Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
Paperback, 372 pages
2011, Broadway Books
Ready Player One takes place in 2044 – the world is suffering from an energy crisis, a food shortage, and an economic decline, all creating a dystopia for all but the wealthy. But for anyone who has access, the virtual world of OASIS can be just that – an escape from reality – where you can create an avatar and be anyone you want, hunt for treasure, and even attend school. When the founder and creator of OASIS dies, he sets up a Willy Wonka-esque challenge – the first player to find his easter egg wins complete control of his company and fortune. Wade Watts wants nothing more than to escape his real life by winning the prize, but the contest is more dangerous than he ever imagined.
What I liked:
First off, this book is full of 80’s pop culture references and detailed descriptions of old video games (as far back as the text-based ones that were available on early computers) and it gave me a serious sense of nostalgia! I didn’t recognize every reference, but I was familiar with more content than I thought I would be. My hat is off to Cline for all the research (and nerdy fandom) that went into this book! I was often reminded of old shows I used to watch, or games I used to play and it was fun to see some of these references recreated in the world of OASIS for Wade to interact with. Wade was a wonderful protagonist and I enjoyed his manner of speech and personality; a nice mix of snarky, confident, self-deprecation and hopeless romantic. The rest of the characters were also well fleshed out and had surprising elements that I enjoyed (I don’t want to give anything away!) Cline also did a wonderful job of creating the immensely detailed virtual world of OASIS as well as the harsh reality that Wade spends his time trying to avoid. He describes Wade’s living environment, “the stacks”, as numerous mobile homes and shipping bins stacked atop each other, sometimes 15-20 high, held together with “a reinforced modular scaffold, a haphazard metal latticework that had been constructed piecemeal over the years.” These towers are unsafe, overcrowded and dangerous – not just the structures themselves, but the people living in them.
This book also had me thinking that a future similar to this could someday become a reality (hopefully not in my lifetime) – where the “real world” is so terrible that people depend on an escape provided by a fully immersive virtual world. In Cline’s book, OASIS is accessed via a visor and haptic gloves that allow the users to see and sometimes feel the 3-d online world that was created. Users can explore thousands of different worlds and even create their own if they have the money. Even OASIS isn’t a perfect escape, as it’s still profit driven and oftentimes Wade struggled with being poor both in his real life and his OASIS life. Yet he still craved that constant connection with OASIS – his only friends were the ones he met in this world, all people who spent countless hours connected into this virtual world, living the lives they’ve only dreamed of.
Later in the book Wade describes the expensive machines he’s purchased so that he can better access OASIS, to the point where he doesn’t have anybody hair so that his immersive suit will fit him better. He becomes a total hermit – never leaving his apartment, even having his food delivered, so that he can spend most of his waking hours inside OASIS. He even says “The hour or so after I woke up was my least favorite part of each day, because I spent it in the real world.” This line of thought was incredibly depressing, but very realistic. I realize that even today there are some people who prefer their “life” online and the anonymity and freedom that it can sometimes give.
Bonus: I also learned a new word while reading this book! Impecunious – having little or no money; penniless; poor.
What I didn’t like:
At times Wade’s extensive knowledge of all things 80’s seemed far-fetched. He had multiple movies memorized almost completely – not just dialog, but movement as well – and he seemed to be a whiz at every video game he decided to play. I understand that he didn’t have much to do in life other than memorizing thousands of shows, movies, facts and game strategies, but at times I wondered if the human brain could really hold that much information. But really, this was a pretty minor issue.
I had this book on my radar since I read about it in an article back in 2011, right before it released. I’m so glad I finally made a point to read it! I think even if you’re not very familiar with 80’s pop culture, this is still a fun read – it’s a technology-based dystopia with likable characters and plenty of food for thought. There’s also plenty of action. Give it a shot!