Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)
My roommate managed to get her hands on the first wave of VR systems that Vive released, and it is fun playing around with it, wondering at the same time if this was the future of video games. Maybe one day we’ll be telling our grandchildren about how our VR headsets were huge and had giant thick cords sticking out of the back that we tripped over as we marveled at how real and immersive the graphics were despite all the glitches.
Ready Player One describes a future where virtual reality isn’t just the norm for video game life – it’s the norm for life. Kids go to school, people go to work, and people interact all in this virtual setting from the comforts of their own home. It’s such a part of everyday life in this book that sometimes as a reader, I forgot they were even in virtual reality.
The book follows the perspective of Wade, a high school student who gets caught up in an elaborate virtual treasure hunt with the promise of a huge inheritance and power at the end. Of course, chasing after him as he navigates the clues is an evil corporation who wants to get to the prize first.
I read this book in less than two days because I couldn’t put it down. I’m a huge sucker for any puzzle or treasure hunt plot, i.e. Da Vinci Code, and despite the flaws in the writing, it was action packed and intriguing enough to overlook that.
And yes, there were flaws. The writing relied heavy on exposition, which I can see why it was needed, but everything was explained by Wade in a way that was so laid out, as if he knew the reader was a stranger to his world. It made for a faster read, yes, but I wasn’t wowed by the exposition.
All 80’s references also flew over my head. As someone who just barely missed the 80’s (born January 1990), many of these references were lost on me. It’s similar to how I felt about the 80’s references in Netflix’s Stranger Things, except Stranger Things‘ references were merely nods and homages, while Ready Player One relied on them for plot purposes.
The ending was also a letdown. Maybe I’m used to bittersweet ending these days, but everything was tied up nicely in a giant bow at the end. The bad guy (who was a complete one-dimensional cardboard villain) was taken down, Wade got the girl (who really should have been more creeped out of his obsession with her), and he won the treasure hunt and is now unbelievably rich and powerful.
But despite all these flaws, I really enjoyed the journey the book took me on. I know I complained about the exposition, but I will admit it really did help paint a clear image of the world in my mind. I really enjoyed Aech’s character and was impressed with social commentary that came with the reveal that Aech was actually a gay black female but felt she had to hide behind a straight white male persona to get by.
Overall, great story with a very well-constructed world – can’t wait to see how Spielberg will translate this to film! (And also maybe between this and Stranger Things, the universe is telling me to learn more about 80’s pop culture.)