Ready Player One has been on the lips of everyone I know, it seems. It was recommended to me at least 3 time, the last recommendation a very a passionate one, before I decided to pick it up. And once I started, even more people who had read it started to emerge from the woodwork. They all loved it. They were sure I would love it. They were mostly right.
In 2044, the real world has devolved into an over-populated, poverty-stricken, corporate-run wasteland where most of humanity spends their time in a virtual reality world known as the OASIS, designed by a tech genius, James Halliday, who is a composite of every major tech genius of the modern digital age (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, you name it) and his best friend, Steve Wozniak. (Or rather, Cline’s imagined virtual reality version of Steve Wozniak, Ogden Morrow.) Wade Watts, our Player One, and most of humanity have spent years trying to find an Easter Egg built into the OASIS by Halliday right before his death. The player who finds the Easter Egg will win Halliday’s fortune. Unfortunately, no one has figured out the first clue…until Wade and a few of his friends. Suddenly he is the main target of all Egg hunters, and it’s a race against time to save the world from the evil corporation willing to kill to find Halliday’s fortune.
Honestly, this is the most fun I’ve had reading a book in a long time. Ernest Cline is a master world-builder, and the world he creates in his novel is as thorough and immersive as it must be for the characters in the OASIS. The level of detail and exposition did make it a bit slow through page 59, but on page 60, the plot took off and never looked back. It does help if you either lived in the 80’s or are a fan of 80’s pop culture because it is everywhere. Most is explained but some is pretty referential. PAC Man, Matthew Broderick’s entire teenage output (especially Ladyhawke, one of my favorites of his), you name it. For me, I know just enough about the 80’s that I was pretty pleased when I got most of the references but didn’t worry or feel confused when I didn’t. The whole book is incredibly detailed. Cline’s love of and care for the decade is palpable, and it really makes you want to spend the next month revisiting all of your 80’s favorites.
It is also extremely well-written. Cline is fantastic as establishing and maintaining character through distinct voices. This is vital, especially as we meet and get to know so many of the characters through their virtual avatars through most of the story. There was the occasional contrived or cliche emotional situation, but for the most part, one of the most impressive things was how real the characters and relationships felt in such an artificial world. That being said, the plot is not sacrificed–it’s very lean, nothing is gratuitous or not taken into account, and the pacing is near perfect.
My only quibble is that the ending just ends. Loose threads are hanging all over, the bad guy just disappears, there’s no real sense of closure…but when you think about it, that’s exactly how a video game ends. And that’s what this is–an account of playing and winning a giant, classic good-vs-evil, real-world video game.
Ready Player One is an Arthurian quest set in a virtual future and infused with 1980’s pop culture, and it is a rollicking good ride. Like I said, it was the most fun I’ve had reading a book in a long time, and I highly recommend it, even if it’s not what you’d normally read. You won’t regret it.