Review: Ready Player One
Monday, April 22, 2019

Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

First, a confession: With this story, I did something I rarely do. I saw the movie first. *gasp* Horror of horrors, I know. But I did, and I worried that that experience might ruin the book. If you're in a similar boat, rest assured that seeing the movie first will not ruin the book. While the main premise stays the same, there were enough differences that I had no idea what was going to happen page to page. Yes, I knew who was going to win in the end, but that's pretty much a given for most books. Suffice to say, the book still held plenty of surprises to keep me turning pages.
Now, the actual overview: Ready Player One follows Wade Watts on, basically, an impressively complex scavenger hunt that takes place in a virtual reality simulation called the OASIS. The themes in this story were poignant, because the future Wade lives in is a real possibility for the world if we keep on our current course. The Hunt itself will appeal to all my fellow geeks who grew up in and around the 1980's. Many of the references in this book evoked fond memories of movies I watched and games I played as a child. The story itself is relatively straight forward, but the adventure takes many twists and turns to keep the reader engaged.

Characters & Voice:
The protagonist of the story is Wade Watts, named to sound like a super hero's alter ego. He is a pretty average, poor, outcast, teenage boy. Like most OASIS users, he's overweight and spends nearly all his time logged in. Wade's entire life is lived online through his avatar, Parzival. That's where he goes to school, meets his friends, and does his research on Halliday. Sadly, this is not an unrealistic possibility for the near future, and I think that makes his character very relatable.
Wade is joined by secondary characters Art3mis, Aech, Daito, and Shoto, who are both friends and rivals. Together, they make up the High Five, and are the main competitors for Halliday's Egg. While none of these characters have met in real life, they bond over their shared passion for the quest and a desire to stop the IOI Sixers from destroying the freedom the OASIS represents. I especially liked the dynamic between Parzival and Aech, best friends who were also in direct competition. The romance arc with Art3mis was a little... angsty. But then, they are teenagers, so I guess that's in character.
The main antagonist is the IOI corporation, headed by Nolan Sorrento. IOI is the embodiment of extreme capitalism. They want to bleed the OASIS dry, and they'll get the keys to the kingdom by any means necessary, including threats, cheating, and murder. They use their money and influence to undermine the spirit of Halliday's contest, filling the OASIS with numbered employees called Sixers, and every free user in the OASIS hates them.

Language & Mechanics:
For the most part, Cline's writing is wonderful. The prose is smooth, clean, and clear, and it drew me in right from the get go. Even though I had a good idea how the story would turn out since I'd watched the movie first, the prologue was so engaging that I was enthralled and eager to see what happened next.
While the writing itself was great, the one place where I felt the book could use a little more work was in the flow. After the engaging set-up, the next couple chapters were kind of slow with him going to school, bantering with friends, etc. to establish Wade's "average day." The writing continued to be good, so it's not like I wanted to stop reading, but I did get a little bored. Then he found the first key and things picked up, which was great. But once he got stuck on the second riddle the story lagged again. There were several chapters detailing his new room, all his new tech, and his new daily routine that felt like one big info dump. Luckily, Cline was able to keep tension on the page even when there wasn't much going on, so these slow parts didn't translate to closing the book.

There are two very distinct aspects to the world-building in this story. The first is the real world into which Wade was born. This is a dystopian future where the human race has used up most of the resources on our over-populated planet and now live like sardines packed together in major cities with the lands between turned into a barren waste. To escape the desperation of their real lives, people spend most of their time in the OASIS, and MMO that has become the virtual reality where people spend most of their daily lives. Within the OASIS there are thousands of worlds, but we mostly only visit those important to Halliday's Hunt. This brings us to the second part of the world-building.
In the book, Halliday uses his Hunt to share his obsession with 1980's pop culture with the world. I'd argue that Cline does the same thing with this novel. Every aspect of the Hunt is steeped in 80's trivial, from movies and TV shows to video games and music. Now, I'd first like to point out that I was born and grew up in the 80's, so a lot of that trivia was familiar and nostalgic for me. That said, there were, at times, too many details. I get that we need to see Wade as a super-geek who's memorized every piece of media produced in the 80's, but it gets annoying in places having so many references constantly thrown in. It interrupts the flow of the story. This super-saturation of details and the resultant lag in flow are the reason I couldn't give this book a full five starts, but the story was great and well worth the read.

Digging Deeper (SPOILERS): When Wade and the others enter the first gate, each player has to reenact the movie WarGames. The author makes a big deal about the players gaining or losing points based on how closely they follow the script, even gaining bonus points for matching the right tone and timing, but then when each player clears the gate they are awarded the exact same number of points on the scoreboard. So, what was the point of the individual scores within the simulation? This happens again in the final gate when Wade acts out the script of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This also begs the bigger question, why have scores at all? The contest is basically a race. It doesn't matter what ranking a player is on the scoreboard so long as they are the first to reach Halliday's egg. The scoreboard makes sense only as a means for others to monitor a player's progress, but even then the scores themselves don't matter.

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