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Brunch Book Club Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ready player oneIt’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For 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.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved–that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt–among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life–and love–in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

When I was young, my parents had an ancient tv in the basement – so ancient that it wasn’t even really black and white – more like a sepia tone. However, attached to that ancient and tiny little tv was the most amazing thing in my young life …. an Atari system with Pong. Yep, we were the cool kids of the ’70’s, rockin’ out to simplistic table tennis. That two-dimensional game was my gateway drug to other video games later on, like Pacman, Tetris, Frogger, Q-Bert, Super Mario Brothers and Asteroids. At home, my dad bought us a Commodore 64 (later upgraded to a 128 – go Dad!), and I entered the (very frustrating) world of text adventure games. I still remember one memorable March Break in a hotel video gaming arcade, where a 22 year old geek guru (who was impossibly hot to my 15 year old self) showed me how to beat Space Invaders. What can I say? You never forget your first … first complete game, that is.

Reading Ready Player One was a lot like re-living my teen years in all the right ways. I’ll confess – I started to read the paper copy of the book and enjoyed every minute of it, but time constraints meant that I soon realized that I would need to switch to the audiobook if I was to have it read in time. The bonus? The audio version is read by none other than WIL WHEATON. I know. Awesome, right? For me, that just added to the whole reading experience. Not only is Wil a perfect fit for the time period, but he’s a rabid gamer and the perfect voice for the book.

The world in Ready Player One is realistic enough to draw you in, with enough fantasy elements to keep you engaged. The real world has broken down, and people are preferring to live in the fantasy world of the OASIS – not such a far-fetched premise when you consider the recent US government shutdown and the ongoing recessions in many countries. Wade Watts is one of them, a young man who has quite literally been raised by the Internet, with his absentee mother plunking him down in front of learning software from the time he was a young boy, to the present day when he attends virtual school. Like everyone else, he’s after the Easter Egg of all Eggs – the final reward of the deceased co-founder of the OASIS, James Halliday. Like explorers of the past, everyone has tried and failed to crack the code … until Wade, in his simple existence, happens upon the first quest and succeeds. Suddenly, the game is afoot (to borrow a phrase) and everyone in the world is back to looking for the ultimate prize.

What I loved about this book was how realistically Cline portrayed gamers and the isolation that the Internet can bring to individuals lives. When there is nothing in the real world worth hanging onto, it’s a natural progression to move into a world where things are different – where you look better, are more successful and can be, for all intents and purposes, a better and/or different you. What RPO showed, however, was that we are not meant to be alone in any format, and ultimately, we must trust and connect with others if we are to be successful in life.

I also enjoyed the timing of the progression of events. Too often in these kinds of novel the protagonist finds the first clue and things rush on from there. In RPO, the timing made sense – years before the first clue was cracked, and months before the second and third were achieved. These things take time, and it was great to see that there was a deliberate effort to show just how hard the puzzle was for everyone.

The detailed explanation of how day-to-day events worked in the new world, while often exhausting, was also equally fascinating. I really liked the idea of virtual schools, in multiple schools over the same world, and I could only imagine how well that would work for some of my former students. I was also drawn into how Wade managed his life entirely from his apartment. The idea of ‘paying off’ a debt via indentured servitude to a company was also unsettling – and highly probably  with the way that we are becoming so dependent on technology. I found the characters of the mythical Halliday/Anorak and Ogden Morrow/Og to be incredibly fascinating, and I liked that Ogden became a Gandolf-like figure to the gamers. Some reviewers have suggested that he’s a lot like Professor Falken in the War Games movie, and I won’t dispute that, but I do think that he has greater depth. The love story between Kira and Ogden echoed the developing romance between Art3mis and Parzival, and it was lovely to see a love story based on the bad-assery (and Art3mis is truly a bad-ass of the first degree) of the characters instead of their physical appearance.

My one nitpicking thing about the book? I would have liked to have more strong female characters. We have Art3mis, and one other that I won’t spoil here, but they are the exceptions, not the rule. In fact – and this is a spoiler, so highlight to read if you have already read the book – we learn that Aech’s mother was so determined for her NOT to be viewed as female that she set up her life as a white male, thus hiding her true gender and sexuality. (end spoilers) I think that there is so much potential within this book for stronger female characters – both heroic and villain – and for more references to amazing female writers and iconic figures of the ’80’s, and I personally would have liked to have seen more references to them.

At the end of the day, however, I loved this book. I loved how it brought me back to a great time in my life, and to some great memories, and I loved how it brought the 80’s to life in all their jelly shoe glory. I think Ready Player One is a fantastic read for any true gamer or sci-fi fan.

Did you read Ready Player One? What did you think? Leave your comments below and let me know what you thought! Our brunch book club discussion will be posted shortly.

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5 Responses »

  1. I had the same problem with the female characters. It’s almost as if SFF authors think strong female characters are created by making them like men, but with sex appeal. (Out of curiousity, did you find the same with Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore?). One of my other nitpicks was the encyclopaedic knowledge of the 80s. Knowing every line to every movie, and not just song titles but also record labels and years of release . . . it works with the story and making you fondly remember the 80s, but at times it can feel a bit like a spoof of Rain Man. And yet, I also loved it as much as you did. Great review that brought back some good reading memories!

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    • I loved Mr. Penumbra, but like you felt that the lack of female characters was a stumbling block. Kat was not unique at Google – a female in a development role, but she was unique to Clay, and I guess that’s why she stood out more than the other females — shame, really, as I think Sloan wrote her well.
      I know enough genre fanatics to find the obsessive detailing about the 80’s reasonably plausible – but I think that’s also because I bought the concept that there wasn’t anything in the “real” world that was interesting enough to take over some of the attention and time. I felt that there was some stretching of the timeline as well, as including planets on Star Wars and Firefly kind of broadened the field a bit.
      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  2. Love love love this book – it totally appeals to the nerd in me. I read it in print but when I saw it was narrated by Wheaton I had to listen to too! But you’re right there could definitely be more awesome female characters. Hopefully in his next book.

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  1. Review: Armada by Ernest Cline | Lost in a Great Book

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