Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. 2011. Random House Audio. 2011. Narrated by Wil Wheaton. Listened to audiobook from library. Holiday Reads (Here at Tea Cozy, holiday reads aren’t books about holidays; they’re grown up books for grown up readers to indulge in over the holidays. And yes, the holiday is St. Patrick’s Day.)
The Plot: Wade Watts has one passion in life: solving the puzzle the late, eccentric, bazillionaire, James Halliday left behind five years before. The first person to solve the puzzle inherits Halliday’s fortune and control over Halliday’s creation, the OASIS, a virtual reality world. In 2044, everything takes place in that virtual world: shopping, friendships, business.
Wade’s just another teen playing games in the OASIS, obsessing over Halliday and trying to figure out the first clue in Halliday’s puzzle. Until something changes: while sitting in Latin class (a virtual class in the OASIS) the cryptic first clue suddenly makes sense.
Five years after the game began, player one is on the game board and Wade is no longer just another teen.
The Good: Ready Player One is pure, unadulterated fun. It may be set in 2044, but Halliday was a child of the 80s and loved everything pop-culture from the 1980s: TV shows, film, music, computer games. When Halliday designed the contest to determine who would inherit his company and fortune, he used the 80s culture he loved. To understand the contest, to solve the puzzles, requires total immersion into the 1980s. Ready Player One is full of fun references, from Ultraman to Ladyhawke.
I was in high school and college in the 1980s, so got a lot of the references, but Halliday is much more of a computer geek than I ever was and so many things went over my head. Cline’s writing is such that it doesn’t matter. He explains enough about things like Black Tiger that I understood what was going on. Part of the enjoyment of Ready Player One is trying to guess what 1980s pop culture references will be used next, or realizing where a quote or name comes from.
Technically speaking, some of the pop culture is pre-1980s, such as H.R. Pufnstuf; shows like that would have been on reruns, though, so it makes sense to include them.
Wil Wheaton’s narration is brilliant; he totally captures Wade, an eighteen year old who in the “real world” is a poor orphan living in a nightmare trailer park but once in the OASIS is his avatar Parzival, with top knowledge of all things Halliday. Wade has no friends except the local crazy cat lady. Parzival has friends: other avatars, that is, and he spends huge amounts of time “plugged in,” watching films and playing arcade games with these OASIS friends. Wade is both vulnerable and lonely, arrogant and talented, and Wheaton perfectly captures that teenage male.
Wade spends much of his time in the OASIS because the virtual reality is so much more attractive than the real world. In the OASIS, one can literally be anything one wants to be. The OASIS is full of worlds, where magic and science fiction can be real. Breathless action scenes are shown, as Parzival battles enemies and takes risks to achieve his goals, and then Wade reminds us that he’s actually sitting in a chair with a visor and keyboard. It’s not real. Yet, at the same time, it is real. The prize — Halliday’s money — is very real.
The combination of Cline’s writing and Wheaton’s narration is such that at first, one doesn’t realize just how many rules Cline breaks. A ton of set up is needed for the reader to understand this future world, that is both so unlike ours yet very similar. It wasn’t until I began listening to the third CD that I realized that the first few CDs are basically a huge info dump. It’s done smoothly, and it entertains, so it doesn’t matter. It’s not until Wade/Parzival mentions he’s been sitting in a chair, plugged into the OASIS, playing a game that I realized the first part of the book was basically Wade wakes up and goes to school. Since school is in the OASIS, it’s a bit more involved, but, at its heart, that is what happens.
Cline has created a pretty bleak future. There’s a reason people like Wade escape into the OASIS. Yes, it’s fun to live in a world where you can be taller, thinner, better looking.; it’s also the perfect escape from a real world that has gone to hell in a hand-basket. Most of the book takes place in the OASIS, so only a little bit of the real 2044 is shown. There are some very clever bits, such as the future trailer parks being stacked up trailer upon trailer and vending machines that sell guns.
I’ll be honest: I listened to the audiobook, adored it, adored Wheaton telling the story. I’m not sure how I would have felt reading this; at times, Wade was too much of a geek for me. Of course, Wade has to be an uber geek, it is the point of the story and of Halliday’s contest. Part of the fun of Ready Player One is it takes the type of things that are of personal interest (games, TV, movies) and makes them into things that matter. My frustration with Wade aside, there were also a few plot points that left me going, “wait, what?” I think the reader/listener has to be willing to just go with it, to just sit back and enjoy Ready Player One for what it is: a fun read.
Read Roger asks, is Ready Player Onean adult or YA book? Wade’s journey is classic coming of age; he learns life lessons; and while the future is bleak, for the most part, Wade is having so much fun being Parzival that the reader doesn’t always remember it’s a depressing dystopia. Honestly, part of the reason I’d say adult is that, to me, the 1980s nostalgia/love affair is aimed at the adult reader, not the teen.
The Book Smugglers did a joint review; it’s my favorite type of review, because Ana and Thea disagree and I can see where both are coming from.