Quick Hit: 80s nostaligia, video game madness, and almost no deeper than that.
I’m a big fan of things that are nerd extreme. I have been especially enjoying the recent explosion of 80s themed things that are reoccurring – from Balthazar Bratt in Despicable Me 3, the obvious 80s implications of Stranger Things, and of course, the recent box office smash of IT, things are going well for the decade. Enter Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The book is now a movie, and was recommended by my father, who also purchased the book.
It’s the year 2044, and Wade Watts is our unknowing hero. He’s an orphan, living with his aunt in a stack of trailers with several other families. That is, when he’s not in the Oasis, an extreme Virtual Reality experience where people now spend nearly their whole lives. Some of this is the availability (it’s free) and some is the experience (you can be anyone you want to be). But a huge part is searching for the Easter Eggs left behind by the creator of the Oasis, who left his entire considerable earnings to whoever could solve his puzzle. And hence, enter Wade, who has spent the last five years looking for them.
Ready Player One is two things. 1) It’s a nerds paradise, with references to just about every huge 80s game, movie, tv show, and diving even deeper into some more obscure fare. 2) It’s also an escapist family, with some of the language to match.
Now, I’m not saying I have to love every aspect of a book to enjoy it – I actually enjoyed large pieces of the story, and I’m a sucker for a dumb romance where you know it will work out. But man does this have some really convenient plot turns and twists. I know how to suspend disbelief pretty easily – my favorite stories involve multiple words and a mythical King Arthur descendant who wields revolvers better than anything – but it was pretty tough here. And not what happens in the Oasis, which I thought was excellent, but the things that happen outside of it. It’s clear that Cline was as ready to get back inside the Oasis as any of us, and it shows, because he’s constantly dropping the plot when he’s outside with Wade.
Case and point: Cline specifically points out that the money Wade makes from ad revenue is a “meager amount” that could “afford an apartment for about a year”. Then, Wade proceeds to extravagantly live to the point where he has a booby-trapped home with a personal computer and a high tech Oasis rig – some components of which he doesn’t even use (a Smell Generator, because, of course there would be a Smell Generator). It’s contradictions like that that have the tendency to bring me outside the story rather than letting me language in the Oasis, which is a hell of a place to be.
Particularly for nerds like me, the Oasis sounds like a little slice of heaven. I’m also a fan of RPGs, so this just plays further down my alley, eventually knocking down all but a few pins. I loved the references throughout, but I think a slightly better approach would be to approach it much like Michael Crichton has in the past – footnote the references, and make your reader flip to the back if they don’t understand. But that would also remove a large part of the book, which would have left for more in depth characterization.
So, do I think a lot of people will be entertained here, particularly if they recognize the material? Yes. Do I think at times the writing fades into juvenile form, particularly in the character descriptions? Yes. But did I have a good time with it? Yes. I’m giving it a “C+”.