"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

Been wondering what to read next? Look no further than Ready Player One by Ernest Cline published in June of 2012.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is set thirty years from now in a rather austere future Earth.  As most post-apocalyptic stories go, we’ve managed to deplete our resources and haven’t quite gotten around to bouncing back from the most recent economic crisis.  Rather than deal with the problems of their grim dystopia, people take to the OASIS – an online virtual reality that, like the latest smartphone is to your run-of-the-mill tech addict, has become the center of most people’s lives. The obsession only grows when James Halliday, the inventor of the OASIS, dies and leaves his vast fortune to anyone who can use clues he’s left behind to complete an epic quest he’s designed around ‘80s pop culture.  Put simply, after becoming a multibillionaire, Halliday dies and creates the ultimate game based on the classic Atari 2600 game, Adventure, were you have three keys you have to find in order to open the hidden dungeons.  In Ready Player One, the winner inherits everything and, by everything, I mean the winner inherits Halliday’s fortune, company, and control of basically everything the man built and owned before he passed away.  The story is a bit reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets dot-Hack.

Ready Player One follows the journey of Wade Watts, a young boy who, like Charlie in that old classic, a poor orphan from the “stacks” surrounding Oklahoma City struggling to escape the grim dystopia of the real world.  Naming his OASIS character after the Arthurian knight famous for his quest for the grail, Wade dedicates his life to finding James Halliday’s Easter egg.  Even looking at this story from an objective point of view, I still really love it. Sure, it’s the same old hero’s journey tale only set in a virtual reality and, sure, we get the same sort of plot and tropes and life lessons we always get. But the difference here is that most of the time spent in this world is used to geek out over pop culture references that the characters would never have experienced or cared about in their normal lives, but that the readers will have a great deal of nostalgia for.

Being a hardcore gamer growing up and, to be completely honest, even now, there are a lot of references in the story that caused me to geek out for a bit. Everything from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series to Firefly-class space ships and the music of Rush made an appearance or was alluded to in some way, shape, or form, and that’s just the icing on the cake.  For the rest of it, the writing was so good that I imagine it wouldn’t really matter too much if I’d never experienced it for myself.  A person having never grown up around that would easily be able to pick the book up and understand what’s going on.  The character’s experiences and the author’s descriptions are enough to keep anyone engrossed in the story.

While all of this nostalgia is seeping into your soul, the story goes on as five friends independently battle the big ugly company that was created with the explicit intent of winning Halliday’s contest and turning the OASIS into a giant commercially-based corporation. These changes would alter the future of the world that was created and destroy everything built by the original creators. What this novel does so radiantly is give us everything we’ve ever loved about sci-fi and fantasy while still making the story feel innovative and inspiring. A large part of that is due to Cline’s writing, which was unequivocally spectacular.  When you read this book (and it is an absolute MUST READ), be prepared for a flashback to 1980s video games, music, movies, anime, and culture in general.  The book is going to make you wonder what’s going to happen in the near-future now that we have things like the Oculus Rift, Google Glass, and the Holo-Lens.  As of March 2015, there is even rumored to be a movie in the works directed by Stephen Spielberg, but due to the vast amount of copyright and trademark issues involved in creating such a movie, no further information has cropped up since then.

I absolutely enjoyed Ready Player One, and once I got started with the audiobook from Audible, I couldn’t put it down.  The audiobook is read by the none other than the illustrious Wil Wheaton himself.  If you don’t recognize the name, he’s one of the biggest stars of gaming and geekdom in the world (in my completely biased opinion, of course) and his narration makes you feel everything the characters in the book feel.  He makes the story real by understanding just how to hammer home the emotional connections you’ll make with the characters.  The book by far overshadows anything I’ve read in a very long time, and I don’t foresee anything I read going forward quite measuring up to it.  I would suggest Ready Player One to any 1980s fan that had any sort of love for video games, movies, music, anime, arcades, computers or anything from back then. It’s fun, thrilling, and overall just one entertaining story.

I give this book 10 out of 10.


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