We review one of the finest geek novels of recent times. Grab a joystick and stick the quarter in the slot, it’s Ready Player One…
You might have heard that Ready Player One is becoming a movie, which is to be directed by Steven Spielberg in one of the most spot-on marriages of material and director we’ve ever heard. You see, at its heart Ernest Cline’s novel is a love letter to the pop culture of the 1980s – a culture that Spielberg himself was a massive part of. The book’s unashamed geekiness is what has made it a fan favourite, but it also has a lot else going for it as well. On the whole, Ready Player One is a terrific adventure story with a bevy of intelligent ideas and a good heart that demands to be read as quickly as possible.
Set in the near future, where civilization isn’t what it used to be, just about everyone spends their time plugged into the virtual reality network the OASIS. When the network’s eccentric, 80s-loving creator dies, he leaves his entire fortune to the person who can find an easter egg he has planted somewhere in the OASIS. The quest leads to a global obsession with all things 80s – led by hardcore egg hunters – called gunters – who learn every major video game, movie, TV show, book and song from the decade by heart, in the hopes of working out the location of the egg. Our hero Wade Watts AKA Parzival hopes it will be him, aided by his allies Artemis and Aech. However, the evil corporation IOI is hot on their tails. And they are determined take over the OASIS… by any means necessary.
On the face of it, writing a book about the very visual idea of a quest through the world’s biggest video game is a strange one, but Cline’s engaging prose, world building and character work ensure that Ready Player One is the definition of a page-turner. For once, it is refreshing to have virtual reality depicted as a good thing. Or at least, a neutral thing. Yes, its users spend far too much time inside it, to the detriment of their physical wellbeing and social skills. But the OASIS is more real to Wade and his friends than their less-than-stellar real lives. In it, they can shed their body image and gender issues and be whoever they want to be. Plus, you know, they get to fly around in spaceships and travel to other planets.
The quote on the book cover calls Ready Player One a mix of “Willy Wonka and The Matrix” which just about perfectly sums it up. In terms of both the actual story and how it gleefully wears its influences on its sleeve. Just about every bastion of 80s pop culture – and a few ones that came later as well – gets a mention. There is a quote from Ghostbusters on the very first page, for crying out loud. Cline is clearly as big as lover of the decade as OASIS founder James Halliday and is trying to convert his readers to the cause. As much as the book celebrates burying yourself in fiction, though, it does have a touching message at heart: the wonders of technology may be all well and good but the only place you can be truly happy is in the real world. Or, as a wise wizard once put it, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to life.”