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?
- synopsis and cover courtesy of goodreads.com
Atmospheric Analysis: Ready Player One‘s cover is bright, garish and entirely appropriate. There’s even a little avatar reaching for a key in the large level “O”! But the paperback cover is even cooler.
I love when publishers give us creative, contextually appropriate covers. More of this, please!
Planetary Class: Ready Player One mixes things up a bit. The core setting is dystopian–below the awesome world of OASIS lies an impoverished, dying world. But there’s also a touch of retro cyberpunk here, too.
Mohs Rating: Despite the infinitely magical rules of the OASIS interface system, the sci-fi is fairly plausible. I’d place this one somewhere between a 3 and a 4 on the Mohs scale–physics plus, or one big lie, depending on whether you believe Cline breaks several natural laws, or one, with his really MMORPG.
Planetary Viability: Despite the fact that Cline’s science makes intuitive sense, I’m not sure how feasible his amazing VR world would be. Wouldn’t the energy requirements alone be pretty crushing? And while I loved the retro flavor of the OASIS, it wasn’t always entirely believable. The people of Wade’s world have no culture of their own. I’d say this was meant to underscore the emptiness of their lives, but that didn’t feel entirely supported by the novel. Honestly, I think Cline made everything so retro because it’s awesome, not because it makes any sort of sense.
Xenolinguistical Assessment: Cline captures the voice of an eighteen-year-old video game and pop culture geek perfectly. Unfortunately, that includes the geeky habit of going on at length about gaming gear and gaming rigs, sharing overly detailed accounts of beloved movies and games and exercise routines . . . it was fitting, but also a little boring sometimes, and it bogged down the otherwise really snappy pacing.
Expanded Report: Did you see the new Tron movie? I can’t help but wonder if Ernest Cline did–and if he winced when he realized how similar it was to his book.
Ready Player One is conceptually nearly identical. Eccentric millionaire computer whiz invents rich VR-world. Years later, he’s gone and a kid must enter the computer in order to save the old man’s company from evil corporate shills. Jeff Bridges would even make a great James Halliday.
But unlike TRON: Legacy, Ready Player One samples liberally from not just one 80s film franchise, but all of them. In the obsessively detailed retro-futuristic sci-fi world of the OASIS, it seems that the pop culture of the 80s doubles as the pop culture of the 2140s. Other than the OASIS itself, mankind seems to have been incapable of creating anything of artistic value since Y2k.
The effect is dizzying, not unlike Ready Player One‘s cover. The novel’s fast-moving pages could easily double as a catalog of recommended viewing, listening, and gaming for any self-respecting geek kid. It’s not really realistic, or plausible, but it sure was comfortably familiar for this 27-year-old reader.
The story is simple: Wade Watts recounts how he became overlord of the OASIS with the help of his best friends, Aech and Art3mis. Wade’s voice was, perhaps, a little too perfect. Tiresome infodumps abound, especially in the first half of the novel–at which point they’re replaced with equally tiresome battle and game recaps. There’s nothing worse, I suspect, then to have to listen to someone recount the plot of video games–except maybe to have to listen to them recite Monty Python. That happens here, too.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a fun novel. Ready Player One is accessible, and the core friendship between the three teenagers is well-rendered and believable. But it’s also a little simplistic. Villains are one-dimensional. Minorities are stereotypical (there are two Japanese boys obsessed with “honor”). Endings are tidy. We’re told that this is a world where racism and sexism don’t matter because everyone can pretend to be a white guy. Hmm.
But I can’t deny that this is a book that a lot of people will love. It might not be particularly challenging, but it’s undeniably entertaining. It’s a great read for geeky teen readers who are into 8-bit culture–or geeky adults who, like the inhabitants of the OASIS, just want to escape into some harmless fun. Ready Player One is available from Amazon or your local indie bookstore.