Written by Ernest Cline
Audio Version Read by Will Wheaton
It doesn’t matter what sort of fan you are if you’re into something hardcore, whether it’s sports, comic books, movies, food, or anything else, you probably take pride in your knowledge of the subject. There are levels of fan that cross the line from fan to rivet counter, to know-it-all, to well, asshole. Rivet counter by the way is someone who can’t appreciate the architecture of a building because they are too busy counting the rivets. These sorts of extreme fans often like to believe there is a benefit to that level of knowledge outside of just being better than those that are less knowledgeable. There are in fact those that have found success in the real world with that extreme knowledge, often as writers. The most notable of these fanboys are the Okuda’s a couple that are the official Star Trek knowledge base for Paramount Pictures.
At this point in time the pinnacle of these sorts of geeks is fans 80’s era pop culture. These fans are imprinting current culture with a huge level of Pac-man fever style nostalgia. The culmination of this 80’s fervor has to be this book, titled Ready Player One. In the near future a video game that’s a cross between Second Life and World of Warcraft has not only become all the rage among gamers it has become a necessity of life for nearly everyone. The real world is ravaged by poverty but in the game called Oasis, everyone is clean and perfect. There’s still an economy of course. The better more dedicated players build up credits and are given deeper access into a virtual world of a near limitless expanse and thousands of planets to explore. In this future children even go to school inside the virtual world.
The man responsible for creating Oasis was a child of the 80’s so along with all of the schools, shopping areas, and of course the gaming areas, he built hundreds of homages to the era he loved such as entire worlds that recreate the environments of movies, games, and TV shows from the 80’s. In the 80’s it was commonplace for videogame developers to hide Easter eggs in games that usually just featured their names because videogame publishers never gave these creators any public credit for what they did. Hardcore gamers took pleasure in searching every possible area of a game or every possible hack in order to find these little gems. At one point a trilogy of games were released by Atari that featured Easter eggs that gained the first person to find them actual cash valuable prizes. In honor of those games, and one of them in particular the creator of Oasis left an Easter egg in the game at the time of his death. The person that discovers that egg wins his entire fortune. This book follows a group of people seeking that egg.
Those that hunted the egg found it necessary to become deeply familiar with the 80’s since the games creator was so fanatical about the era and all of the obvious clues about the egg’s whereabouts pointed to the 80’s. Knowing the absolute most about the era became a source of pride for many players. There are many many parts of this novel that focus on nostalgia riffing by the characters both as a way of investigating the that must be solved to find the egg and simply showing off their 80’s prowess. The first half of the novel in particular almost feels like the author is bragging about how much he actually knows about the era. I found myself annoyed with these long stints about Dungeons and Dragons, or the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail until he managed to mention a little known Japanese TV series that I loved when I was a child. That’s where this book works. It covers so much 80’s ground that if you are a child of the era or a hardcore fan of it something that’s probably obscure will get mentioned that you love. When that happens all of the nostalgia porn in this book will become something you truly enjoy. I could never be one of these players or be someone that can brag about having this level of knowledge of an era because there are amnesia victims that have better memories than me.
The book isn’t JUST an 80’s wiki though. There’s plenty of action as the various players race to find the egg first and a good bit of drama, or melodrama anyway. The melodrama actually kind of works in the novel because the story, especially in the second half, has a very space opera sort of feel which definitely lends itself to melodrama. While the ending of the book is a bit predictable it’s predictable in the same was as the story in a videogame is predictable. You know how it will end and you don’t care because it’s fun to play. That’s not to say the ending doesn’t work because it does; it’s just formulaic. The characters are well drawn and easy to identify with making the journey all the more exciting.
While the story under the hood of Ready Player One is formula it’s so well done that you’ll find yourself actually trying to solve the puzzles right along with the characters and when they figure them out the solutions will strike a chord in your memory. I know they will strike that chord for you because they did for me and we’ve already discussed just how awesome my memory is. The biggest flaw in the book in the early chapters is that the characters seem to literally know everything. They have dedicated their entire lives to studying every aspect of the 80’s but even with that in mind they know almost too much. One could argue that it takes someone who is extra special and someone that has gone above and beyond, to solve a puzzle of this magnitude so it is conceivable that there could be at least one person that knows this much. In the second half that feeling subsides as the players more human failings in the real world and more importantly the virtual begin to show.
There’s only the smallest amount of commentary and introspection in the book and it focuses on the lives inside a virtual world versus the real one. Ready Player One isn’t about deep philosophy and social commentary, it’s about fun. That, in and of itself, is fairly representative of the me generation isn’t it? Ready Player One is clever, entertaining, and a quick and painless read even with the minor flaws considered. Fans of sci-fi and of the 80’s should be grabbing this book right away. The audio version offers up an extra treat as it is read by Will Wheaton (Wesley Crusher from Star Trek The Next Generation) who is also a referenced character in the book.