Ready Player One

~by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is Ernest Cline's debut novel, released by Crown Publishing in August 2011. Cline is probably best known for his work as a screenwriter for the film Fanboys (which I haven't actually seen but have been meaning to). When I was first offered a copy of Ready Player One, I hesitated accepting but not for long. I may not have been familiar with Cline and his previous work, but I couldn't resist wanting to see what was in store from an author who gladly discussed Space Invaders, The Lord of the Rings, Cowboy Bebop, Ultraman and all sorts of other wonderful geeky things all within the same interview. Cline is a self-proclaimed geek and clearly a man after my own heart. The more I learned about his novel, the more excited I became to read Ready Player One. The reviews and publicity I've seen for the book have been overwhelmingly positive and the novel has already been optioned for a film. (I think it would make a pretty good one, too.)

In a bleak near future, most of humanity spends most of their time logged into OASIS if they can afford it. Originally, OASIS was developed as a gaming platform but it has since evolved into an immense and highly complex alternate reality system. It's also one of the only ways that people can escape their depressing lives and a world that is crumbling around them. When James Halliday, the creator of OASIS, dies, he announces a contest: he's hidden an Easter egg somewhere in OASIS and whoever finds it first will inherit his entire fortune. But first, the participants will have to find a set of three keys and three gates to lead them there. Five years pass before the first key is found, unexpectedly by an impoverished high school student named Wade Watts. Now Wade's life has gotten a lot more interesting, and a lot more dangerous.

Ready Player One is inundated with pop culture references. Most important are those from the eighties, but any part of geekdom before or after that is still fair game. This includes references to films, video games, books, and just about anything else. I know for a fact that I didn't catch everything but I was completely delighted when I did, which was often enough that I found myself grinning through most of the novel. What really sold me on the book was a heated conversation early on between two characters about the relative merits and worth of Richard Donner's film Ladyhawke as an eighties classic. Some of the pop culture references aren't incorporated into the plot as well as they could be, but at least Cline has created a semi-legitimate reason for them to be there. And those that are really important to the story he makes sure to explain in more detail for readers that aren't in the know.

Ready Player One is pure escapism for a very specific audience. I don't think that Cline will win any new converts to geekdom through his novel, but for those of us that are already devotees (and there are quite a few of us out there), Ready Player One is an absolute blast. Granted, the novel isn't breaking any ground; there's nothing new here that I haven't seen before. The plot and characters are fairly straightforward and don't show much development. The book doesn't have a deep, hidden meaning, although Cline does cram a few moral lessons in at the end. Still, I found Cline's world-building interesting, even if he has a tendency to infodump towards the beginning, and he's come up with a good excuse for esoteric pop culture geekery to not only be accepted but valued in society. If nothing else, Ready Player One is a lot of fun; sometimes you just want to be entertained.

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