Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: August 16th 2011
Buy at: BookDepository
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?
While searching on Goodreads for good audiobooks, I stumbled upon Ready Player One. It took very little to draw me in. The rating was high, it was always at the top of audiobook GR lists, the plot promised a lot of geeky references, it was read by Wil Wheaton, and Patrick Rothfuss, probably my favourite craftsman of words, enjoyed it. I had to listen to it. And I did.
I am not quite sure what to make of it. The book is geeky, alright. There are all sorts of references from 80’s films, TV shows, games, and books that have left an important mark on geek culture, on the world itself. From Star Wars to Back to the Future to Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons to Gundam, there is a little of everything. And yet, as many smiles as these references might elicit, they don’t cover the fact that, in the end of the day, this is an average novel.
It all begins with the plot, or rather the execution of it. The story consists of your regular hero journey. There is a quest, a lady love, a villain with no qualities or possibility of redemption, and, of course, your usual hero speeches. I have nothing against a hero story. Hell, plenty of my favourite stories are hero stories in one way or another, but they feel like much more than that. They feel as real as, well, reality. Ready Player One did not give me that feeling. I never got lost in the world, I never truly empathised with the characters, and I barely rooted for the good guys to win.
Why? Plenty of reasons, some of which are difficult to explain. But let’s just say that, in the end, it’s because the book never reaches its true potential. Here is a story set in a world where an energy crisis makes everything stop, one where people log online for a full day without breaks to eat or sleep to escape their frugal lives. Here is a world that is not properly explored. Wade, the main character, complains about it once or twice, but that’s it. We’re told that people live in stacks, but we’re barely shown how horrid living there is or what the government has to say on, well, everything.
Speaking of characters, although I appreciate the diverse cast, they felt mostly flat. Everyone, from the main character to the best friend to the villain was two dimensional. You knew how they’d react to whatever was going on instantly. When both world and characters are subpar, how is one to be entertained from start to finish? There is always the language, but even that was flat, and the constant infodumps didn’t help.
So why did I finish it? Why did I give it 2.5 stars and not less? Because it is mildly entertaining despite all its flaws, and because Wil Wheaton’s reading adds spice and life to it. Once or twice it actually made me smile.
The final question is, do I recommend it? Sure. If you have some hours to spare and would like a well read audiobook, why not? If you want something truly meaningful, however, don’t bother. There are better scifi hero journeys out there. Go get those instead.
The book in a quote
“I felt like a kid standing in the world’s greatest video arcade without any quarters, unable to do anything but walk around and watch the other kids play.”