Thursday, March 1, 2018

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I wish someone had just told me the truth right up front, as soon as I was old enough to understand it. I wish someone had just said: “Here’s the deal, Wade. You’re something called a ‘human being.’ That’s a really smart kind of animal. Like every other animal on this planet, we’re descended from a single-celled organism that lived millions of years ago. This happened by a process called evolution, and you’ll learn more about it But trust me, that’s really how we all got here. There’s proof of it everywhere, buried in the rocks. That story you heard? About how we were all created by a super-powerful dude named God who lives up in the sky? Total bullshit. The whole God thing is actually an ancient fairy tale that people have been telling one another for thousands of years. We made it all up. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. “Oh, and by the way … there’s no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. Also bullshit. Sorry, kid. Deal with it.
In Ready Player One, we are confronted with a version of America's near future that doesn't seem particularly far-fetched: because of global warming and widespread poverty, cities have become massively overcrowded (our hero lives in "the stacks," where mobile homes are stacked on top of each other outside of city limits), and people spend the bulk of their time plugged into a virtual reality called OASIS. The story centers around a contest designed by the creator of OASIS and revealed after his death: whoever can complete a series of challenges and find a series of Easter eggs hidden within the simulation will inherit a massive fortune and control over OASIS. Our hero, Wade, gets swept up in the competition, and the novel follows his quest to defeat the evil corporate overlords who are competing against him and other "gunters" (short for "Egg hunters").

Cline clearly has a thing for 80's nostalgia; the entire OASIS universe, but especially the components of the competition, revolve around 80's TV, music, and video games. There's a level of geekery here that is truly impressive, if a little alienating to anyone who is not familiar with the vast range of coin operated 1980's video games. The book is enjoyable even if you only grasp 50% of the references (which is roughly where I think I was), but I could see it being even more appealing if you are immersed in 80's nostalgia yourself.

This was a fun read. It's fast paced and exciting, and you buy into Wade's quest almost immediately. It's being made into a Steven Spielberg movie this year, and it reads like the script of one already. The action sequences are well-written and come at you quickly. It was hard to put down! The degree to which an entire society's obsession with virtual realty was believable was a little off-putting, but Wade and his compatriots are likeable enough that you don't fault them for it.

I was a little unimpressed at the female characters (although, spoiler: there is a twist at the end); this is a world dominated by men and masculine pursuits. The female characters are allowed some degree of success (Wade's love interest is his primary competition in the quest), but they also seem preoccupied with their appearance and lacking in confidence in ways that are disappointing. Hopefully the movie will find ways to do better.

Overall, this was an entertaining, fast read. It will lend itself well to the big screen and wasn't literary enough that I will be reluctant to watch it butchered in the process.

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