Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Sometimes I think that we all need to read books that take us out of our comfort zone don’t we. In fact that can be a main factor of why people join book groups be they in the flesh, like the Manchester Book Club which I have just started reading ‘The Master and Margarita’ for,  or online, as I am with the Readers Summer Book Club. One title that I was insistent should be on the Summer Book Club list, because I wanted to read it and test myself, was Ernest Cline’s novel ‘Ready Player One’ which with its mixture of science fiction and dystopian themes I thought would be rather a test and a change from my usual reads.

Arrow Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

The earth we meet in ‘Ready Player One’ is not a pleasant one. It is 2044 and humans have consumed the entire world’s oil, famine and poverty are widespread and the climate is pretty much ruined. The world is such a dreadful place that most people find themselves escaping it by plugging into the OASIS, a virtual utopia where you can become anyone you want in one of the ten thousand planets available online.

Yes, humans are escaping their lives by living virtual ones. However when the founder of OASIS, James Halliday, dies he makes the OASIS an even more exciting and dangerous place by leaving all his money (billions) and control of the OASIS to whomever can find a hidden set of keys within the OASIS on the biggest, and most riddle filled, quest that the virtual world has ever seen. Our narrator, Wade Watts, a young guy living in the poverty ridden stacks (trailers piled high shared by multiple families) with his unloving aunty is one such man, and he has not long found the first of the keys.

Phew! That looks like quite a synopsis but actually there are no spoilers in that and really I have only given you the very beginnings of the story as you join it, though I won’t give much else away because part of the fun of ‘Ready Player One’ is following Wade and his competitors, some good some very bad, as they try to solve the riddles Halliday has left them in a virtual world of endless possibilities.

‘A small mirror was mounted inside my locker door, and I caught a glimpse of my virtual self as I closed it. I’d designed my avatar’s face and body to look, more or less, like my own. My avatar had a slightly smaller nose than me, and he was taller, and thinner. And more muscular. And he didn’t have any teenage acne. But aside from all these minor details, we looked more or less identical. The school’s strictly enforced dress code required that all students avatars be human, and of the same gender and age as the student. No giant two-headed hermaphrodite demon unicorn avatars were allowed. Not on school grounds, anyway.’

I have to admit that when I knew this virtual world held around ten thousand planets within it I almost let out an inward grown. I pictured in my head a book that would never end because it has these endless places that could be explored; this isn’t the case at all. Ernest Cline clearly had a framework set in mind, the plotting of this novel and its riddles must have been incredibly hard work and meticulously done, and so you go on an exciting journey where the possibilities are endless but because there is a goal the characters remain quite focused yet there are of course thrills and twists along the way too, all as Halliday had planned you imagine. There is also much humour thrown in along the way which really adds to the enjoyment and you almost feel like you are playing a game as you read. It reminded me of the ‘fighting fantasy’ game books I played as a teenager by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone where you had to chose which page you would turn to next and a scenario where you were the hero played out… I always died, I risked too much (I bet none of you would even have thought I would have played these games, ha). In ‘Ready Player One’ we the reader can’t decide or die but the characters can, the homage seemed to be there though.

I think actually this feeling of those game books is a purposeful one by Cline as this book is also really a huge nostalgia fest and homage to the 1980’s, as much as it is a geek fest to comics, video games etc. This could have been alienating, I was after all only born in 1982, yet I got a lot of the references (the fact She-Ra was mentioned in this book won it brownie points, I loved that fact Halliday’s funeral was superimposed over a funeral scene in ‘Heathers’ too) and even when I didn’t get all the jokes it didn’t matter. I was really impressed by the way Cline managed this and liked the additional twist this gave to the book, I think Cline’s passion came through and I found myself reminiscing and embracing my not so long forgotten inner geek.

If I had to draw out any quibbles I had with the book the first would be that just on occasion I sometimes couldn’t work out if we were in the OASIS or back on earth in 2044, and occasionally I did get a little lost in the OASIS but I was expecting this, in fact I was expecting to do it a hell of a lot more than I did. The other slight issue was that because the book is such an epic adventure and because so much of it is set in the virtual world I didn’t really feel like I got to know any of the characters, apart from Wade, as much as I would have liked to. You do get snippets of their back stories but I liked them and wanted more, which is a compliment, and as most of the time we know them as their avatars it is expected they might be a little one dimensional as they project who they want to be known as. That said there is a love story and a real tale of friendship in this novel.

