Author: Ernest Cline
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 374 (hardcover)
Selected By: Elle Tea
“In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within the world’s digital confines – puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pup culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
“But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win – and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.” – from the Amazon summary.
Ah, floppy disks that actually flop, the original Walkman, mixed tapes, and MUDs… how do I miss thee? I was a wee Tea in the 80s, so the pop-culture, video games, and gaming systems referenced in this debut novel were really fantastic for me (at first – more on this later) – it was like taking a walk down a very glittery, brightly-colored, legwarmer-filled memory lane.
I found OASIS to be really entertaining; I mean, sure, for those of us who remember having to listen to Never Gonna Give You Up every time we turned on our boomboxes, who had to blow dust out of our game cartridges and had to play those games using a joystick with only one (bright orange) button, or who found ourselves sitting in front of the TV in our parachute pants, seriously trying to figure out why Men Without Hats were singing about safety while doing a spastic little dance in a Renaissance village full of dwarfs, it may seem a little strange that young people thirty years from now may have nothing better to base so much of their lives around than that neon-filled decade. You know what, though? I’m sure my great-grandmother never thought for a moment that the wallpaper cleaner her family used would be the modeling clay her own children would give to their kids in the 60s, and that those children would, in a couple more decades, hand the same compound to their children.
Many of the cartoons, movies, and video games we grew up with in the 80s are still available today, sometimes in their original forms and sometimes remade to appeal to a younger audience, but still here and just as popular as ever (though what they’ve done recently with Voltron and the Thundercats is nothing short of criminal in my opinion). I mean, the music and television shows that my parents watched when they were kids are still popular enough to have their own radio stations and time slots dedicated to them. Monty Python began in the late sixties and their popularity had waned by the mid-eighties, but I challenge you to walk into any place now, almost forty years later, and yell, “What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” At least a couple of people – regardless of age, gender, race, or creed – will no doubt reply, “African or European?”
Hollywood is forever dusting off and remaking quite a few movies from “back in the day,” fashion always comes back around (come on, jelly-shoes, I’m ready for ya!), and a lot of “our” (i.e., kiddies of the 80s) cartoons are still showing on TV. PacMan, MegaMan, Zelda, Prince of Persia, Tetris, Street Fighter, and Mario Bros are all still around now, twenty-to-thirty years after they first hit shelves. So, I have no problem believing one of us – children raised in Commodore 64, Capcom, Namco, and Atari‘s golden age – would build such a virtual shrine to the awesomeness that was… and that future generations would enjoy it just as much.
So, all these 80s references… I obviously liked them, right? I’ve said as much, and I’m obviously giddy with delight about them being gathered together within one tome, right?
You’re right, I did like the jaunt back through all the things that made my childhood so bloody awesome. At first. But by the time I hit the halfway mark, I was fairly well over them. Yes, I know the whole premise of the novel is about a virtual world of 80s immersion… but it really began to read more like a Guiness Book of 80s Elitism than a novel for the masses. Now, part of that might just be because the deeper into the rabbit hole we go, the vaguer the references become; I was a little kid in the 80s, so some of the in-depth technological references Cline makes were completely lost on me. Which would have still been fine if the rest of the story was solid, the characters were believable, and there was enough suspense to keep me interested.
Unfortunately, none of those variables occurred. The dialogue was choppy, and the characters, to me, were as flat as the screen on the original Game Boy. The good guys are, of course, good, and the bad guys are bad; there is no middle ground, no grey area, no question about how this is going to end. You all have probably heard me mention a few times in past reviews that I prefer to be shown what is happening in books rather than having it trotted out before me piece-by-piece. I know this is a difficult writing technique to achieve, and there must be a knack to it, because it seems like a lot of novelists opt to lay things out rather than forcing us to take the journey along with their protagonists…
But in my opinion this is a huge let down for a novel about video games – especially a virtual-reality MMO like the OASIS. Video games are interactive, that’s part of the fun – you take control of a character and follow their journey. The shallow presentations of action scenes are laconically laid before us, often in only one or two paragraphs before Wade drags us away; the action begins, our hero tells us what he’s doing or falls back on an 80s reference to explain everything away, and then we leave it behind.
All in all, Ready Player One seems to be lacking the fundamental depth of adult sci-fi novels to such a degree that I think the only thing that kept it from being classified as a YA novel is that most of the YA market wouldn’t understand the references that form the foundation of the novel. But as part of the target audience for this book, I will say it was an enjoyable geektastic treasure hunt… just don’t expect it to be much more than that.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.