April 15, 2024

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. New York, Broadway Books, 2011. 374 pages, paperback.

ISBN: 978-0-307-88744-3.

Ready Player One is a 1980s nostalgia feast. Cline doesn’t just sprinkle in the occasional well-known music or movie reference, but rather floods the novel with the most amazing and obscure television, board and video game, weekday afternoon and Saturday morning cartoon, comic, TV commercial, and even breakfast cereal references. Cline litters the novel with seemingly casual name-dropping that sometimes turn out to be vital clues in Wade’s quest that lead, not just to the Grand Prize, but to friendship and love.

Ready Player One takes the reader through Wade’s adventure, which is ripe with self-discovery, love and friends gained and lost, living the dream and living a nightmare, triumph and tragedy. It’s a virtual reality rollercoaster that, for the characters, carries into the real world with lives at stake. Told first person, the immediacy has a very real effect on the reader. Cline spins a good story. One can feel the urgency in tense situations and the dalliance of calm situations. One feel Wade’s exuberance and his heartache. For this reader, one sometimes liked Wade quite a lot and sometimes didn’t like him all. His smugness and self-centeredness could be a bit much but that was easily overcome by his contrition and his compassion. Wade is very human and it’s through his eyes that the reader meets his friends and enemies and discovers how interesting they are. The character building is truly fantastic.

The world building in Ready Player One is both immense and infinitesimal at different times. The world inside the OASIS is everything that living in a digital simulation should be. Inside the game, one can do anything one imagines and then some. Live in another time, in another city, on another planet, be something other than human, interact with other players or NPCs, do digitally anything if one has the control gear, the credits, and/or the XP. In addition to being a game, the OASIS has become a place of commerce, education, and entertainment. People work, do business, go to school, and entertain themselves in the virtual environment. It is truly an OASIS and for millions of people, the simulation is far better than the grim reality that exists right outside their door. Outside the game, the world has gone to ruin. Homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and starvation are at all time highs and rising daily.

Ready Player One is a thrill ride of an adventure, a story well told with great characters and set in world that is both real and unreal. Highly recommend.

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