Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline

I listened to the audiobook of Ready Player One through the OverDrive app on my phone.  I had no idea who Wil Wheaton was, but admired the way he handled the narration.  The different characters were distinct from each other; even the sounds of electronics and especially the Pac-Man game noises were done exceedingly well.

When I started listening to it, I wasn’t immediately hooked.  Our protagonist was a self-professed overweight kid spending most of his time in a beat-up van with distinctly unattractive surroundings (these being “stacks” of mobile homes positioned one on top of the other, in an hazardous impromptu apartment building that invited almost certain death by crushing).  This kid, Wade, spent all his time in the Oasis, an Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation.  He went to school in the Oasis, he interacted with his “friends” in the Oasis.  Thankfully, I didn’t really get any of those “beware of technology” vibes trying to convince us that social interaction will die out the more cool tech toys we have.  There was certainly a level of social commentary, in the vein of us neglecting the world (ie Nature) in favor of said tech toys, but you won’t find me arguing with that, so I was cool with its inclusion.  This novel didn’t feel like a moralizing story bent on making us put down our computers and phones and tablets.  Which is great, because novels with such blatant messages are generally pretty annoying.

So the basic premise revolves around this hunt for an Easter Egg, in a The Westing Game style hunt, albeit with a much broader setting.  Wade is intent on obtaining the three keys and passing through the three gates to find the Egg before anyone else does, thus obtaining the fortune and power of the creator of the Oasis, as set out in his last will and testament.  The level of infodumping in the beginning seemed tedious at first–it takes a long time to get the reader up to speed on what has happened to the world (and within the Oasis) from our year, 2014, to Wade’s current time, 2044.  Once the action really started, though, I had trouble pushing pause to do things like eat dinner with the fiance and take a shower before work.  The whole novel is rife with pop culture references that I actually understood, which is pretty rare for me (you should see me watch Gilmore Girls, having pretty much no clue what they’re referencing but loving it all the same).  It’s mostly 80s movies, games, and music, which, being born in 1990, I don’t know about all of it, but being a “nerd” in the sense that I enjoy movies and games and books (stories, in general), I recognized plenty.  That helped draw me in, and the characters easily did the rest.

I don’t want to spoil anything.  But I will say, in case it sways anyone, that giant robots come into play at one point.  I recognized the Eva Units and Gundams, though I didn’t know what Voltron was and had to ask the fiance.  Anyone of my generation will enjoy the story, but true video game nerds will find it irresistible.  D&D lovers will find plenty of references, and arcade games show up pretty often.

Speaking as a storyteller myself, I admire Cline’s ability to draw me in, to invest me in these characters and their surroundings.  I went on an enjoyable rollercoaster ride, trying to decide whether I loved or wasn’t so hot on the protagonist, and it’s a testament to Cline’s abilities that I stuck with the story, passionately, even when I wasn’t sure about whether or not I liked Wade or thought maybe he had some of the bad stuff coming to him.  Young Adult is always my favorite, so I might be biased in enjoying watching characters screw up and fumble things and try to figure out who the hell they are, but Cline does an amazing job of investing you in the story regardless.

I’ve been telling a lot of my friends to read this, and I’ll say here that it’s definitely not solely for a younger audience, though I would place it firmly in the YA category because the protagonist is a teenager.  Readers of any age would enjoy this, more so if they like video games, 80s movies and music, and characters that are well executed and realistic.

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