Strippable Cover Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One

Written by Ernest Cline
Published by Crown

I was a child of the mid 80s, so I was a bit too young for some of the milestones. Still, I remember seeing the familiar barbarian facing a dragon box art of Dungeons and Dragons on the back of my comics, the ratty covers of movies like Wargames and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at my local video store, and even though I didn’t know what it was at the time, crowds of teens clustered around arcade machines at the roller rink. I’ve made similar memories for myself in the 90s and 00s, but there is something undefinably great about 80s pop culture.

Ernest Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One, does a damn good job of defining it.

Set in the year 2044, the world is in a pretty sad state. A large portion of humanity lives in slums made by stacking trailers and double-wides, safe water is difficult to find and major corporations are in control. The one thing they don’t control is the immersive virtual reality world called the OASIS, a place where most of humanity spends its time to escape the horrible situation around them. Wade Watts, given an alliterative name as the last gift of a Spider-Man loving father, is of the same stripe. His friends are in the OASIS, he attends school in the OASIS, and he is a powerful person in the OASIS: he is a serious participant in a never-ending search for a treasure left behind by the world’s creator. This treasure, easter egg, is the rights to control the OASIS and everything in it. As well as a lot of money. When he finds the first clue, he takes the lead in the game for the first time in history, as well as becoming a target for the corporation who wants to control this last vestige of freedom.

You might be asking yourself where 80s pop culture comes into play here. Well, the man who created the OASIS, James Halliday, grew up in the decade and the journal he left behind is chock full of information about all of the things that he loved. This has become a bible to the egg-hunters,  those looking for the treasure, and they peruse it for any clue to where to start. Watts manages to figure out the first clue from the book, and while I won’t tell you what it is, any RPG lover is going to enjoy watching him figure it out.

The novel plays with the conventions of the internet in a timely way, with ambiguities about gender and weight addressed, though it seems to shy away from most headier subjects. Living in a corporate state is given some lip-service, but let’s be honest, we’re here for a ripping thriller with more geeky references than Scott Pilgrim. And they flow thick and fast, though some may fly over the heads of younger readers.

The novel very occasionally has trouble with tone and dialogue. Some conversations and scenes that should be in deadly earnest aren’t given the impact they deserve but Cline, who wrote the film Fanboys, is for the most part on the top of his game. He knows his audience will mostly consist of the choir, but he makes the novel accessible to anyone. A coworker of mine, not a gamer or movie person by any means, was skeptical when I handed her the ARC of the book. But two days later she was a believer, having gotten very few of the references but steadily pulled into the fantastic alternating dystopia and utopia the novel presents.

A brilliant debut, Ready Player One is out now. Pick it up and enjoy a steady diet of tiny geeky freakouts as you’re pulled into it’s unashamed nerdiness and powerful storytelling.

Posted on August 22, 2011 at 22:31 by Lincoln Eddy · Permalink
In: Books, Gaming, Movies, Reviews, The Written Word · Tagged with: , , ,
  • Lea Hernandez has been reviewing the audiobook version (read by Wil Wheaton) on her Twitter account, and it really does sound like an awesome read. I think that I could see myself making that my next purchase, if only to get the aftertaste of my last Kindle book purchases out of my mouth.