Recently picked up as movie (to be directed by Steven Spielberg, no less), this homage to 80’s culture was all the rage within the geek community when it debuted. Is it all it’s cracked up to be?
Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Original Publication Date: August 16, 2011
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
As a card-carrying member of Generation X, the trip down memory lane was fun. The games, the movies, and the music made the 1980’s something special (at least for those of us that grew up in it).
The book loses itself in minutiae quickly. Cline spends more time listing facts about a music album than he does in describing the neighbor lady who was “the nicest person he ever met in real life.” There’s more copy devoted to his treatise on masturbation than on how the main character captures a Serenity-class freighter with his X-Wing fighter.
Cline seems more interested in proving his “geek cred” than telling an original story.
Originality: 1/6. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything original in here. Admittedly, that’s sort of the point of the book, but the details, plot, and a lot of dialogue are all lifted from other works.
Story: 2/6. It’s a by-the-numbers quest tale. Wade is clearly a Gary Stu (male Mary Sue). He rarely does anything wrong, or when he does, there are no repercussions from it. At no point do you question how the story will end.
Characterization: 2/6. All the characters are simple, one-dimensional beings. None of them have a character arc. They are all, effectively, the same at the end as they were in the beginning (save with different possessions).
Imagery: 4/6. This is where Cline’s desire to dive into the details of setting are a good thing. He’s built (or cobbled together from other material) an interesting virtual world that feels plausible.
Emotional Response: 3/6. I was really excited going into the book, loving the nostalgia trip. That wore thin about half-way through and the story (of which there isn’t much of) became predictable. There are also long spots where Cline is clearly pandering to a certain parts geek subculture (angry atheists, forever-alone-socially-awkwards, corporations-are-evil-soulless-monoliths, etc). It gets tedious and breaks the flow of the story.
Editing: 3/6. It needs cuts in some places (overly long descriptions) and lengthening in others (action scenes). Also, the dialogue is pretty bland and should have been redone.
Overall Score: 3/6. If you’re looking for a stroll down memory lane, go for it. If you want an interesting story, you’ll probably want to pass.
In total, Ready Player One receives 17/42
I listened to this in audiobook format, narrated by Wil Wheaton. It’s decent, but suffers from his limited range. All the characters (save for a pair of Asian characters) all sound the same. It also pulls you out of the book when it talks about TNG or Wil Wheaton himself. Additionally, there are some sound flubs (page turns) and more than a few mispronunciations that should not happen in a professionally edited audiobook.
I’m curious to see how they manage to deal with all the copyright issues that the film will have to overcome. There are a lot of games, music, and film material that the book relies upon heavily for plot points. Something tells me we’ll be seeing “knock-off” versions of a lot of this copyrighted material, thus losing the one charm this book has, nostalgia.
Ready Player One: The Drinking Game
I thought about making a drinking game involving every time Cline uses the word “haptic” but quickly realized the players would be passed out (or dead from alcohol poisoning) a few chapters into the book.