I’ve said before that I consider myself a nerd, actually I say it all the time. In nerd circles recently one of the most discussed books is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This book is essentially a tour de force honoring everything that it meant to be a nerd in the 1980’s. I loved reading about all of the references to 80’s culture in this book, and I’m sure that I missed quite of a few of them (I was born in the early 80’s, so I’m a little young for the perfect audience for this book). On with the review.
Science Fiction? It’s near future sort of light Cyberpunk-ish
The book is set in the year 2044. Reality sucks, and as a result a lot of people spend most of their time in Oasis, a very detailed interactive computer game. Oasis was created by James Halliday, who ultimately became one of the richest people in the world as a result of the success of his game. The world outside of Oasis was very barren, which was contrasted by the vividness of Oasis. Although Oasis is a game, because Halliday chose to make the game free to play a lot of businesses use the game as a way of arranging meetings, selling products, essentially everything that we use the internet for now.
The main character of the book is Wade Watts, an 18 year old who inhabits the Oasis as his character Parzival. He is a self proclaimed Gunter, a person who spends their time in Oasis looking for the Easter Egg that Halliday had hidden in the world upon his death. Watts was incredibly intelligent, and was very dedicated to knowing everything there was to know about Halliday to help achieve his goal of finding the Egg. The characters in the book were all solid, even if you’re not sure exactly who they are at first because you meet most of the characters inside Oasis.
After Halliday died, he left a message to the gaming world saying that he had hidden an Easter Egg inside Oasis and that the first person to find the Egg would inherit $240 billion and controlling interest of GSS, the company in charge of Oasis. 5 years after Halliday died, no one has been able to solve the first clue to begin the quest, although millions of Gunter’s (Egg Hunters) spend plenty of time in the world trying to find it. IOI, a rival company of GSS has set up a large group of people who do nothing but work to find the Egg. But obviously we don’t have a story if the world stays how it was, so of course we have Wade figure out the first clue, which sets off a race to find the rest of the clues and win the prize.
This section will have some spoilers to the overall themes of the book, but few plot spoilers.
Also, before I get too much further, I want to stress that I really did enjoy this book, I’m giving it an 8/10, and it’s something that I would suggest to other people, in fact I did talk about it to both of my brothers already.
The book gets off to a slow start, with Cline explaining several things that most nerds don’t need explained, but I suppose there’s something to be said for making the book more manageable for a wider audience. Once the book hits it’s stride it’s brilliant until the end of the second section.
Anyone who has looked into any kind of writing information has heard of the Three Act Format. Well, one of the basic ideas of the 3AF is that the character should hit their personal low point at the end of Act 2, which makes their ultimate triumph at the end of Act 3 all the better. This book is split into 3 sections (Level 1, Level 2, & Level 3) and when I got to the end of part 2 I was deeply troubled by the low point. Part of the reason that Wade and most other Gunters don’t want IOI to win is because they plan on charging for access to Oasis and smearing the surface of the game world with advertising. Wade is so upset by this prospect and the fact that IOI is ahead of all of the Gunters that he explains in no uncertain terms how he is going to kill himself should they win. After I read that part I had to put the book down because that part bothered me so much.
I understand the allure of video games, they’re easy to get into, they’re fun, and if you’re playing an online game the online communities can be wonderful, but it’s just one part of life. The more I thought about this, the more it troubled me. I can’t say exactly how much this played into my reaction to this part of the book, but it’s something that I thought of after reading it. When I was in high school, there was a guy in my grade (I was in all honor classes in high school, he wasn’t, but we had shared classes in earlier grades and I knew who he was, even if he wasn’t a great friend of mine) who similarly overreacted to a hard time in life. This guy wanted to ask out a girl, and the way the story went was simple. He told her if she didn’t go out with him he was going to kill himself, she didn’t, and he did.
I understand the mindset of devoting your life to something, and I can understand the heartbreak when it doesn’t go your way. But the exaggerated response that he threatened in this book was troubling to me. And as I kept thinking about this part of the book, I kept thinking about how it related to the story as a whole. The world in this book is a mess, and that’s putting it nicely, Art3mis (who is one of the other main characters in the book) realizes this and flat out says that if she wins she wants to use the money to help the world.
In the beginning of the book Wade lives in a trailer park where all of the trailers are stacked on top of each other because it’s ended up being one of the most efficient ways of housing people. Most people in the world are poor, and they are living a bare life with exception of Oasis. IOI has become a powerful enough force in the world, that if you get indebted to them, they can send a military force to your house to arrest you and bring you to their facilities where you work for them and live as an indentured servant until you pay off your debt or more realistically die working for them. The world in the book is so far out of whack that the most stable currency in the world is the Credits that you earn in Oasis.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that while it would be horrible for Wade and most other people who live inside Oasis (for all intents and purposes) for IOI to win the game, it would probably be better for the world as a whole if they did. They wanted to charge for the game and to put ads in the world, the end effect of this is that Oasis would become less desirable a place to spend all of your time. And if people don’t want to spend all of their time in the game, they might just focus on fixing the Real World.
To credit both Cline and his editor, they do address the problem of ‘living’ within a completely fake world at the end of the book (at least for Wade). But the way it was dealt with throughout the book was troubling to me.
This book was a fun ride through 80’s geekdom, I had issues with part of the book but it didn’t ruin the overall story for me.