Pac-man. Acid wash jeans. Schoolhouse Rock. Rubik’s cube. John Hughes films. Def Leppard. Put ‘em all together and they spell 1980’s pop culture. Put ‘em all together in a book and they spell Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
Published in 2011 by Random House, Ready Player One won a few awards right off the bat, became a national best-seller, and had it’s film rights bought by Warner Bros. Later, Steven Spielberg signed on to direct the movie.
I don’t know what I was doing while all of this was going on. Apparently I had my head in the sand, because I didn’t know this book existed until a few weeks ago.
Word of it finally made it over to my corner of the universe. When I heard that it was full of 80’s pop references, nods to geek culture, gamers, and sci-fi/fantasy fans, I decided that I couldn’t just ignore it. So I read the entire thing in a couple of days. Want to know what it’s all about? Let me tell you:
In real life, Wade Watts is a bit of a loser. He lives in a trailer park, has absolutely no friends, no money, and isn’t too good at school. In the OASIS, a virtual universe, he’s Parzival, a low-class avatar with only one friend, no money, and no resources. In real life, his only reason for waking up each morning is the opportunity to plug into the OASIS. Because, in the OASIS, he has a reason to live: Halliday’s Easter egg hunt.
Halliday, the reclusive creator of the OASIS, built an elaborate puzzle centered around finding a single Easter egg. When he died, he left his fortune - and the control of the OASIS - to whoever could find this egg first. Inside this virtual universe, Halliday left behind small cryptic clues that can only be decoded through intelligence, determination, and no small dose of obsession with all things related to 1980s pop culture.
Anyone can play the game. Only one can win. These are the only rules.
Millions of egg hunters (called “gunters”) dedicate their lives to decrypting the clues, often losing touch with reality in the process. Nobody has even made it through the first of three gates needed to reach the egg.
But Parzival, the teenaged gunter with nothing who spends more time logged into the OASIS than living in the real world, is determined to be the one to decipher the clues and find the egg. That will mean outsmarting IOI, a corrupt corporation that seeks to rule the OASIS. It will mean trying not to get distracted by Art3mis, a geeky girl gunter who steals his heart and his place as number 1 on the scoreboard.
And it will mean going outside, into the real world that Parzival has always hated and feared above all else.
Certain themes in this book reminded me of Inception. Which is a good thing, because Inception rocks.
In the OASIS, a person can become whatever he wants to be. The ugly can become beautiful, the shy can become extroverted. Once logged into the OASIS, a person can instantly escape the drudgery of ordinary life. After a certain point, living in this virtual reality becomes the only way to live. The line between a person’s real self and that of their avatar begins to blur. Losing your identity was never so easy.
This is something we see Wade/Parzival struggle with throughout the entire novel. His obsession with 80s pop culture goes from interesting to sick in the reader’s eyes, his hatred for the real world turns from sad to creepy.
Unfortunately, Parzival never seems to see it that way. There are certain points when he gets glimpses of his sickness, but he never makes it out entirely. He does change slightly for the better at the end, but not as much as I had hoped. I felt kind of sad because there was so much potential for an amazing character arc and cool message, but it didn’t quite make it. That being said, this book wasn’t geared towards character/theme development.
Rather, this book was meant for all of you nerds. The idea for Ready Player One makes me smile because it’s a book about Easter eggs that has Easter eggs in it. Okay, that probably didn’t make sense. Let’s try again:
This book has dozens of references for basically every kind of nerd out there, specifically gamers and children of the 80’s. However, I’m not a gamer or a child of the 80’s, and I still found it entertaining. From quips such as “Don’t call me Shirley” to nods to John Hughes and Steven Spielberg to referencing Star Trek, Star Wars, Dokken, Quidditch, and Zelda, Ernest Cline didn’t leave any geek interest untouched. Parzival keeps a grail diary to help him keep track of his gunter quests, drives a DeLorean, drinks Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, and listens to Def Leppard. Even Supaidāman got a reference.
Which is pretty epic. Sure, sometimes Cline kills these references by explaining them to death. Family Ties is an 80s show? Luke and Han get medals at the end of A New Hope? I didn’t need that explained to me. Nothing goes over my head....My reflexes are too fast. But this need to point out clever references doesn’t happen all of the time. Besides, when the book launches into explanations of geek culture, it’s pretty easy to skim over parts that you already know about, so it’s no big deal.
All in all, this book is geared towards geeks. The characters are a bit flat, the themes only half-baked. But is it fun to see all of geekdom crammed into one novel? Heck yeah!
I’ll be very interested to see this book converted into a Spielberg film. What about you?
Hannah Heath - bookworm and aspiring author