Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011, Arrow Books)

It’s 2044 and the excesses of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries have taken their toll -- oil has all but run out, climate change has led to famine, and the economy and public services have gone to hell in a hand basket.  Folk have fled suburban sprawl and commuter towns and have moved into the cities, crammed into buildings or occupying trailers stacked into skyscrapers.  In order to escape the drudgery of their lives they escape into the OASIS, an enormous virtual reality made up of thousands of worlds.  Five years previously, James Halliday, a pioneer inventor of video games and the creator of OASIS, announced in his will that hidden in the system are three keys that open three gates leading to Halliday’s Easter egg and control of his business empire and fortune.  The only clue to the location of the first key is a riddle, which proves difficult to decipher.  Wade Watts is a poor teenager living in the stacks of Oklahoma City obsessed with Halliday’s quest.  Like millions of others he spends his free time trying to crack the riddle, immersing himself in the folklore surrounding Halliday and the culture of his favourite decade, the 1980s.  Also in the hunt is Innovative Online Industries, a massive conglomerate that uses indentured labour and wants to own and monetize the OASIS, and they don’t care how they achieve their goal.  People are starting to tire of game, but then Watts manages to solve the first riddle, his character, Parzival, suddenly gaining worldwide fame and unwittingly putting himself in real life danger.  The race is now on to pass through the other two gates and claim the prize.

The front cover blurb states that Ready Player One is Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.  In my view it’s more Willy Wonka meets Ender’s Game and Virtual Light.  Wade Watts is the poor kid living in a post-apocalyptic, gerry-built, bricolage landscape, escaping into the virtual worlds of the OASIS with the dream of solving an eccentric inventor’s challenge and inheriting the company and associated fortune.  There’s very little to fault in Cline’s storytelling or the detailed world he creates, which has a strong sense of plausibility and realism.  Wade is on a dungeons and dragons style adventure through an enormous set of virtual worlds, where the quest is steeped in references to 1980s culture - the music, video games, movies and fashions.  On his journey he undertakes challenges, collects artefacts, builds the powers of his character, makes friends, falls in love, and battles an evil empire to save the future of humanity.  And just like an addictive game, the story hooks the reader in and the pages keep turning.  The characterisation is nicely done, the plot is excellent, and the contextualisation is very well realised.  Indeed, it’s clear that Cline spent a lot of time on the details and it shows -- it’s a tale about a bunch of geeks doing geeky stuff that is geeky in its creation.  At times it’s a little too linear, and once Wade has found a path he tends to travel down it relatively easily, and the real world tends to fade into the background, but this is all very minor stuff.  Overall it was a joy to read and given its strong plotting and intertextuality, I can envisage the story being made into a TV series or a movie.



5 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Sounds like a great read, Rob, and an interesting perspective on what the future might be like.

Keen Reader said...

I've been wondering about this novel (i.e. whether to read it or not) and your review is very helpful in deciding. It sounds like something I'd like and become engrossed in.

One question: is it told in past tense or (annoying in my view) present tense?

Rob Kitchin said...

Past tense. You can read a few pages using Amazon's 'look inside' feature - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ready-Player-One-Ernest-Cline/dp/0099560437/

Chris Enstad said...

Indeed Rob, Ready Player One is beimg made into a movie and Clines is very involved in the movie, unfortunately that means he has not written another book. Glad you enjoyed the book, I think I was one of the first to recommend it to you. Another very fun read is Pines by Blake Crouch, have you heard of it?

Rob Kitchin said...

Chris, yes, I think I got the recommendation from you. Thanks for that. I'll look up the Crouch book. Rob