Last year, for my brother’s birthday, I gave him a book I’d heard good things about but never read: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. A few weeks ago he discovered I’d never read it, and rushed it into my hands.
“You gotta read this,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
I have to agree, and for more than one reason.
Ready Player One is set in a dystopian future of our own Earth. National economies and even governments are in a state of severe decay; poverty, disease, hunger, and other maladies wrack the planet. The only escape from the misery of real life is something called “OASIS”, a virtual reality game that contains thousands of worlds, space travel, a functioning economy (that translates into actual money in the real world)… and a fantastic puzzle.
The hero, Wade, is a teenager caught up in the puzzle. The man who created OASIS has recently passed away, and left his fabulous fortune to the first person who can decipher the insanely difficult puzzle he left behind. The OASIS’ inventor grew up in the 80’s, and all his clues and challenges revolve around movies, TV and games from that time period.
Naturally, having grown up in the 80’s myself, I not only identified with the many pop culture references but was really caught up in the puzzles and story. Cline does a very good job of describing the source and meaning of each reference, though, and does not spend an overly long time delving into the intricacies of each one. Younger readers or people with no experience in that thing will still understand what it is and enjoy the challenge. How many people even remember, much less played, the D&D module ‘Tomb of Horrors’? I did, and enjoyed that part of the book. Those who didn’t will still derive pleasure from reading about Wade’s experiences.
This is Cline’s first published novel, and I think that shows. There’s a certain shallowness to the characterizations, a simplicity to the prose and story that bespokes a first time writer. I didn’t find it distracting, or problematic in any way. I think the book would probably have fallen into the ‘Young Adult’ or even ‘New Adult’ categories if it hadn’t been so securely seated in Science Fiction, but that just means it ends up being a fast, easy read. Cline keeps the tension and action moving from one chapter to the next, and the pages fly by so quickly that I was loathe to put the book down.
I’d definitely recommend picking up a copy, not only for the enjoyment of the book, but to see how Cline has written it, how he’s made it so easy to digest despite being filled with ideas and references that might be completely foreign to the reader. As I write this I realize that in a lot of ways he’s made it the same sort of bubblegum pop that much of the entertainment in the 80’s was characterized by. I leave it to you to decide whether that was intentional or not.