I’m always genuinely thrilled when a recommendation from a friend hits a home run like Ready Player One did, so before I get started I’ll thank my good friend Sam for bringing this book to my attention!
Ready Player One is a book that, almost from the off, appealed to my inner geek. In the not-too-distant future, the real world is a wasteland of environmental corruption and economic calamity but there is one reprieve for humanity: the free-to-access online universe of the OASIS. More than just an online game, the OASIS is a super-immersive digital paradise that’s limited only by it’s user’s imaginations. It truly is the perception of the “ultimate” massively-multiplayer game, something I’m sure World of Warcraft fans, to name but one such game, would be drooling at already. However, the creator of the OASIS dies suddenly, leaving his fortune(and the fate of the OASIS itself) in the hands of the plucky avatar who can discover the hidden “easter egg”.
The 1980s live on in Ready Player One – the book’s analog to Willy Wonka (the unnervingly-named James Halliday, OASIS creator) has hidden his easter egg within his own personal obsessions, that being 80s pop culture and geekdom. To readers of a, er, certain age this will doubtlessly evoke strong feelings of nostalgia but even for a punk 90s kid like I, the references, while heavy, were not included in such a way to exclude those that didn’t experience the 80s first hand.
The challenge facing protagonist Wade – a self-confessed nerd who even attends school in the OASIS – seems monumental but his insane devotion to the OASIS, and by extension Halliday’s psyche soon has him on the right track, and into the sights of danger, both online and offline. For while the contest to find the easter egg is designed for a single avatar to solve, deliciously-wretched games corporation IOI intends to pervert the spirit of the game and take over the OASIS – and monetise it to hell and back. IOI is dastardly in it’s wickedness and finds it’s own mission corrupted by the excesses of corporatism – the author’s intention to place IOI as a very thinly veiled parody of EA is comical even of itself, and makes the pleasure derived from hating them a bit more real. IOI seeks to mine the OASIS of it’s soul just to make a buck, even if it’s unparalleled resources pit it at a seemingly-unfair advantage to those going by the spirit on which the OASIS was created.
The cover of Ready Player One pits the book as “Willy Wonka meets the Matrix”, and I really couldn’t put it more succinct than that. The plot moves at a rocketing pace but there’s plenty of time to see Wade’s character develop and relationships blossom. There’s overriding themes of identity (Wade’s identity as his avatar is separate, even if Wade lives more through that than in real life), conceptualisation ,friendship and a real challenging of the notion of the home being a physical manifestation – surely it’s a place where one feels most comfortable in and where one can be themselves, which in Wade’s case throughout the book is the OASIS. A final overarching theme is the separation of one’s online world and the real world, something in 2014 we’re still struggling to comprehend. This makes Ready Player One just a little bit visionary. It’s a fictional universe, sure; but one we could very well be facing if our culture carries on in certain ways.
Overall, I initially felt a bit left out, almost too young for Ready Player One with the barrage of 1980s references but the sheer fun of the plot soon put paid to that. The ones I did know made me smile, and the ones I didn’t I’m eager to learn more about! Ready Player One was an easy read, one I almost didn’t want to finish as I was enjoying the journey so much. Earnest Cline clearly enjoyed the experience of creating the book a lot, as I’m sure the deceased Halliday’s a clever author avatar in itself. His book doesn’t take his audience (geeks) for fools, and wisely so; each plot decision is neatly tied up and the reader is never condescended to.
There’s a lot of praise for Ready Player One as the ultimate novel for geeks. I’d certainly agree with that praise. Highly recommended to anyone who has a passion for video games, technology and all things unashamedly geeky!
Rating: 5 *