Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In many ways, this book reminds me of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, except that I liked it a hell of a lot more. It's got the same crazy scavenger hunt pop culture vibe, but I felt that the tension was lacking in Mr. Penumbra's, the characters weak, the puzzles not really that difficult, and the so-called love of books more notable for its absence than its presence. In contrast, Ernest Cline's book has strong plot drive, interesting characters, good puzzles, and truly, truly, truly loves its source material.

It's just plain fun. You don't come to this looking for weighty philosophy, other than "giant corporations wanting to control every aspect of our lives are bad," and as far as philosophy goes, I have no trouble getting on board with that one. Although it's not philosophical, the stakes are high, and they stay high.

The creator of the biggest game ever, The Oasis, the world-wide immersive experience that spans pretty much everything from games to education to shopping to socializing, has died. His fortune is left to the person who can find the three Easter eggs and get them through the three gates. So not only does every video game nut on the planet start egghunting, so does his main competitor, a corporation that would like to take over and thoroughly monetize the whole deal.

It's 30 years in the future, and bleak. Food supplies are failing, oceans are rising, causing waves of refugees inland. Children are growing up with no hope - but inside the Oasis, they can forget their troubles for a little while, even if they're limited by their lack of money, for even the Oasis is a money-making enterprise. Just not a thoroughly evil one.

The game designer was a child of the 1980s, and so his puzzles have spawned a resurgence of interest in 80s culture, allowing this to be jampacked with just about as many references as you can possibly imagine.

Now, I grew up without a TV, so I tend to say that I skipped the 80s. I get most of the references, I just don't have the deep emotional attachment to them. But I've watched my husband swear at Joust quite a lot, I've seen War Games and Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (okay, that last one I do have a deep emotional attachment to), and I know of the band Rush, although I don't know if I've ever heard their music.

The great thing for me was that it didn't matter. I knew enough to enjoy this book, although I'm sure I would have liked it even more if I'd spent hours mashing buttons in an arcade. The main character, Wade, is a stereotypical overweight acne ridden teen, who latches on to the egghunt as a lifeline in a terrible life. As he progresses through the puzzles, he makes friends with other gunters (short for egghunter), although they're wary of helping each other too much. He has a crush on one of them.

At least one bit about who these people were when Wade meets them in real life surprised and delighted me. The reasons make perfect sense, and it's a nice twist on a tired trope.

Ready Player One asserts that you can make real friends online, even while saying that perhaps ultimate immersion is not the healthiest. It walks that middle line very well at the end, and given that I've made some amazing friends online (one of whom sent me that Lois McMaster Bujold care package earlier in the year), I'm glad this book acknowledged how possible that can be.

The evil corporation exists to be ruthless and evil, and I have no problems with that. Evil corporations are allowed to be caricatures, because they pretty much are already. The twists are perhaps sometimes predictable, but they're the sort that are enjoyable even if you saw them coming, because you're invested in the story. At least, I was.

And I skipped the 80s, so that says something.


  1. Just found your blog after reading your review of The Sunken Cathedral and the link to why you stopped putting your reviews up on Goodreads. I'll be following your reviews here then, and thanks!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Davida!

    2. You are welcome, and you might want to take a look at my book review blog