Monday, January 16, 2012

Ready Player One

So last night I finished reading Ready Player One, a book that came out last year, written by Austin's own Ernest Cline.
Jean and Greg, Amy's folks, gave me the book (thank you!), and it sat on my shelf for a while before I got around to it.  To be honest, when I first got the book, I was a little uncertain.  The only previous work that I knew of from Cline was his screenwriting for Fanboys, a 2008 movie about, well, fanboys, and it got mediocre reviews from both audiences and critics (I've never seen it).  On top of that, the one or two articles that I read about the book spoke almost exclusively to the 80's pop culture references in the novel without really mentioning anything about characters or plot.  Between these two things, I was a little turned off.  I'm not really that into fanboy culture, and I wasn't sure I was interested in reading a book that might turn out to be more of trivia contest than an actual story.  I initially suspected that the book might just turn out to be an exercise in trying to remember 80's pop culture references, and the whole thing sounded sort of gimmicky.
But my concerns ended up being unfounded.
True to what I'd heard, the book was, in fact, filled with lots of references to an amazing trove of games, TV shows, toys, video games, movies, and music from my youth, but Cline's far more impressive trick came from managing to incorporate all of these elements into an engaging story in a meaningful way.  Ready Player One, at its heart, is a sort of latter day Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which is, itself, referenced in the novel).  The novel involves a teenage orphan, Wade Watts, as he struggles to win a game in a virtual reality computer system called the OASIS in 2044.  The game is a sort of quest left behind by OASIS creator James Halliday following his death, and by being the first person to successfully complete the game, the winner stands to inherit the incredibly vast fortune he had amassed (almost every person on earth uses the OASIS for one purpose or another- work, school, entertainment, etc., and social interactions are all carried out in its online reality).
Ready Player One might not ultimately appeal to everyone.  It's basically an adventure tale, and it's not the sort of "literature" that readers will immediately relate to as similar to their own day to day experiences.  On the other hand, although the book is primarily fun science fiction, it's also extremely well conceived and executed, with some interesting character development and a fair bit of social commentary lying beneath it's fun, glittery surface (the 2044 earth of RPO has descended into stagnation, recession, and entropy as humanity has retreated into its computers, and the last, great battles are waged in cyberspace over corporate control of virtual reality).  The dialogue can border on cheesy at times, but even this, I think, is part of Cline's homage to 1980's culture (if you have doubts, go back and watch any number of the movies referenced by Cline in RPO and pay close attention to the buddy banter flying back and forth between the young protagonists.  I challenge you to make it through Goonies or Explorers without tasting a little Velveeta in your mouth).
At any rate, I ended up really enjoying Ready Player One.  I certainly recommend it for any of the people in my age bracket who had a slightly geeky childhood, but I think almost anyone could enjoy the story (Cline has good descriptions of his key references, and most of the stuff from that time period has somehow stuck with us through the subsequent decades, anyway).  It would be cool to see RPO become a movie, but, man, there would be an awful lot of licensing issues to work out before it could happen.
That's really all that I have.  Good novel!  I recommend!
Annnnyway, thanks to Jean and Greg for the book!  It was really good!

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