Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The year is 2044, the world is suffering from poverty, crippling unemployment, on-going energy-crisis, catastrophic global warming, starvation and homelessness. The only escape is the alternate online 'reality' of OASIS.

After the death of creator James Halliday, OASIS isn't just a virtual utopia, it's also a hardcore game where the hidden Easter Egg means not only controlling stock of Gregarious Simulation Systems (Halliday's company) but also $240,000,000,000. Everyone makes an attempt at winning, but after five years no one has made any headway on the cryptic clue... Until seventeen year old, poor, Halliday-obsessed, anti-social Wade discovers the first key to winning it all.

Let the games begin.

I'm going to flat out say that my little summary of this book is quite trite. There is much more to this book than what I've described. Not necessarily depth, but detail. Lots and lots of detail. Ernest Cline is obviously writing from a huge nerd's perspective.* Thank God. The ridiculous amount of information in this book is absolutely perfect. I cannot tell you how sad it would have been if someone else would have written this book, unless it was written by a bigger nerd than Mr. Cline and I'm not sure if there is one.

*Sidenote: I would just like to mention that I mean nerd in the most complimentary terms. I consider myself one, and would probably ask Ernest Cline to marry me if he weren't already married with children.

This book while Wade's story seems like a love story written for the 80s - War Games, Voltron, Four Square, Ms. Pac-Man - They're all represented and the games, movies, television shows, just get more obscure and wonderful from then on. It made me laugh when Wade gets teased by his friend Aech for his love of Legend and Ladyhawke. Awesome. It's not all about 80s pop culture references, it gives a completely reasonable explanation of computer software and gaming gear even for a person who never owned a gaming console until 2007 like me.

In some ways this is a seemingly simple plot line, a lone disenfranchised young man sets off on a quest that allows him to rebel against a larger structured enemy and gather like-minded thinkers to his cause. It's not that straight forward, there are nuances that make this a commentary on society and the way our culture is headed. The fact that Wade is a startlingly realistic character lends credence to the observations he makes about corporations, the economy, and virtual reality. This is not a one-note story. It's not just for the nerds, geeks, and gamers, it can and will reach a greater readership. Which is probably why it's been optioned for a movie and the rights purchased by WB.

Okay, enough of the heavy stuff. Let's get to the fun, I really liked the world that Ernest Cline created. There's a solid history behind the plot, the technologies are natural evolutions of what we have, and the progression into this near future is natural. There was such a great balance between all of this 1980s trivia, virtual and technology jargon, and 'futuristic' society. At one point Wade describes the indentured service that a person must do if they are negligent in paying off their credit cards, and in the next he's discussing how he's hacked into a huge mainframe and talking to Max Headroom. And yet it's all so plausible!

Throw in characters that have real voices - as in I was reading the book and literally though of people I know who remind me of Art3mis, Aech, and Wade - and you have a brilliant book. They all represent personalities that aren't heroes, leaders, or great thinkers. They're just kids who have dedicated themselves to a game that lets them interact with like-minded people. The fact that they all are ridiculously talented is somewhat beside the point. They are all based in emotions that are true to everyone, it makes this book engaging as in lose yourself in it for hours sort of way. The fact that Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton are mentioned as president and vice-president of OASIS (which totally could happen) is just icing on an already glorious cake. P.S. Wil Wheaton is orating the audiobook. Amazing!

Here's my singular irritant with the book - spoiler alert - and perhaps one would be able to explain this away through a character study of Wade, but it just seemed off to me: Wade's abusive aunt, cousins, and the neighboring trailers are all blown up when Wade refuses to work for IOI. Which isn't necessarily bad, but he never really expresses any remorse or pity for those that have essentially died for him. Especially Mrs. Gilmore, the only person it seems that was kind to Wade in reality during his formative years. Wouldn't you think he would reflect on this a bit more? It seemed that it was all dismissed quite quickly, and though I'm not wanting him to fall to his knees wailing to the skies about the injustice, it seemed out of character for him to completely dismiss the deaths. End of complaint.

I enjoyed this book. It was excellent and I recommend it to everyone, regardless if you don't like sci fi, boy books, or computer games. It is awesome.

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