Book Review: Ready Player One

These are my reviews/thoughts/musings of books that I have read recently. All books rated on a scale of 1-5. Today’s review is on Ernest Cline’s 2011 nerd epic ‘Ready Player One’.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s ode to nerds, video games and 80s pop culture, is fun. It has a creative science fiction story behind it, a cool premise and at times itself feels like a video game. It’s packed with action, cheeky references, an immersive hunt/mystery and is overall genuinely enjoyable for large swaths of the story. However, there are a lot of issues here that are unable to be masked by this initial cleverness.

First, the plotline: We are 30 years in the future, and the world has devolved into a cyberpunk dystopia where reality sucks, economies are crumbling, people are living in poverty and the only thing keeping the world sane is OASIS, a virtual reality role playing game experience that everybody in the world now spends almost every waking hour inside living through virtual avatars. People so prefer this fake world to the real one they live in that we’ve reached the point where children attend school, adults have real jobs and businesses are making real money in this second reality.

Before his death, the eccentric billionaire who created the system sends an announcement to the world that he has hidden an ‘easter egg’ behind a series of three gates, hidden somewhere within OASIS behind walls of 80s pop culture reference and old-school video game challenges. The first person to clear the gates gets access to his fortune and control of the entire OASIS world. The world’s population collectively embarks on the hunt, with the most dedicated egg hunters referred to as ‘gunters’, which is a horrible word that gave me considerable stomach pain every single time it was written in the novel. It comes up A LOT.

Our protagonist, a 17 year old outcast named Wade Watts in real life with the screen name of Parzival, who has no friends or money or social status in real life. Parzival is a gunter (Jesus Christ), which means he is an obsessive studier of 80s pop culture references, which means he spend a significant amount of time ‘researching’ by watching episodes of Family Ties and mastering video games on the Atari. He soon takes a prominent role in this hunt by being the first person to crack the first gate. This sets off a race where he and his gunter friends are competing to close the final gates and find the egg against both each other and an evil corporation who is trying to get the egg for nefarious purposes and is using their considerable resources to rig the game.

We know that our characters are the good guys because they state that if they won the money they would use it to improve the world whereas the evil corporation are the bad guys because would use it to do evil corporation things. Literally, I wish Cline had just named them the Evil Corporation and been done with it. I can’t wait until the movie when scary music plays whenever they show up. Our heroes are all easily-identifiable nerdy social outcasts who cleverly banter with each other and slowly learn the meaning and true importance of friendship. There is also a love story going on between two characters that is can only be described as horrendous.

This all feels very junior high and tween-fiction to me, which is totally a good thing if you’re a teen but I outgrew a long time ago.

Are teens going to get these 80s references? It seems like the pop culture in Ready Player One comes from an older age (I was born in the late 80s and felt like I missed a lot of references).The story is clunky and immature and clearly resonates with a much younger audience, with our heroes going through teenage problems like puberty and isolation and things that stop being interesting to read about the day you lose your virginity.

Listen, Ready Player One was a good time for a big portion of it and I’m only shitting on it because it’s fun to do so, but this is going to be incredible if you belong to one of the following groups: 13-15 year old boys, teenage nerds (who won’t catch the 80s references but will relate to the protagonist outcast), older Star Wars/video game/John Hughes nerds (who will catch the 80s references), and nerds.

Writing a book catering to nerds is totally fine and this one has no qualms about what it is and proudly flies its geeky banner, as it should. But when your climactic battle scene involves the main characters turning into giant robots from 80s cartoons and comic books I’ve never heard of and a part of the climax includes our character playing Pac Man for four hours, I think it’s maybe not for me.

That said, I did have fun with it when I wasn’t rolling my eyes and bought into the world Cline created for the most part. It is a lovingly constructed book and you can tell that Cline is really passionate about Monty Python, Matthew Broderickmovies and obscure Japanese cartoons. And you know what? We can poke fun but you have to admire passion.

In all seriousness, I’m sure this would have been my favorite book as a teenager, though maybe I’m not the audience for it at this point in my life, there’s something to be said for that. Still, it’d be nice if I never heard the word ‘gunter’ ever again.

Rating: ** 1/2

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