Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ready Player One: A Review

Ready Player One
Written by: Ernest Cline
Paperback: 374 pages
Publisher: Random House New York
Language: English
August 2011
Genre: Fiction

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune--and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt--among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life--and love--in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.

A quest for the ultimate prize.

Are you ready


+++++++++++++

I have always been a geek. Call me a fangirl, a nerd, or what have you. It was something I hid when I was younger as it wasn’t quite as “cool” to be a frequent Comic Con Attendee as it is now. I was even made fun of because I read all of the time, for…gasp…fun. I used to pretend to be Wonder Woman with my yarn lasso of truth and awesome underoos when I was a child. I spent far much time with my geology kit and microscope set. I was the shy one who felt more comfortable by myself than in a crowd of people. I wanted to be friends with Marty McFly and be the Childlike Empress from the Neverending Story. I had Fraggles and a Clash of the Titans lunch box. Ooh and I was a gamer. Thank goodness for little brothers because let’s be honest if I had asked for the gaming systems dad would have said no, but together my brother and I were a force to be reckoned with (plus even dad had some fun with Duck Hunt and Galaga).

I think that is what drew me to Ready Player One, the sheer nerdiness of it all. In another world I might be Wade or at least Artemis. Especially when it came to 80’s fandom. I know what SCUBA stands for because Mallory had a little song about it when she was part of a Quiz Show on Family Ties. Movies like War Games and The Last Starfighter were high on my list. And when it came to the films of John Hughes…well let’s just say I was super psyched when there was shout out (Breakfast club, though to be honest it is second for me behind Ferris Bueller with Some Kind of Wonderful coming shortly behind it and then the rest of Molly Ringwald’s films) in even movies like Pitch Perfect because now I wasn’t the only one who fist pumped the air. Okay well maybe Shawn and Gus from Psych. In short, I think Wade and I would get along just fine.

Set in 2044, Ready player One introduces us to Wade Watts and his fairly sucky life. To escape from the tower of mobile homes (apparently trailer parks now rise up instead of out), he runs to an old van to become Parzival amidst the highly popular Oasis which is the new virtual reality that most of humanity now uses on a daily basis. Wade is a fanboy. Mostly about James Halliday who created Oasis and hid his fortune somewhere in Oasis. You just need to follow his clues, solve his puzzles, and know your trivia to find it (largely 80’s nostalgia).

As the story begins Wade recounts the death of Halliday. Wade is a “gunter” like so many others trying to win the game and become Halliday’s heir. Though Wade doesn’t have the money to create a powerful avatar to search for the hidden clues, he does okay. Because he has solved the first riddle. Of course in doing so he puts himself in an awkward position. IOI, a tech company, wants the key to the kingdom as well and turn OASIS into their own pay to play empire. They will not just stop at destroying your online avatar, but your real life as well just to get it. There are also the Sixers, gunters who work for IOI and use IOI’s money and resources which gives them a bit of an unfair advantage compared to other Gunters. Of course then you have other players, guilds who are competing along with you.

Suddenly Wade is on everyone’s hitlist. He has become the player to beat. He teams up with his best friend and some new ones forming the High Five, but aren’t they all in it for themselves? Will Parzival or one of his friends win the game before IOI can do it? And can they make out alive? Will Wade become the new heir to OASIS’s Kingdom?

Things I loved: Though the novel is set in the future it is a future I can imagine quite easily. After all OASIS is what many want the Internet to be. Our personal online holodecks where we can be at home on the couch and explore the universe in virtual reality. OASIS provides gaming, films, social interaction, education and more all from the comfort of your couch. And the VR, okay I totally want my own holodeck. Imagine how awesome Titan Fall or Mass Effect would be if you went to that little version of the OASIS and felt like you were the characters you are playing. Awesomesauce is what I am saying. But beyond all of that, OASIS is plausible. Every day you see couples at a restaurant, both fiddling with their phones instead of talking to each other. You have Netflix and game systems which replace entertainment outside of the home. And more and more education classes are offered at home as well. And in Wade’s world the real world really sucks. It’s an impoverished, resource depleted Earth and so VR OASIS is a nice escape from all of that. We already use our technology as an escape so suspending your disbelief isn’t that hard.

This book is made for children of the 80’s such as myself. In fact it is a bit of a nergasm really with references from Airplane, Star Wars, Ladyhawke, Highlander, Firefly, Family Ties, Tempest, Pat Benatar, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Joust, Zork, Pac-Man, Choose Your Own Adventure, Goonies, Voltron, Max Headroom, Rush, War Games, Douglas Adams, Dungeon and Dragons, and so much more. In short it’s kind of like I love the 80’s in paperback form or a very special scavenger hunt version of Psych and I loved it. There was my childhood and my nostalgia. In this way the book is going to find an audience far easier with my generation instead of the current young adult demographic who has nostalgia for the new Star Wars instead of the original. It’s easy to get lost in the reference tidal wave, but I didn’t mind. It furthered my enjoyment of it all really.

In “Anorak’s Invitation” Halliday mentions one of his sentimental favorites, the Atari game Adventure, and the Easter egg that its creator, Warren Robinett, incorporated into it. Easter Eggs are a great thing. In fact the entire book proved to be its own Easter Egg and Cline ended up rewarding a very special gunter his own DeLorean on the show X-Play. And I love the Scavenger Hunt/Easter Egg element to the whole story. While there were some references that were a little too obscure for me I still dug it and kept asking E if he knew what Wade was talking about.

The pacing is quick (I finished it in one sitting). I like the characters and cheered for Parzival the entire time though kind of secretly rooting for Aech and Art3mis as well and wondering how I would feel if either one of them found the key first instead of Wade. Even the evil IOI worked for me (especially after our recent losses to net neutrality). Damn the man. Save the Empire. Don’t let them into Willy Wonka, I mean Halliday’s dream factory.

Things I didn’t love so much: The book does stumble on occasion which most books do. Sometimes the info dump nature of all things 80’s can be a little tedious. The world is nerd fanboygasm in its construction, especially if you happen to be of the age when all of the references went down. This isn’t a bad thing, but occasionally it’s a bit Mary Sue. And we don’t see any of the other life that has been created. Surely OASIS is not just 80’s fanboyishness. I am guessing we never see that part of OASIS simply because it is not pertinent to the story, but it still would have been nice to see even small glimpses.

There are some stereotypes and they are pretty big ones (Could you have any more stereotypical Japanese characters). And let’s face it the female characters are pretty disappointing. I like Artemis, I do, but as much as she is super smart and a worthy opponent she is the male geek fantasy girl. Her avatar is the epitome of fantasy and as much as she is the nerd girl she is also the artist and poetess. Dream girl. And yet god forbid she actually be the techno nerd girl who programs and designs, who doesn’t adhere to the nerd boy fantasy. It’s just a little frustrating especially since the other women in his life are pretty much described as horrid, slutty, and could care less about his wellbeing. Like I said it’s just frustrating.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. I recommend the novel to anyone who’s a gamer, a fan of pop culture, a child of the 80s, or who just wants a good read.

Part of: Stand Alone

Also Recommended: Watch some Psych, play a little Galaga, and reminisce with some I Love the 80’s. For more future and pop culture filled fiction try Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson or Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow.

3.50 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

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