I really, really enjoyed ‘Ready Player One’. I wasn’t sure it would be my kind of book at all but the adventure and story really took hold of me, along with the humour, and I was gripped. Ignore the fact that it’s got quite a sci-fi twist, or the fact it may be deemed as a tale for those who want the 80’s nostalgia because it is more than that. It’s a funny, rollicking and escapist read that I thoroughly recommend.

Who else has read this and what did you think? Had you initially been put off a little by the premise at all? If you are a diehard sci-fi fan what were your thoughts?

This was a book  I read for The Readers Summer Book Club, alas due to some complications we have had to postpone the show with Ernest, hopefully we will be able to record one soon.

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22 Comments

Filed under Books of 2012, Ernest Cline, Review, The Readers Podcast, The Readers Summer Book Club

22 responses to “Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

  1. I LOVED it, it’s my favourite of the summer book club so far. I’m not a big sci-fi reader, and although I was born at the right time, it was in the wrong place, so a lot of the references whooshed right over my head (Heathers? What on earth is that?). And I still adored it. I was quite excited to read it, simply because I really like treasure hunt-type books, but it’s difficult to keep the tension alive for the entire book. Cline really managed it, and how!

    • I am not a big sci-fi fan either Rosario and I thought this was just super duper. I will admit it didn’t really have much character development going on, as gav pointed out in the podcast, but that isn’t what this book is about. It is all about adventure and fun and just a completely escapist and enthralling read.

  2. Well, I was put off after not very many pages. I do hear from Sandy N. that the audio version is excellent. I do think it would make a very good audio-book.

  3. I wasn’t sure how it would be because I’m not in video games, but I absolutely loved it. This was one of the best books I read from 2011. I am a child of the 80s, which I’m sure is part of the appeal for me.

    • I had a Mega Drive and then a Playstation as a kid but I tend to avoid the things now, but I utterly loved the book. It cleverly latches onto lots of nostalgia without becoming forced or cliched or just for people born pre/in the 1980s.

  4. LauraC

    I absolutely loved this book! Fine literature it is not, but a great adventure story. Now, I must admit that, although I am no video game player myself, I have a 33 year old son, and an about to be 18 year old son, both of whom are big video game fans, so I have done my share of watching video games. Also, I was in my twenties in the 1980’s and knew of all the musical groups and movies mentioned, although I have not seen most of the movies. Oh, and my ex-husband and I owned an Atari 800 computer, and I bought my present husband a Commodore 64. Definitely a walk down memory lane! It is too hard for me to guess how I would have enjoyed this book if all the above were not true. I’m guessing not quite as much.

    • i think the books sense of adventure was what really did it for me too Laura. Interestingly though I have to say that having heard it will have a sequel I am not sure I will rush out and buy it though, not because of the difficulty with the author for the podcast either (ha), I liked the book ending where it did and I think, like a lot of movies, a sequel screams cash in to me.

  5. LauraC

    Now that I have listened to the podcast of The Readers, I wonder if you see a similarity between your’s and Gavin’s meeting and a part of this book? (re: meetings & expectations, not wanting to give any spoilers.). I thought that this part of the podcast was perfect given this week’s book.

  6. I’m adding this to my wishlist – sounds like I might enjoy it. Although of course being a child of the 60s and 70s, again some of the references (to comics and video games) might go over my head too!

  7. Loved this one. It was sooo much fun!

  8. My sci-fi friend says: “Holy cow, people! Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”. If you’re into 80s movies, online gaming, or the movie “Fanboys”, this will be the most fun book you’ve read all year!”

  9. Wendi

    I LOVED this book. I read it in a few hours during a flight last year. I’m not the biggest science fiction/adventure fan, but I was won over by the hundreds (thousands?) of 80s references.

  10. All of these positive comments is putting this next on my to-read list. I’m glad to hear that though it’s 10,000 worlds, it’s not an endless book!

  11. Lauren

    I read this book earlier this year and LOVED it. The plot was so interesting and different, and loved the way the author told the story. One of my favorites!!!!

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