Book review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 16, 2011
Source: Gift

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Going outside is highly overrated. 

Wade Watts lives in a bleak, and probably fairly realistic, version of our future. It’s 2044 and we’ve got an energy crisis, a lack of food, overpopulation, and a recession. Most people live in literal stacks of trailers. Much of the time, it’s not even safe to leave your home. Suffice it to say that it’s not a great situation. To escape the miserable state of reality, James Halliday invented the OASIS, a giant virtual reality in which anyone with an internet connection can immerse themselves in a completely different world. Like most people, Wade spends most of his time in the OASIS. It’s where most shopping and socializing are done, where meetings are held, and even where Wade goes to school.

Since there are no limits to what Wade (aka Parzival) can be in the OASIS, he absolutely lives and breathes it. When Halliday dies, news quickly spreads that he left his entire fortune, and control of the OASIS, as an elaborate Easter egg within the game. OASIS users obsessively dig through every corner of the virtual reality, trying and failing to make sense of the vague clue that Halliday left before his death. After a number of years, the scoreboard is still blank, and everyone but the most dedicated hunters have given up hope. Suddenly, Wade has a revelation and Parzival becomes the first to discover the meaning of the first clue. As his name appears on the scoreboard, he’s skyrocketed to immediate fame and the rest of the world watches for him to figure out the next move – or fall flat on his face.

Ready Player One had been on my radar for a number of years, ever since I saw a friend post a glowing review of it shortly after it came out. I was lucky enough to get a copy for Christmas this year, and pretty much devoured it chapter by chapter at every chance I could get.

The beginning in particular really appealed to me. The creator of OASIS, James Halliday, was notoriously obsessed with the 80’s, which would have been his childhood. Because of this, Halliday’s Easter egg challenge is chock full of 80’s references – from movies to tv to music to games. My favorite parts of the book were those where scenes from famous 80’s movies were recreated. Some of my favorite movies are from the 80’s, and I could practically see the scenes playing out in my mind.

Most of the references in the book are to video games, and while I’ve never been too interested in playing them, I still understood the majority of those references. Of course, the more obscure ones did go over my head, but not to the point where I stopped enjoying what I was reading. And of course a book about a guy obsessed with video games is going to contain a multitude of video game references, so they weren’t out of place, either.

As for the actual story, the plot moves along at a nice, steady pace, neither too fast nor too slow. The characters were great. I loved Wade, and Aech and Art3mis really grew on me as well. The bad guys are believably evil, and the good guys aren’t perfect. The book maintains a good balance between action and character development, and is overall very well-written.

Ready Player One really plays out like a movie, and I would be thrilled to watch it on the big screen. As it is, I highly recommend it to anybody who wants a good story with a heavy dose of nostalgia.

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m checking off #5: a book with a number in the title.