Review: Ready Player One
READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline (Amazon) is a book I’d come across in various online blogs and forums. Going into it, I knew it was some sort of love letter to 80s pop culture. Since I’m sort of an 80s pop culture nut myself, I figured I’d give it a go.
What I got was so much more.
There are few books these days that can make me stay up late, read during breakfast, and keep reading during my lunch breaks (or skip my lunch breaks altogether). This is one such book. I finished it in under a day. Once I started reading, I just had to know what happened next.
Part of this is due to the great, simple setup: it’s the future. A Steve Jobs-like man (James Halliday) has just died. He created the basis for the world wide virtual world everyone calls their home away from home now. He’d become a recluse, and he had an enormous fortune–and no heirs. So on his death, he announced that he’d hidden the fortune somewhere in his virtual reality. He’d left clues to find it. Whoever gets it first wins.
So a very clearly defined objective. Super.
It also helps that Ernest Cline (the author) gives us a main character in Wade Watts that is so easy to relate to. He’s a senior in high school who has an awful life. Abusive foster parents, terrible living conditions, very little hope of ever breaking free. So of course he dreams of winning this contest. The book is in first person, and the immediacy that brings keeps everything moving quickly.
And what a contest it is. Halliday was obsessed with the 80s. He loved it. And so all his clues are hidden in layers of 80s nostalgia. Since such a great fortune is on the line, the earth as a whole suddenly takes a huge interest in 80s nostalgia, too. You’ve got more pop culture references than you can believe, on so many different layers. But it’s all well-incorporated, and explained for those who don’t get the references. Again, the explanations aren’t burdensome–they work.
Naturally, every good story must have a great villain, and in this case, it’s a rival company–the rights to Halliday’s virtual software are on the line, too–and they want them. If they get them, they’re going to start raising prices on what everyone has come to view as a basic right: a free virtual world, with access to all. The company starts buying up competitors, recruiting the best of the best to come work for them and help solve the puzzle. These are mean, nasty people who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty if it’ll get them ahead in the game. There are no rules. They do whatever they can to win.
Now remember: I’m a pop culture nut myself, and I love me some 80s, so this was a bowl full of Crunchberries for me. But I imagine that it would be bliss for just about anybody. The pacing is great and the mystery is well-developed. Like I said, I don’t remember a book that’s gotten me this involved in a long time. It also helps that on top of all this the story is great science fiction as well. Cline has created a very believable world not too far in our future, and I wondered throughout just how close to reality his predictions will become. Some of it is bleak, but some of it also had me wishing there was a fast forward button to life.
Are there weaknesses? Hardly any. The ending is perhaps a bit more schmaltzy than I’d like. But we’re talking the last page or two, and even that was probably me just being sorry to see the book come to a close. READY PLAYER ONE is a blast of a read, and if any of this review has sounded even remotely interesting to you, you owe it to yourself to check this book out.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: Some naughty words of all the varieties you can think of, but nothing too prevalent
- Violence: Video game-esque, although there are some real world violent scenes, too. Still, nothing too gory or gruesome.
- Sex: Very minor. A few references here and there, but nothing in scene.