Here’s the most important thing you need to know about Ready Player One: it’s a celebration of a geek culture. So if you know about video games and Star Trek and, yes, the Japanese live-action Spider-man show with the giant robot, this novel is for you.
It was the dawn of new era, one where most of the human race now spent all of their free time inside a videogame.
Welcome to the OASIS which is, in effect, what would happen if the Internet, World of Warcraft, and virtual reality all had a bizarre three-way love child. It’s a virtual video game where you can be whoever you want and do whatever you want. You buy virtual currency to travel, buy items, and you can even level up. The protagonist, Wade in the real world, Parzival in the OASIS, even goes to school there. And here’s the conceit: the creator of the OASIS has died and left control of his creation to whoever can solve his Easter egg hunt, resulting in a hunt that’s entrenched in 80s geek culture.
I was watching a collection of vintage ’80s cereal commercials when I paused to wonder why cereal manufacturers no longer included toy prizes inside every box. It was a tragedy, in my opinion. Another sign that civilization was going straight down the tubes.
The conceit means that Ready Player One would make an excellent drinking game, if such a game could be played whilst reading a novel. The number of games, books, films, TV shows and people named in this book is staggering, and they’re all written about with real love. Even things that get slated (Ladyhawke springs to mind) are done so with real love. Cline has squeezed in everything he loves and it’s nice to read a novel that loves the same things you do.
Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.
Unfortunately there’s a reason I used the word ‘conceit’. The truth is, the plot really is a conceit Cline uses to write about the things he loves and to vicariously do the things he’d love to do. And the story suffers. In fact, Ready Player One was, at times, downright disappointing. There’s no character development. No surprises. No twists, no turns. Just a straightforward normal-guy-becomes-a-hero-and-gets-everything-he-ever-wanted tale. Worse, because he overcomes his first obstacle so easily, it undermines every obstacle thereafter. I didn’t believe he wouldn’t clear any and all hurdles with ease. And I was right. Plans go without a hitch. Everything he hopes for comes true. It is, to be brutally honest, a boring story.
For a bunch of hairless apes, we’ve actually managed to invent some pretty incredible things.
But here’s the incredible truth. Despite the fact the story is boring (and it is), Ready Player One is compelling. Once I was finished I couldn’t put my finger on why, until I realised that the novel is as much an Easter egg hunt as it is about one. I loved picking up on the references big and small, the in-jokes, the little exaltations. For instance, I really enjoyed seeing Supaidaman get a reference. As Wade/Parzival goes hunting through geek culture, I found myself hunting along with him, looking for games and films and books I recognised.
But over the past few months, I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component of my rig was a bar in a cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.
So can I recommend Ready Player One as a novel? No. But would I recommend it anyway? Yes. It suffers from the same problem as Austin Grossman’s You in that the headlong dive into its geeky world leaves behind things like solid plots and character development. But the dive is such an enjoyable experience, you’re willing to forgive.
Because sometimes we all need to sing a little ode to geek culture.