Verdict: Fun! Super fun! Action-adventure-scifi-nerdpalooza — with some emotional depth. Don’t be surprised if this book gets turned into a movie.
Perfect for: Anyone who likes non-stop action quest adventures; people into (or willing to tolerate) 1980s nerd obsessions such as TV, comix, video games, movies and trivia; fans of fun dystopian fiction (as opposed to relentlessly grim dystopian fiction). If you liked Feed, Ender’s Game, or any of Douglas Adams’ books you will probably like this one.
Summary: It’s 2044 and life is just one big dystopia, unless you are plugged into OASIS, a virtual reality environment that is a game, an educational system, Earth’s most viable commerce, and for many, the only thing worth living for — especially after OASIS cofounder James Halliday bequeaths his entire megafortune to the first person who can solve an elaborate puzzle based on 1980s nerd and pop culture. High school senior Wade Watts is poor and socially isolated, but his obsessive love of OASIS, technology, and all things 1980s makes him a viable contender to win the contest. However, he must compete against millions of other gamers as well as evil multnational corporate raiders intent on winning the contest in order to irrevocably alter OASIS from an environment of personal freedom to one of corporate control. While Wade feels at home in OASIS, he cannot ignore the real world – both for its very real dangers and its potential for real human connections.
FOUR HEARTS, ONE HACK:
You know how movies like Avatar couldn’t have been possible ten years ago because the CGI technology didn’t exist to render its world properly? And you know how sometimes in adventure/fantasy/scifi books you reeeeaaaaally have to suspend your disbelief at the off-the-hook creatures and powers and buildings conjured up by the author? Well, in this book everything the author describes – from elaborate planetary systems to crazy robots to magical spells to jet pack physics – is totally 100% possible if you believe that the OASIS virtual reality system can create anything imaginable. Our narrator Wade often talks about how OASIS gives its users ultimate freedom: freedom to be who you want and go where you want and learn what you want and do what you want. By that same measure, OASIS gives both the author and we the reader the ultimate freedom of imagination. And it was done awesomely. Also awesome was the fact that the book has…
Not only is it easy to imagine all the crazy fantasy and sci-fi elements of the OASIS environment, it is also easy to believe and imagine the dystopian future Earth of the novel. Author Cline has clearly thought through the details of his book’s 2044: from the stacked up trailers of urban centers (depicted on the book cover) to the way that public school has shifted to a virtual environment to how gun control is enforced – it’s all very detailed, and more importantly believable. So kudos to Ernest Cline for not only building the imaginary future of planet Earth, but also the imaginary world of OASIS and all the imaginary worlds within OASIS. Also kudos to Cline for incorporating…
For those of us who love the Internet and believe in its ability to support democracy, we want to keep the Internet free from corporate influence and government censorship. Ready Player One takes on some of these issues, but in ways that make sense to the story as a whole. For example, the baddies of the story are the executives of the all powerful corporation IOI who seek to win the OASIS contest so that they can take it over and monetize it for themselves – this would be bad for the common person because the creators of OASIS intended for its basic elements, such as its libraries and its education modules, to be freely accessible to anyone and everyone. But IOI wants to take it over and charge people just to be able to log on to it. So our hero Wade is not just fighting to win the grand prize for his own profit, he is also fighting to defend OASIS for the common person. Unlike Internet freedom’s crusader Cory Doctorow‘s YA novel Little Brother, which lays its politics on so thick and preachy that the story isn’t even fun, Cline manages to incorporate concepts of Internet freedom right into its nonstop adventure without missing a beat. Speaking of tun, it’s cool to see…
It’s nothing new in fantasy and sci-fi to have a hero who starts out as a weak underdog and then triumph in the end (see: Frodo, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, etc.). One thing that is cool in this book is that you get two versions of your heroes for the price of one: Wade and his closest allies/friends may be socially inept and insecure and underdogs in real life, but in the OASIS environment, they use their smarts and personality quirks to create unique and powerful avatars that are heroic and engaging. While neither Wade nor the reader do not get to find out what Wade’s online friends look like in real life until almost the end of the book, when their appearances are revealed it is refreshing to see that they are very different from the standard concept of heroic main characters. Again, Cline makes diversity a positive value of the book without laying it on too thick. Which makes it sad that the book had….
The only thing that needs hacking in Ready Player One were its various issues with language, the first being its surprising use of homophobic slurs – more surprising because our hero Wade and his best online friend Aech are the ones who casually throw these words about in their (mostly) friendly banter. This is especially weird because [SPOILER] Aech is later revealed to be a homosexual who was rejected by family. Another weird thing was that although the story is set in the future, and the characters are all obsessed with the 1980s, the slang the characters use is more like what is used today: n00b, asshat, assclown, “played out, yo”, etc. It would have been cool if either the characters all talked ’80s style (dope, bitchin’, radical, gnarly, gag me with a spoon) and/or if there was invented slang of the future, like there is in the book Feed.
The other language fails are more about clunky sentences or similes, such as the following two examples:
1. “But when I tapped the icon, I got a RECORDING NOT ALLOWED message. It seemed that Halliday had disabled recording inside the tomb.” Um, redundant much? I think I got it with the first sentence.
2. “I continued to go over each line, word by word, until my brain began to feel like Aquafresh toothpaste.” Soooo, his brain felt minty? hygenic? reminiscent of the colors of the Italian or Mexican flags?
Your Mileage May Vary
This book is definitely not for everyone, but what book is? Many people think they “don’t like science fiction”, yet line up to see movies like Avatar or the Batman series. I didn’t get the majority of the nerd-culture/pop-culture references sprinkled (OK, more like poured) throughout the book, but I still found the adventure fun, the stakes meaningful, and the characters sympathetic.