Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

>> Thursday, June 28, 2012

TITLE: Ready Player One
AUTHOR: Ernest Cline

COPYRIGHT: 2011
PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Broadway

SETTING: 2044 US
TYPE: Fiction
SERIES: None

It's the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We're out of oil. We've wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS - and his massive fortune - will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.

Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions - and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.
It's the near(ish) future and everything has gone to hell. In an effort to escape a real world that, for the great majority, is ugly and unforgiving, people spend most of their lives plugged into a virtual world called OASIS. Wade Watts is one of them. About to finish high school, Wade has no real prospects, other than his determination (well, obsession) to find Halliday's egg.

So what's this business about eggs, you ask? Well, before he died, the reclusive creator of OASIS, James Halliday, programmed the ultimate easter egg into his universe. The first person to solve his riddles and find three keys that could be hidden anywhere at all in this massive universe, gets to inherit his megarich company.

It's been years, and although thousands have spent all that time obsessively studying up on all of Halliday's 80s-centric interests, no one has been able to even come close to finding the first keys. Not normal people, and not the minions of evil corporation IOI, whose bosses are determined to take over the immensely profitable OASIS in the only way they can.

Until Wade suddenly 'gets' it, and finds the first key. And before long, the once-blank scoreboard starts to fill up, and the hunt becomes really serious.

I'll say this: if you were alive in the 80s and are the slightest bit geeky, you must read this. You don't have to be the type that still wears leg warmers and shoulderpads, either. I'm not one for 80s nostalgia, but I still had a ball with this, and its homage to all that was good and fun about the 80s in America. And this was even though I probably only knew and could properly appreciate a tiny bit of this nostalgia-fest (I'm the right age for this, but from the wrong place). If you're my age and American, you'll probably like this even more than me (which means it will probably go on your 'best books ever' list).

In essence, this is a treasure hunt. There's stuff going on around the pure quest element (more on these later), but this is a book that would succeed or fail on the treasure hunt. And to me, it succeeded because that was brilliant. It's all very, very cleverly done. It's not repetitive, each puzzle is different and works great in the context of the story, and Cline manages to maintained the tension with barely a lull.

I did think it dragged a tiny bit in the middle section, maybe in between the first key and things starting to happen again on the Scoreboard, but this was only a small bit. There was also a bit of an infodump at the beginning, but it was all so fun and interesting, that I didn't mind much. And then things really go off! I basically read this in two evenings, and both times I ended up staying up really late. I just could not put it down.

As he hunts for the next key, Wade is not isolated (at least, not in the mental sense). He develops relationships with the other gunters ('egg hunters', get it?) who manage to get to the top of the scoreboard, and those were fantastic too. There's rivalry and respect and fondness there, as well as a bit of romance which was really sweet. And most of all, there's friendship and trust, all developed while playing the game.

These relationships bring up some really interesting issues about identity. Basically, how does living such a huge part of your life on a virtual world affect your real self and your relationships? Are you more you on OASIS or less you? Based on what I saw here, I'd lean to the first, in fact, and I was pleasantly surprised by how there wasn't a big moralistic message that OASIS was unhealthy and people need to go live in the real world. In his ending, Cline seems to propose a balance, and acknowledge that relationships created in OASIS can be just as strong and real as those created off-line, which I liked.

But even as their friendship helps Wade and the other gunters, they all have to contend with the evil IOI, which is willing to take the dirty tricks out of the virtual world. This ended up being a really good conflict. The whole thing could have come across as petty. What's at stake here, after all? Just a corporation taking on a company that runs a simulated world. But Cline manages to convince us that this is a really, really horrible outcome, worth the sacrifices that are made to prevent it.

This is not the first book that I've read recently presenting a corporation as the ultimate villain, and an apocalyptic vision of the future characterised by extreme privatisation. I find that a really interesting reflection of the general mood.

MY GRADE: An A-.

7 comments:

Li 28 June 2012 19:21  

I really liked this, despite me probably missing 3/4s of the references - totally appealed to me inner geek. I had seen the book around quite a bit, but it was the paperback cover that prompted me to finally pick it up.

Did you hear the author's launched a real-life quest with three gates etc to promote the paperback release? Very cool.

http://www.ernestcline.com/blog/2012/06/05/three-hidden-keys-open-three-secret-gates/

Rosario 29 June 2012 07:12  

Same here, and I didn't even know I had an inner geek! I hadn't heard of that, but ohhhh! I know where I'll be doing my time-wasting the next few days :)

Marianne McA,  30 June 2012 22:40  

I bought this on the strength of your review, and really enjoyed it, despite having no inner geek at all. So thanks.
Spoilers: I was convinced throughout that Art3mis was going to die, because male authors so often kill the love interest - so he gets bonus points for allowing her to live, and bonus bonus points for letting Aech and Wade stay best friends.

Marianne McA,  30 June 2012 22:43  

Hooray! It allowed me to comment. For the longest time I couldn't comment here at all...

So a belated thank you for the other books I've enjoyed because you recced them.

Rosario 1 July 2012 07:58  

Marianne: Oh, dear. I was using an external commenting service, which clearly was a bit rubbish. Back when I started the blog, blogger didn't even have comments, and switching to them when they finally stated offering them meant losing all early comments. I did finally make the leap a few weeks ago, and it sounds like it was the right decision!

Very glad to hear the book worked for you! I know what you mean, I was expecting the worst as well, but I really liked what he did, both with the romance, and with Wade and Aech's friendship (especially the latter, actually!).

Anonymous,  3 July 2012 18:59  

Treasure hunt? Music to my ears! I must get a copy. Thank you!

Maili

Rosario 4 July 2012 06:24  

Maili, Oh, of course, I should have remembered you love your treasure hunts! Yes, try this, I think you'll enjoy it!

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