last week of December 2013
Recommended by: Matt B.
Synopsis (part me, part book jacket):
In the year 2044, the real world is an ugly place. Most of humanity is plugged into a virtual utopia, the OASIS, that lets you be anything you want to be. It’s a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. 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.
I had a wonderful time reading this book, and I would happily read it again.
The main character, Parzival… I mean Wade Watts, is incredibly likeable (especially to a reader with a particularly acute case of nerd-attraction). He’s a nice mix of self-deprecation, loneliness, sarcasm, cockiness, and heroics, and though he is clearly framed as possessing the resourcefulness, knowledge, and dedication to compete for the BIG PRIZE, the reader is able to still cheer for him as an underdog. The plot is your typical quest narrative, but creative for all that. The dialogue is entertaining, and settings are vividly drawn.
On the other hand, I found there to be some pacing issues, particularly in the mid- to late chapters of the book. These resolve well enough in the final climactic scenes (plus there are giant robot monsters).
There was an unwelcome coldness in most every character, but particularly in Parzival. Death and devastation barely receive a reaction from him. I understand that apathy is a symptom of the world in which the story is set (violence, poverty, starvation in reality; bliss and wish fulfillment in the virtual universe), but it is applied inconsistently. Also, the story is set only thirty years from now. Apathy might be contagious, but this is unbelievable.
The writing itself is pretty good. Occasionally, clunky phrasing would pull me from the world of the novel, but overall I was fully immersed in the story. It’s not a difficult read, but the volume of pop culture references are enough to give your mind and memory a fair workout.
This novel plays to a specific audience. If you were born later than 1990, you will have trouble enjoying this book. The quest of the characters relies incredibly heavily on 1980’s pop culture. It’s fun if you were alive in the ’80’s, or know enough about the decade to get by, but would be terribly frustrating or boring if you don’t. Here’s a test. Do you know who/what the following things are? John Hughes, HAL, Wham!, Alf, Schoolhouse Rock!, 42, Skynet. If you said yes to all of them, you’ll enjoy it. Less than five? You might struggle.
There’s a nerd loophole though. If you don’t know the ’80’s specifically, but you’re a general sci-fi/fantasy or video game enthusiast, there are enough in-jokes and references to keep you entertained.
Final words: If you’re a friend, I’ll lend it to you. If you’re not, please visit one of your charming, musty, local libraries. If you want to own it for yourself, try your hardest to GO TO A BOOKSTORE instead of an online retailer. (I’m not going to trash Amazon, but as a former bookseller, I must plead with you to keep those wondrous book havens alive). If at all possible, make it an independent bookstore, but in a pinch, even the giant corporate books/music/housewares/wrapping paper/Starbucks monstrosities will do.