Review: Ready Player One

Wade “Parzival” Watts may be a master at video gaming, but Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One, is a master with words. I put off reading this futuristic story about elite video gamer Wade and his fascination with 1980’s pop culture because I’m a non-gamer, but it took me exactly one and a half pages to know this was book I couldn’t miss.

I mean, I played a few games in my childhood, but it’s been years. I was worried I didn’t have the expertise or even basic knowledge about which video games were out there and how they worked to appreciate the myriad references and specific lingo I expected in this book. I’d heard it was a great story, but I just didn’t think with my limited video gaming experience I’d be able to do it justice. Honesty, yes, all those references to classic and obscure video games through the ages would probably be more exciting for someone more versed in gaming, but luckily I found that just living in the world had given me enough base knowledge to at least recognize the names of big games and understand a little about their rules of play. And that was enough. Wade/Parzival, the main character of Ready Player One, narrates his story as though describing it to someone who’s not even entirely sure about humans and the planet Earth–not dumbing things down to an excruciating level, but certainly offering plenty of detail for every aspect of the book.

What it’s About: Wade is a high school senior who lives sometimes in his aunt’s place in the “stacks” (a vertically assembled trailer park at the edges of cities) in Oklahoma City, and sometimes in his private hideout (an empty van at the bottom of a mound of abandoned cars). The year is 2044, and a lack of natural resources has caused the world to deteriorate. Few seem to be concerned about this state of affairs, however, because people all over the planet spend the majority of their time plugged into the OASIS, a virtual reality immersion system in which anyone can find adventure, work for credits that serve as a world currency, communicate in real time with anyone logged on, and, most importantly, compete in the epic contest left behind by the dead OASIS creator, James Halliday. Wade has been looking for clues to solve the puzzle and win the game–and Halliday’s more than $200 billion fortune–for five years already, but something is finally about to change. All of his research into Halliday’s obsessions, which include readyplayeroneprimarily pop culture details from the 1980’s, has finally paid off. Wade throws everything he’s got into the game of a lifetime, a game that his enemies bring into the real world, as well. Death is a real possibility for Wade and his avatar, Parzival, but he must also take risks to keep safe the friends he’s met in the OASIS, even though he’s never met them in reality. Everything is changing, and the only way to come out on top is to win Halliday’s revolutionary game.

“The visor drew the OASIS directly onto my retinas, at the highest frame rate and resolution perceptible to the human eye. The real world looked washed-out and blurry by comparison.”

The characters of this book are so original and, for me, unexpected. I didn’t anticipate sympathizing so much with characters who live for games, but their attitudes and reactions to the world and the OASIS seemed frequently to mirror my own impressions of events in the novel. Wade and his friends are atypical heroes that keep the reader coming back for more–kind, funny, and somewhat cynical.

“You’re probably wondering what’s going to happen to you. That’s easy. The same thing is going to happen to you that has happened to every other human being who has ever lived. You’re going to die. We all die. That’s just how it is.”

The book is all the more interesting for taking place in two worlds–the real one and the virtual one. Predictably, we do see characters who prefer to abandon reality for the life they can create for themselves in the OASIS system, but that only adds to the tension, raising the stakes of Halliday’s game because it is such an integral part of the characters’ lives. The fact that the prize money, won inside the OASIS, can be used in reality, also helps expand the reach of the game, making it even more important in some regards than anything that could happen in the real world. For Wade, there is nothing in reality he’d rather experience than what he can find the OASIS.

“The hour or so after I woke up was my least favorite part of each day, because I spent it in the real world. This was when I I dealt with the tedious business of cleaning and exercising my physical body. I hated this part of the day because everything about it contradicted my other life. My real life, inside the OASIS.”

My Reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. This book held so many surprises. The premise was intriguing, the plot was fun, and the writing style was superb. There were so many sentences I had to stop and reread a few times just because I was so captivated by the wording. I really have nothing bad to say about this book. It was interesting, educational, and it made me want to learn more about relatively recent history, especially concerning pop culture. Cline definitely took a risk picking such specific elements for his first novel, but the 80’s were an iconic time and technology truly is becoming so prominent an aspect of life that both of those topics are widely accessible; if there’s even a modicum of nerd in you, you want to pick up Ready Player One. Trust me.

Further recommendations:

  1. Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde is a great YA choice for readers interested in novels about immersive simulation games. A player stuck in a virtual game must continue to tackle its challenges and beat the system in order to re-enter reality.
  2. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising is a futuristic dystopian novel that features a very real and deadly game, as opposed to a simulated one. This one also opens up a whole new world for readers (taking place on futuristic Mars) and raises the stakes by forcing one ordinary but intelligent character to the position of necessary hero. You can read my complete review here.

What’s Next: I’m currently reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita but I’m still wavering about whether to write reviews for classics. While I decide, I’ve been convinced to try reading Cinder, the first book in a YA fantasy series that incorporates fairy tales, which I’m planning to read next. It’ll be one of these two featured in my next review.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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