The year is 2045 and life could not be more worse. Climate change, world wars and food shortages have ravaged the world, leaving a whole generation yearning for past nostalgia. Enter James Halliday, 1980’s-obsessed billionaire who creates a successful virtual society called OASIS. After his unfortunate passing, Halliday reveals in a video that he’s left behind a series of clues leading to an Easter Egg hidden within OASIS. The reward? Whoever finds it will not only own his entire wealth, but also the virtual reality game itself that has captivated the current world.
Despite many players’ best efforts, no one’s ever found the first clue to finding the Easter Egg. That is until our main character, a teenage boy living in the trailer stacks of Columbus, Ohio named Wade Watts, finds the first clue. With a greedy corporation after the rights to OASIS and time running out, will Wade and a fellow player called ‘Art3mis’ find the Easter Egg and save his way of life?
“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline is a book I really want to like. I mean, REALLY want to like. Disregarding the awesome trailers and hype of the upcoming Steven Spielberg adaptation, readers either love or hate this novel. And while there’s some impressive elements that can entertain, I don’t think it’s good.
Is it awful? Absolutely not. Do I think it has potential? Of course, I do. However, just because a book has good ideas doesn’t mean it immediately equals a masterpiece.
Now to be fair, there are several concepts that work with “Ready Player One”, most of it revolving around some of the settings and locations within and outside OASIS. The concept of Wade’s dwelling is neat and creative, as well as many of the nostalgic locations within the virtual world. I’ll admit that it was very fun to get most of the 80’s references, and made me feel like a kid again.
Unfortunately, this is both the strength and weakness of the whole story.
A teacher of mine one mentioned how the biggest disadvantage of “Ready Player One” revolves around how it’s a novel. What do I mean by this? Well, unlike visual mediums that follow the ‘show but don’t tell’ rule, written works must explain context in some moments either through exposition or description, especially if you’re trying to reference other works in your own. However, because this is a book drenched in 80’s popular culture, the author doesn’t have the advantage of incorporation as much into the setting without overexplaining it, which can discourage many readers.
In the prologue for example that describes Halliday’s recorded will, the author describes a room the late founder traverses through. You’re supposed to think it’s part of a set from an 80’s films, and before you can even guess what they are, the author explains it for you how the room is part of the funeral scene from ‘Heathers’.
Now if this was shown on a film however, and you are shown the scene with the knowledge of what said scene from ‘Heathers’ is, it would immediately work. Cline wouldn’t have to explain how a door opening and closing sounds like the doors from Star Wars or even say which 80’s character a player’s avatar is modeled after; if “Reader Player One” started off as a visual medium instead of a book, the references would be more prevalent and therefore not bore readers. Pop culture references are okay, but when it doesn’t work in the medium, it can distract from the more important elements.
Even so, style doesn’t matter if the characters are interesting. And sadly, I don’t think this book has any unique characters. Wade Watts and a couple others can say funny lines here and there, but the protagonist doesn’t have any traits that stand out. One might argue that’s because he’s supposed to be the simple dweeb who becomes the hero, but I’ve read plenty of other stories that take advantage of a main character that is nerdy, doesn’t do well in crowds but ultimately becomes the hero. “Warcross”, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, “Genius: The Game”, “Illuminae” and countless others. If you have a unique idea, it requires unique character(s) to keep the reader further invested. Instead, Ernest Cline thinks the more references he can make in 300 pages, the more interesting Wade will be.
Like I mentioned though, what makes this stand out is the aesthetic, some ideas and even a couple references that any 80’s kid would chuckle at. I’ll even say the ending isn’t that bad either. Yeah, it’s a little gimmicky and it’s something you’d expect, but the last few paragraphs are kind of poignant.
Overall, “Ready Player One” isn’t good or bad, it’s just passable. I can’t hate a book for having a good premise and creative ideas, but I could’ve used more variety and a stronger character.
Even so, don’t think I’ll be missing out on the upcoming film!
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