Born too early to explore the universe, born too late to understand eighty percent of the references from Ernest Cline’s teenage years.
That opener might make it seem like I didn’t enjoy Ready Player One, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. No, Cline managed to grab my interest immediately by making his novel about A) Video Games, and B) Video Games.
We find ourselves in the year 2044 where poverty is rife, oil is all but gone, and jobs are so rare we don’t speak about the horrible things your mum does to get you that coveted fast food gig. We follow ‘poor-enough to make a compelling Protagonist’ Wade (five-)Watts as he lives life in the Stacks: state of the art, luxury caravans, clumsily and recklessly piled atop one another. Like the world’s best game of Jenga, but it’s gotten a little out of hand and everybody’s forgotten it started as a game.
But the fun doesn’t stop with oversized Jenga! Wade (ten-)Watts escapes daily into a virtual reality called the OASIS. Inside the OASIS, a person can be anyone or anything they want to be. So if you think the internet’s a weird place now, just wait until it replaces reality. There’ll be bountiful new ways to catfish your friends and family! The OASIS is a virtual reality created with the sole intention of giving every geek a raging, uncontrollable erection. There’re entire worlds dedicated to movies, or games, shopping or TV. Literally anything is possible inside the OASIS and we owe it all to genius inventor, James Halliday.
That’s the setting and this is the plot: James Halliday–an eccentric recluse–is dead. In his last will and testament he states that ownership of the OASIS, including his personal wealth (billions of dollars), will go to the person who can solve his riddles and collect, in turn, the Copper, Jade and Crystal keys, and use them to open the Copper, Jade and Crystal gates, eventually finding Halliday’s revered Easter Egg. Halliday was notoriously obsessed with 80’s pop-culture, and in order to obtain the three keys and pass each gate, the players must be devoted to everything Halliday was interested in. Even passing interests. The man was so self-indulged that in his death he created a world in which everyone had to love everything he himself loved. To that end, 80’s pop-culture has again descended upon humanity. Joust your little hearts out.
I read Ready Player One in a little over a week and found it to be a thoroughly gripping experience. But this is Ernest Cline’s first book and it kinda shows. Whilst the concept is utterly unique–annoyingly unique–I had a hard time believing a lot of the dialogue. Many of the characters sound the same and they all see James Halliday as some sort of patron saint when every piece of trivia and anecdote concerning the man paints him as a socially inept, nasty piece of work. He once fired an employee for not understanding a reference…Haha! So quirky! What a guy! No…what a quantum spanner!
What sort of a man stages a worldwide contest to see who gets to inherit his billions, anyway? Why not donate it to a worthy cause? Let’s keep in mind that this is an incredibly poor future and in staging this contest he knows full well what sort of chaos he’s about to unleash. Children are straight up murdered for being further ahead in the game than others. Halliday, why not–I dunno–take all the effort you put into coding your competition, and instead put it into funding a sustainable future in the real world! Of course, there’d be no novel if he’d done that, and I can believe that James Halliday would be the sort of self-centred jackface who would rather usher in a half decade of chaos than try to use his massive fortune to actually make a difference in the world. If you ask me, Halliday is the real antagonist in this book.
Still, at least he wasn’t obsessed with 90s pop-culture. I’m not sure I could have read a novel with endless supplies of chain wallets, rat-tails and Spice Girls references.
I actually don’t have much more to say about Ready Player One. It’s a great read for anyone who was alive in the 80s and anyone with a passion for video-games/ old sci-fi movies. I’m the latter here. Do yourself a favour and pick up a copy before Spielberg inevitably hacks it to pieces because Dreamworks refuses to buy the rights to the entirety of War Games.
_ _ _
Ready Player One is Ernest Cline’s first novel, it’s a fantastic concept that’s just a whole lot of fun to read. Cline has a second novel out now called Armada which I’m sure I’ll get around to reading. In the meantime, Steven Spielberg has picked up Ready Player One for adaptation onto the big screen and I’m looking forward to how the whole thing’s handled.
Ernest Cline: http://www.ernestcline.com/
Ready Player One: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ready-Player-One-Ernest-Cline/dp/0099560437