Book Review: Ready Player One

Just finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline this afternoon and have spent the last hour or so trying to wrap my head around the book and my thoughts on it so I could give it a proper review.

Not to spoil my review or anything...

Not to spoil my review or anything…

Set in the dystopian not-too-distant future of 2044, the novel follows the alliteratively named Wade Watts (named such specifically by his deceased teen father because it sounded like a superhero’s secret identity like Peter Parker) as he hunts for the hidden Halliday’s Easter Egg in the MMORPG/virtual uptopia known as the OASIS with and against other “gunters” (egg hunters).

The creator of the OASIS, James Halliday has died and in the opening pages of the book announces a contest.  The winner of said contest would be rewarded with Halliday’s vast, very real personal fortune and be granted total control of the OASIS.  As the OASIS is more than merely a video game but rather a functional virtual society, within its thousands of worlds people can play games but many conduct real life business (OASIS currency being the most stable in the world), people have real jobs within its confines and interact socially with friends.  The world outside of the OASIS is falling apart.  War, famine, poverty are all the “norm” and many use the OASIS to escape that reality.  Finding the Halliday’s Egg means the victor of the contest would instantly become one of, if not THE, most power people on the planet.

Nearly five years after the start of the contest, Wade is living in the stacks outside of Oklahoma City (picture a vertical trailer park made of towers of trailers, shipping containers, etc stacked on top of each other with a flimsy scaffold constructed around them) with his aunt, whomever she is dating at the time and several others crammed in a trailer.  Wade fancies himself a gunter but being impoverished in the real world has very little hope of succeeding in finding the Egg (travel, gear, etc. in the OASIS costs real money).  Despite this setback Wade continues to obsessively study Halliday’s own obsession, 80s pop culture.  While unable to travel around the OASIS, leveling up his avatar or hunting the Egg, Wade develops expert level knowledge in everything from 80s arcade games like Robotron and Pac-Man to films and music, simply put winning the contest hinges on mastering the things Halliday loved.

It is this knowledge combined with his very real poverty that eventually allows Wade, or his avatar Parzival, to be the first to find the first key in the contest (I won’t explain the how or why, don’t want to spoil things).  From there the book rockets forward on a (mostly) well paced voyage set both in the OASIS and in the real world as Wade/Parcival has to deal with unexpected (to him anyway) celebrity, a villainous corporation, and fellow gunters (including his “best friend” Aech (pronounced “H”) and OASIS celeb/crush Art3mis (Artemis).

The book is undeniably good, so good that I know I will reread it someday soon.  Personally I tend to view books as personal trophies, I read them, put them on one of my many bookshelves and rarely return to them.  This book is different.

It has some pacing issues, namely the opening chapters are so laden with exposition that they kind of drag as they set up the excellent scenario and world of the book.  They are far from bad but they lack the urgency and excitement of most of the rest of the book.  The book also suffers a little bit during the start of the 2nd act, when Wade/Parcival starts to let his hormones cloud his judgement to the point where he becomes annoyingly detached from “reality” regarding Art3mis.

Also there are few instances where things are overly explained, likely aimed at a wider audience than the group the book is really targeted at, namely geeks and nerds (who among us didn’t immediately didn’t understand that Art3mis is “leet” for Artemis?).

These small gripes do next to nothing to diminish my love of the book though.  If nothing else the heaps and heaps and mountains of 80s, 90s and nerd pop-culture referenced in the book make it worth looking into.  The list of things and people referenced, alluded to and quoted is enormous, so for the sake of brevity here were my favorites:

  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • Kevin Smith
  • Monty Python
  • Wil Wheton
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • Q*bert
  • Godzilla
  • Robotech
  • Voltron
  • Short Circuit
  • Red Dawn
  • AC/DC
  • Rush
  • Doctor Who
  • Pink Floyd
  • Schoolhouse Rock
  • Big Trouble in Little China
  • The Iron Giant
  • John Woo (namely The Killer and Hard Boiled, two of my favorite action films)
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • Joss Whedon
  • Firefly/Serenity
  • Max Headroom
  • Back to the Future
  • Mad Max
  • The Ghostbusters
  • Goonies
  • Evil Dead
  • Fight Club
  • Phantasim
  • Revenge of the Nerds
  • Captain America
  • Star Wars
  • Indian Jones
  • Heavy Metal magazine
  • Joust

And that list barely scrapes the surface.  Ernest Cline basically grabbed the entirety of Nerdom by the ankles, turned it over and shook out all the love and geeky obsession from our nerdy pockets and found a way to stuff it all into a less than 400 page novel.

Nerd culture aside, the book as some strong supporting characters.  Art3mis is a strong female lead with a very “get shit done” attitude.  She is one of few characters in the book to have an avatar that largely reflects her real life look (with some differences which I again won’t spoil).  She is described as being 5’7″ and 168lbs in the real world and her avatar more or less matches that (Wade/Parcival thinks of her avatar as “Rubenesque” upon meeting her for the first time).

Aside from Parcival, Art3mis and Aech are Daito and Shoto a pair of Japanese gunters with an often standoffish attitude towards the others.  They meet in a private chat with the other three members of the “High Five” but refuse to directly work with them as they feel the other three are their direct competition.

The main antagonist is the monolithic IOI Corporation, specifically Nolan Sorrento and his army of “Sixers” (derived from the six digit number starting with the number 6 serving as their names).  Admittedly they are fairly one dimensional villains (further driven home by the aformentioned usernames and their identical avatars) focused solely on winning the contest so IOI can change the OASIS business model (charge users for access, plaster advertisements everywhere, you know standard “evil” business stuff).  It was not their motivations that made me instantly hate them but rather their actions.  Over the course of the book they cheat in a variety of ways (which offends my personal sensibilities as a gamer and person) and pull some vile acts outside of the OASIS.  My only real complaint regarding the villains is I felt the “final battle” was over too quickly and as such didn’t feel nearly as satisfying as I would have liked.

The book is fantastic and a must read if you are a dork, nerd, pop-culture obsessed dweeb, gamer or other similar type of person (and if you’re reading this chances are you are).

Go pick it up.  Read it.  Enjoy it.  Love it.

And then cross your fingers that Hollyweird doesn’t f**k it up when they make it a film.

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