Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Ready Player One
I was a painfully shy, awkward kid, with low self-esteem and almost no social skills -- a side effect of spending most of my childhood inside the OASIS. Online, I didn't have a problem talking to people or making friends. But in the real world, interacting with other people -- especially kids my own age -- made me a nervous wreck. I never knew how to act or what to say, and when I did work up the courage to speak, I always seemed to say the wrong thing.

The decade of the 2040s are here and life on earth is even more abysmal and depressing than ever. There are a lot of wars being fought and the energy crisis is at an all-time high. Public safety has deteriorated and people are trying to move to the cities for better living conditions. Amidst all the gloom, the one silver lining is the OASIS, the massive virtual world created by James Halliday, initially as a game and which later evolved as something very similar to real life in a much more optimistic setting. As more and more people shut themselves inside OASIS to escape the harsh reality outside, they become more socially inept than ever. And then, as if to make things worse, the day James Halliday died, his will was released to the whole world. This heir-less rich man had created an Easter Egg or a hidden message inside OASIS for which he has left a series of clues. The first person to find the Easter Egg wins James' estate. When Wade Watts hears of this, he also decides to become one of the egg hunters, or gunters in short. But five years go by and no one has found anything, until Wade finally cracks the first clue and has suddenly catapulted himself into fame. But now there is a corporation trying to stop his progress (and that of a few others who have managed to crack the clue finally), not just within the game, but also by killing his real world self.

If you guys read my Sunday Salon post, you would have caught me raving about this title. Ready Player One celebrates geekdom like very few other books. Even now, two days later, I'm itching for a similar read. That's not to say that this book was perfect, because it did bug me at some level, but the thrill I derived from reading it far outweighs any niggles. Besides, I had never read cyberpunk before although I live and work in the digital world. I never imagined that maybe a fiction about cyberworlds would be so intriguing, so I think I've found a new genre that I would enjoy. (If only I had listened to my brother long ago!)

Ready Player One was an interesting exploration of life in a virtual world. Already, we spend a lot of our time online and we can no longer imagine the life "before". Games have changed in dimension - today's games are a far cry from the two-dimensional, unattractive graphics-powered games of the 80s. We all already have a virtual persona, and the author exploits that knowledge to create a full-fledged, fully-functioning, real-life mirroring virtual world that feels like utopia compared to the outside world. Cline's virtual world can also do everything that the real world can - students attend school on the OASIS, keep jobs and earn money (or credits) and also gain experience points. There's magic and technology on OASIS. Also, people can win/steal all kinds of fancy gadgets that they would love to covet. And did I mention playing games? But there were no rules of life in OASIS. One can kill whoever they wish to eliminate and move on to another adventure. There's no police and that facilitates the bad guys to try and eliminate competition. Occasionally, Ready Player One felt like a mockery of how the online world operates now. When Wade explains, "Back when Halliday was still running the company, GSS had won the right to keep every OASIS user's identity private in a landmark Supreme Court ruling," I was thinking of Facebook and Google and how privacy is such a joke today.

I loved the way the virtual worlds were described. It wasn't technical - it was certainly geeky and something wonderful to read for technology-lovers, but the explanation was straightforward, so that it didn't sound strange. The author certainly goes full board in building his setting, with every possible futuristic tool that can ever be imagined. It was a complete sci-fi utopia. This did make it easy to explain away certain plot events, sometimes I did feel that the story was at the surrender of the technology and not the other way around. There are a ton of 80s references in here, but they are mostly games or pop culture references. Still many are names we would recognize. (Okay, I didn't grow up in the 80s culture, more like the 90s, but they were still not lost on me.) There are a lot of stereotypes in this book - socially-inept geeks, money-hungry aunts, a withdrawn game creator and an outgoing best friend, two guys in love with the same woman, the woman being the reason for friendship issues, the power-hungry corporate company, companies illegally spying on people, and many more. Although I typically frown on any stereotyping, I think that is what made the book work. You couldn't take any offense for the formulaic happenings because they weren't offensive.

Ready Player One is a very fast-paced gaming thriller that delivered during every minute of my read. In addition to Wade, there are a few other well-developed characters I was rooting for. Since the story is told from Wade's perspective, we get to learn about Wade's real-life and virtual personas. The friends he make are all virtual though, so Wade goes through the tricky situation of trusting people he doesn't really know. The author makes a great case of how people can be different on and off line, and yet how they can still be similar. Moreover, although the people are very addicted to OASIS, and initially it is being talked about as the best thing that ever happened to humanity, some people do come to accept the pitfalls of such a life. I also liked the appearance of the omnipresent bad corporation guys who want to take control of James' estate and completely transform the way it works.

Towards the end, however, Ready Player One loses some of the steam that it built initially. A lot of what happens in the ending was very predictable, with everything tying up a little too neatly. The ending would fit a movie but on the print pages, they appeared lackluster. I know Ernest Cline is a screenwriter and much of the book's pacing fit a movie (incidentally this book is being made into a movie) but I would have still loved to see something more innovative in here. Also, I did feel that some parts of the book were somewhat cheesy such as when Wade and his friend have a geeky argument with a guy they don't like. It sounded very cliched and superhero-like where the good guy never breaks his rhythm and manages to win the barrel. But maybe that's appropriate too, because a lot of geek references are cliched, like the blonde jokes.

