Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ready-player-one-coverReady Player One by Ernest Cline is a 2011 dystopian sci-fi novel set in the not so distant year of 2044. I’m a little sorry I missed this one when it first came out, but better late then never. The great thing about art is you can enjoy it any time. It does’t have to be new. Because I spend a lot of time driving I grabbed to audio book, which is narrated by Wil Wheaton.

That’s actually one of the reasons I decided to check this book out. I’ve enjoyed Wheaton’s delivery of several John Scalzi novels and thought this one sounded interesting. The other reason it caught my eye right now is that it’s currently in production to be a major motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg. Along with its dystopian, ’80s nostalgia, virtual reality premise, these were factors I couldn’t pass up.

I can hardly think of a better person to read for the audio version of Ready Player One than Wil Wheaton. The material is tailor made for his geek image that he has cultivated so well on social media and his blog wilwheaton.net. His reading even becomes meta at one point.

Wheaton’s reading is enthusiastic and I like the way he tries to distinguish the characters by using different vocal styles for them – of course now that I know Simon Pegg has been cast as Ogden Morrow in the Steven Spielberg film adaptation I had a hard time hearing Wheaton’s booming voice while picturing Pegg.

For the most part I loved Ready Player One. I loved the futuristic world that’s stuck in the past. I also the idea that gaming, avatars, living online, and “real life” have all become meshed together so that one is hardly distinguishable from the other.

Wade Watts is a fairly typical loner anti-hero. He’s a frustrated teen with nothing in his life besides the virtual world of the Oasis. He lives in “the stacks” with his disinterested aunt and longs for a way out. The world has been in permanent recession since the turn of the century.

Wade is on a quest to find an Easter egg that, recently deceased, Oasis creator James Halliday has hidden somewhere in his virtual world. The finder of such egg is set to inherit Halliday’s billions. That’s where the ’80s nostalgia comes in. Halliday was a proud member of the Gen-X generation and  immersed himself in childhood nostalgia. The secret of the hidden egg lies somewhere in a sea of old Atari games, Rush songs, and Blake Lewis films among other Gen-X touchstones.

The youth have become so obsessed with the entertainment Halliday’s youth that they don’t seem to have have built anything of t heir own. So what becomes of a society that’s built on futuristic technology that’s stuck in a virtual reality past? A huge identity crisis. People can be anything they want in the Oasis, but are nothing outside of it.

Ready Player One as one of those books that I never really wanted to end. Granted I loved the nostalgic references, but I also found this futuristic society fascinating, although as I keep seeing ads for virtual reality goggles I can only wonder how close we will actually get to this.

We all know how boring it can be to watch someone else play a video game, but Cline makes his video game world exciting. You never quite know where things are going to end up. I thought the big battle at the end wasn’t quite as exhilarating as the earlier sections, but overall the story wrapped up nicely. This is one of my favorite new discoveries in a long time.

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