Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Publication Date: 2011
Two Sentence Synopsis: The world has fallen into shambles and everyone finds solace in the virtual reality world the OASIS. After the creator died, he leaves an Easter egg the requires several difficult 80s pop culture-related tasks that will lead the winner to inheriting the company and mass fortune.
Review: At its core, Ready Player One is an interesting look at the intersection of reality and virtual reality. Ernest Cline builds a crumbling, dystopian world in the not-too-distant future where the planet’s resources are running out, the masses live in towering structures built of mobile homes piled on top of each other. Peoples’ only solace in such difficult times is a VR program called the OASIS. The program’s creator, a man named James Halliday, recently passed away and instead of passing his vast fortune and company to someone else in the usual way, he creates an Easter egg hunt with three keys and three gates. The first player to get past all three gates wins everything. People across the globe study Halliday’s life and interests — he grew up in an All American town in the 1980s and was into nerdy things like Dungeons and Dragons and video games, plus was a voracious reader and watcher of tv and movies. People across the globe all search for the Easter eggs to win the company and the vast fortune left behind. Of course, there’s also an evil company that cheats and tries to win the company for themselves.
It sounds like a cool book, so why am I only rating it 3 stars?
I’ll start off by saying that I gave it a 3 star rating because of the idea behind it and the really cool world building. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would have been able to finish the book.
I just could not connect with the main character Wade, also known as Parzival in the OASIS. He’s an obvious author wish fulfillment for Cline. Just like Parzival is Wade’s avatar in the OASIS, Wade is Cline’s avatar in the novel. I don’t care that Wade begins the story as an overweight, unattractive teenager with only one friend that he’s never met in person. It’s the ultra-elitism that’s the first turn off. The gate-keeping of who’s a “true fan”. The even bigger turn off is that he’s the epitome of fedora-wearing, neck-beard having Nice Guy(TM). He’s a fan of a blog written by a girl named Art3mis who also is looking for the Easter eggs. That’s all cool and dandy, but he goes on to describe her avatar as beautiful with a rubanesque figure unlike all the other girls who have avatars with tiny waists and huge curves. Already she’s “not like other girls”. Then, once he finally meets her, there are several occasions when she decides that they shouldn’t talk to each other until the competition is over and Wade blatantly ignores her request for no contact and gets her to respond to him. There’s even a time when she refuses to respond to him, he leaves desperate emails and letters to her, trying to get her to see her “error” in ignoring him (not actually said, but heavily implied).
Let’s move onto the other characters now. Art3mis is the one visible female character of any importance and therefore the love interest. Like I said above, she’s “not like other girls” and is written in a “you don’t know you’re beautiful, that’s what makes you beautiful” way. When Wade sees a real picture of her for the first time, where she has a massive port wine stain birthmark across half her face he decides that it makes her even more beautiful. Because “not like other girls” and “real beauty is on the inside” and other fluffy stuff like that. Of course I do believe in other forms of beauty and non-conventional beauty, but the way it’s written in this book feels gross and exploitive.
Next we get to Aech, pronounced like the letter H. Aech is Wade’s only friend and the pair of them are constantly trying to outdo each other with their 80s knowledge. When Wade finally meets Aech in person, there’s a “twist”. Aech isn’t a teenaged white boy, but rather a black girl. And she’s a lesbian. And “heavyset”. Which would be cool, except she’s seen for a very short time and Wade continues to refer to Aech with male pronouns, explaining that because Aech’s OASIS avatar is male, he thinks of Aech as a male. Again, this feel exploitive. Diversity for the sake of diversity. And it completely ruins Aech’s reasonable explanation of using a white male avatar because of sexism and racism.
Then we get to Daito and Shoto, two more players looking for the Easter egg. Unlike the others, these two work as a duo. If their names don’t give it away, they’re Japanese; or, to be more accurate, they’re stereotypical caricatures of Japanese males. All serious and highly offended by what they view as even the smallest slights.
As for the antagonist, the company and the man in charge of the evil company’s plans to get ahold of the OASIS and Halliday’s vast fortune are pretty boring. Like cardboard cut-outs. Yes, they’re evil — we’re told time and time again of just how bad they are — and while they cheat and use unfair means to gain advantages, there’s never any real worry that they’re going to win the competition. A lot of the problem with this has to do with Cline telling and not showing. If more time was spent towards showing us that the company and the man were bad, the stakes might have felt a little higher and the situation a little more dire. The times where things are shown, the stakes still don’t seem very high because they have already been lowered from all the telling.
Finally, we get to all the references from the 1980s. It’s cool to see all the references to movies, TV shows, games, and technology, but often it feels like a reference is thrown in just for the protagonist to be able to say “hey, look how cool and hip and knowledgeable I am”. I mentioned gate-keeping earlier…And with this book marketed as YA, its target audience would know some of the references, but definitely not all of them. I was born in 1990, and had trouble with a few of the references, even though the 80s and the 90s overlapped a fair bit.
There are plenty of people who really enjoyed this book, so I don’t not recommend it. I just cautiously recommend it.