Even with the minor distractions, I enjoyed reading this book. It's been a long time since I woke up early or slept late or most importantly, stayed off the net, just to read a book (incidentally one about a networked world). And I strongly recommend this read to you, especially if you love reading about the cyberworld, about futuristic life, about the issues of misusing or overusing technology, about a game with mega consequences (like in Oceans 11/12/13), or if you plain like fast-paced thrillers.

I received this book for free for review from the publisher, Crown Publishing Group. Ready Player One was released on August 16th.

30 comments:

Helen Murdoch said...

I am reading such great things about this book and your review just added to it! It's on my list to get REALLY soon. Do you think teenagers would like it? Should I get it for my students?

Athira / Aths said...

Oh I forgot to mention - there is some reference to some obscene stuff teenagers better not read (though they still would). But they are very minimal. I think you should check it out first before deciding. I remember thinking that the younger audience would enjoy this so much, except for all that talk about things-that-could-have-been-left-out.

christa @ mental foodie said...

I have reserved it based on your gushing on Sunday :)

christa
http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/

Leeswammes (Judith) said...

That sounds interesting, I love futuristic stories and especially about online life. I've got a copy of The Surrogates, a graphic novel/text novel (mixed) which is also been made into a movie. In this, people have a surrogate that do all the work and play for them, and the real people are connected (at home) to a system so they can control their surrogates. The movie was great. :-)

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

I'm not much of a gamer, but I know a little about the world of gaming from my son.  This book is getting such great buzz, I'm anxious to read it.

Athira / Aths said...

LOL, that's great! Looking forward to your thoughts!

Athira / Aths said...

Now that book also sounds fabulous! I need to check that one out. Thanks for recommending. :)

Athira / Aths said...

I'm no major gamer either, but I thought I could relate to this one. It's actually making me want to be more of a gamer, lol!

Jenn said...

I tried getting into this last weekend and just couldn't. I'll pick it up again, but the beginning of a book has to really grab me, and this one just...hasn't. However, I have heard all sorts of good things about it, so I'll be sure to carry on. Glad you enjoyed it.

Ti said...

Too bad the ending didn't live up to your expectations. I've been hearing great things about this one, but a lackluster ending would bother me. But, I think I'd still read it for the 80's references that I've heard about. I'm an 80's girl!

Meghan said...

I loved this book - I thought everything about it was fabulous. I'm a gamer, so it almost immediately spoke to me. I loved the medieval connections too. I'm glad you enjoyed it despite the flaws you found in the ending!

zibilee said...

I am really super psyched about this book, and have already gotten my son and husband on the bandwagon as well. I think the premise of the book sounds just bizarre enough to house some real truths, and from your interpretation of it, it sounds like this will probably end up being one of the top books on many people's lists. So, so glad to see this positive and indepth review. I can't wait to get started with it!

Lenasledgesblog.com said...

Great review. Sounds like a good read for a teenager too, especially if they are into video games, etc. How many pages is it?

nomadreader said...

I'm really looking forward to this one. I'm glad it was a hit for you!

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you'll give it one more try. I'm sorry it didn't work for you yet but here's hoping that the next time it does.

Silversolara said...

Pretty neat blog...new follower.

Elizabeth

http://silversolara.blogspot.com

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you give it a try. The ending did bother me but not so much as to affect my reading. It was overall a thrilling read.

Athira / Aths said...

Yay! I'm glad you liked it! I loved how this book explored the whole 80s pop culture and built a solid book.

Athira / Aths said...

Yay! I can't wait to hear what you think of it! I'll be keeping an eye for your review!

Athira / Aths said...

It's about 350+ pages. I'm not sure about younger readers since it has some references to obscene stuff but older readers should enjoy it.

Athira / Aths said...

I can't wait to hear what you think of this read!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks so much!

Veens said...

Inspite of the issues, I would love to read this one. I have still not read anything at all set in the future, and I think this will be good. Like you said, life before virtual world - can't remember :)

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you enjoy it! This was one wonderful ride and I barely got anything done on the days I was reading this book.

Harvee/Bpok Dilettante said...

Never heard of a gaming thriller before and this one sounds interesting. Too bad it didn't hold interest all the way through. Have a great week!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! This was definitely a really good read in spite of the slightly weak ending! I would still recommend it!

Sheila (Book Journey) said...

I want to read this one!

Dirksmiley said...

I read this book and thought it was great. I have read only one book since this one and that was 20 years ago when I was forced to read in High School. It kept me interested in every way, and all the 80 references made the book all the more fun. It drove me to build up my movie library of old 80's films that I have ran through in a hurry. If your a fan of the 80's, and computers is your thing, this book is right up your alley. The concepts of the story were very thought out, and in my opinion could be plausible. Enjoy

Athira / Aths said...

I loved it, so I hope you do read it!

Athira / Aths said...

I loved this too! I've been looking for more cyberpunk novels too and can't wait to read them!