In the unnervingly near future, Ernest Cline describes Earth as a world that has been seemingly drained of any semblance of beauty by its inhabitants. Blue skies are replaced with, pollution and smog, green landscapes replaced by steel high-rises, and even trailer parks have been turned into towering Jenga towers of trailers looming hundreds of feet high to conserve space. As an escape from the bleak surroundings, people often log in to the OASIS – an immense virtual reality where individuals can go to work, school, and even hang out with their friends (many of whom they have never actually met in person). For many individuals, the OASIS is not merely an escape from the real world; it is their real world. Life outside of the OASIS is secondary – nothing more than a place to eat, sleep, and recharge before zipping back into their haptic suits and sliding the virtual reality goggles over their eyes once again.
The book begins by informing readers of the death of James Halliday, the multibillionaire creator of the OASIS. When Halliday died, he released video footage describing a quest he created in the years leading up to his death. Somewhere in the OASIS, Halliday hid an “Easter Egg,” and whoever finds it will inherit his billions as well as complete control over the OASIS. This kind of power attracts hundreds of videogame obsessed egg hunters (who call themselves gunters) including Wade Watts, a lonely kid from a trailer park with nothing to his name. The story is told from Wade’s perspective, and follows the trials and tribulations surrounding his pursuit of the egg (including trying to stay one step ahead of the fierce competition delivered by other gunters, and his battles with a massive corporation who manages to cheat its way through many of the game’s various challenges).
Overall, I thought the book was a quick, fun read (provided you didn’t take it too seriously). However, based on reactions from my sister and boyfriend, I wonder if the book will actually be less well received by those who are nerdier than me. I know a lot of the references went over my head, but even only understanding about half of the nerd and/or 80’s references, I still thought Cline went overboard. Subtlety is DEFINITELY not his strong suit. I can only imagine how much more irritated I would have been if I picked up on every single reference. However, I suppose you could also take the opposite stance – maybe I was only annoyed because I missed so many of the references, and a true nerd or 80’s aficionado would have been in heaven. Either way, going into this book the reader should expect to be pummeled with a never ending barrage of 80’s pop culture and videogames. Instead of creating a strong story line and working in 80’s references where they seemed to best fit, it seemed like Cline took the opposite approach. In other words, it seemed like Cline sat down and made a list of every possible bit of 80’s pop culture that he remembered, after which he created the story around these references. What we are left with was a story that focused more on the 80’s references rather than the hunt itself. Somebody should have told Cline that it is about quality, not quantity.
Furthermore, I think Cline should have spent more time immersing readers in the world of the OASIS. As it is written, the world seems flat and unidimensional, and Cline’s descriptions seem to lack that Visceral edge inherent in Worlds created by other writers (e.g., the wizarding world created by J.K. Rowlings, or Tolken’s Middle Earth). The characters themselves also seemed to be cookie-cutter nerds. Almost every gunter fit into the nerd stereotype – fat, acne-ridden, ugly, unpopular, and girl-obsessed. Plus, the way they talked to one another just irked me! It’s like they were trying to talk like “cool kids” and failing miserably.
Finally, the aspect of this book which I disliked most of all was the ending. It read like the end of a Full House episode. After creating this elaborate quest that demanded that gunters live almost every waking hour logged into the OASIS, Halliday tells the winner of the quest that his biggest regret was not fully enjoying his life in the real world. In other words, he felt like he wasted his life hiding out in this virtual world, and never experienced true happiness. If he really had felt this way, don’t you think it would have perhaps been wise to create a quest that didn’t demand all gunters to basically eschew their real world lives for a chance at winning?? Through his ending, Cline manages to leave us with a moral of the story (Danny Tanner style); basically, don’t let computers, the internet, videogames and the like keep you from living your real life. Cue epiphany, hugging, and a canned “Awwww.”
Like I said, overall I enjoyed Ready Player One. I would be very interested to hear what others thought of it as well. I think it probably appeals to a very specific demographic…I just haven’t quite figured out what that demographic is yet! My guess would be nerdier people in their late 20s, but maybe the references are too “in your face” for them.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.