Review: Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

29 Jan



(4 out of 5 stars)

I first picked up Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One at the suggestion of Megan from BookBrats.Com. I was waffling between Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse and this novel and I am glad that I ended picking this one up first.

As a child of the 80’s who loves dystopians, this novel was like a grab bag of my favorite things. 80’s references? Check. Set in the near future where everything has gone to hell? Check. Hero quest? Check. Hint of romance? Check.

The novel opens with the aptly named Wade Watts and he gives us the deal. James Halliday (a combo of Mark Zuckerberg and Willy Wonka) has become rich and famous after creating a free online game called OASIS. Society has become so dependent upon the OASIS that almost all interactions occur within its virtual walls. Upon his deathbed, Halliday has created a hunt for an ‘egg’ that will allow the winner to control the OASIS and the accompanying fortune it has amassed. The egg hunters, or gunters, have to find three keys and pass three gates to reach the egg, all while testing their knowledge of the 80’s, James Halliday’s version of a golden era.

Five years have passed and no one has gotten any closer to even finding the first key until Wade does, under his OASIS username of Parzival (a nod to the Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail).  Close behind Wade is some of his gunter friends, his best friend Aech, the crushworthy Art3mis, and brother duo of Shoto and Daito. However, close on their heels is the evil corporate IOI Sixers, named after their employee numbers — all of which begin with the number six — who are after control of the OASIS so they can start charging for it’s use.

Some of the 80’s references are esoteric and eclectic, but like I said, as a child of the 80’s most of them I was at least familiar with. The plethora of references might alienate younger readers but I found that there was enough explanation of said references to allow them to be at least accessible if not giving you a solid wink of being in the know.

“It is on!” Aech shouted into his comlink. “It is on like Red Dawn!”
I found the quest format entertaining (I can’t resist a good quest), but at the same time predictable. At the beginning the quest is so daunting and vague, Wade and other gunters have studied for years with no success until Wade links a series of clues together. The hints that lead Wade and the other gunters from stage to stage are equally vague unless you are really up on your knowlege of the 80’s and James Halliday.
Continue your quest by taking the test
Yes, but what test? What test was I supposed to take? The Kobayashi Maru? The Pepsi Challenge? Could the clue have been any more vague?”
But this is where Wade and his friends excel. They have the time and the motivation to study up, because the reality of their situation (and many other OASIS users) is unfaceable.
“You’d be amazed how much research you can get done when you have no life whatsoever.”
“Dilettantes,’ Art3mis said. ‘It’s their own fault for not knowing all the Schoolhouse Rock! lyrics by heart.”
By the end of the novel, Wade has completed his quest. James Halliday says,
“I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life, right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real.”
This is an essential theme of the novel, and a good one (and it also fits in with the online course I am taking from the University of Edinburgh – E-learning and Digital Cultures). Where do we draw the line between online and offline? If virtual reality has become more real than reality what hope is there for future generations? Wade learns that even though all of his relationships exist inside the OASIS, that doens’t make them any less real, but we musn’t dwell too long in fantasy, lest we neglect reality.

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