Dec 6, 2011

[Books] Ready Player One

When I had first heard about this book, I have to admit it sounded like too much of a gimmick or some well-crafted piece of consumerism designed to target unwitting geeks who would be inevitably drawn to this title. But given the fact that Ready Player One was written by the man behind the geek classic movie Fanboys, that did help lend it some geek cred.

Then the reviews started pouring in, and they were pretty glorious. So I knew I had to get a copy of this book. Initially I had been tempted to settle for a Kindle version of this title, but in the end I felt I made the right decision to go with the hardbound version. The book is totally worth the extra cost and the needed shelf space - a problem that I feel I'll be forever cursed with as a somewhat bibliophile.

Yeah, I may be in a bit of denial about my book-collecting habits. But only to a very limited degree, I'm sure.

Back on point though, this book was definitely a fun read for me, but I fear that may be more because I'm a geek and not necessarily from the perspective of your average reader. After all, this is a rather niche novel that celebrates geek culture centered around the 1980's. That's a pretty targeted group when you think about it, one that may limit the success of this title or perhaps guarantee it in the right circles.

Ready Player One is a science fiction novel written by Ernest Cline, who also wrote the screenplay that became the Star Wars geek classic Fanboys. This was his first full novel and the film rights have already been secured by Warner Bros.

It is the year 2044 and the Earth is a mess. Similar to many other dystopian futures we've seen in popular science fiction, this is a world that is struggling for natural resources with the bulk of the planet surviving on food vouchers and very minimum-wage jobs. The only difference is that the world is interconnected by a virtual reality environment known as the OASIS. It's the ultimate escape from the harsh reality of the dying world around them that spans thousands of virtual worlds of radically different environments.

The OASIS had started out as an MMORPG created by one James Halliday, who quickly became the richest geek on the planet. For a sense of scale, you have to respect the fact that the virtual currency within the OASIS has become the most stable one on the planet - thus it's more than just a simple game. But Halliday has finally died and instead of a standard will, he has instead prepared the ultimate treasure quest. The challenge is to find three keys that unlock three different gates that have been hidden throughout the thousands of OASIS worlds.

But to solve those puzzles, one needs to understand and embrace the same things that James Halliday did, which was the rich pop culture of the 1980's. And in the five years of the contest thus far, no one has found anything. At least not until one Wade Watts finally manages to uncover the first puzzle. Now everything changes.

Ernest Cline
Image by uncle_shoggoth via Flickr
Now despite the fact that I've used the term "geek" at least 6 times now in this review alone, you might be thinking that book may read like a textbook or something. Now that would be a horrible misrepresentation of things - that would make it a nerd book. *snickers*

Pardon my humor - I fall into both of those categories.

Seriously though, the book is a surprisingly easy read - and credit has to go to Cline for figuring out a tone for the protagonist / first person narrator Wade that is very comfortable and easy to process. Sure, he and his fellow "gunters" all happen to be near-experts on 80's culture including the various video games, the unforgettable movies and even the unique brand of music created by that generation. But Cline makes sure that even those born after those golden years get a quick 411 on what makes each video game, movie poster or Happy Meal toy unique and distinct from the rest of the products of that decade. The informational bits are certainly helpful, although at times they do feel a bit dragging when you're already familiar with what's being discussed.

Given the book is written around a game, a lot of why the book works is because of the craft that went into designing the various puzzles and how all the pieces connect together. I'd like to think that Cline did a pretty good job here as well, although I must acknowledge how someone who is not familiar with the kind of obsessive gaming culture that continues to thrive among kids and those adult "kids at heart" out there, some of the novelty may be lost. I'm not saying that you need to be a geek to enjoy this book. But it would certainly help you if you are or at the very least that you have some degree of appreciation  for geek culture.

The book promises many things including the mystery and adventure associated with the game, the sense of danger presented by the evil corporation trying to gain control of James Halliday's resources for themselves and a romantic interest for Wade to boot. But given how much of the success of the book is based around the game within the story, it's clear that's where most of the writing efforts went. This is not to say the romance wasn't sweet or without its poignant moments. But one does have to admit that it could have been better fleshed out and the "villains" of the book could have been less one-dimensional.

But still, Ready Player One is a great read, one that I breezed through faster than I had expected given how much I had enjoyed every bit of it. While I admit that my love for the book is probably due in large part to my being a geek who also loves the 1980's, I'd like to think that the book has a greater market than that should people opt to give the book a chance. But since this is my blog, I get to freely give this book a rating of 5 crazy 1980's creations, references and homages that saturate every page of this book out of a possible 5.

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