Review: ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline
“…a scifi book/epic love letter to the 80’s…”
Recently, someone recommended I read the book, “Ready Player One,” holding it in the company of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game.” As a big fan of the latter, I thought I’d check out the former. A quick perusal of its Wikipedia page, and I realized this was the book for me.
Ernest Cline’s novel, “Ready Player One” is a scifi book/epic love letter to the 80’s. The time is 2044 and things are pretty terrible for just about everybody. Fossil fuels aren’t completely depleted, but they’ve dried up to the point that only the military and the government can afford to use them. Everyone else either takes an electric form of transportation, or, as happens more often, don’t move. But not to fear, the internet is here!
Actually, the internet is replaced by something even more awesome—OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), a virtual reality that has all but replaced actual reality. Think “Second Life” merged with “World of Warcraft” and every other video game, movie, book series, and TV show you’ve ever watched, plus a few you haven’t. OASIS has them all. Not only that, OASIS’s creator—James Halliday—releases a video after his death that announces something hidden within the system: three special keys to open three special gates. The first person to successfully pass the challenges behind each gate will win the prize—the Easter Egg. In this case that means Halliday’s vast personal fortune, as well as his controlling stock in GSS, the company that owns OASIS.
Every person with an internet connection (as one would expect) goes bananas at this news and searches high and low for the keys, but OASIS contains thousands of worlds, each one unique and incredibly detailed. People search for years without finding anything, even a hint, and so many begin to suspect the whole quest is a joke, one final prank played by Halliday on humanity after his death. Until a kid named Wade Watts (or Parzival, as he’s known online), finds the first key…
Finding the key changes things entirely. Everyone in the world now knows the quest is real, and everyone wants to win—including IOI, the designated antagonists of the novel and some pretty bad guys. The immoral corporation’s goal is to win the game to gain control of GSS, and thus control over OASIS. The system only costs a quarter to purchase, and while in-game items can cost real money, one never actually has to pay anything to use it. IOI wants to change that. The corporation wants to charge people a fee to do almost everything—an act akin to forcing people to pay for fresh air or to watch a sunset.
In opposition stands the gunters (“egg hunters”) individuals and clans who search for the Egg themselves. Parzival is one of these gunters, as are his friends Aech and Art3mis. To do so they must master Halliday’s interests, as he coded the challenges to make sure only those he found worthy (i.e. people who liked the same things that he did) could pass them. This means gunters must possess a nearly-encyclopedic knowledge of 80’s culture. A clue to the location of the key or gate might have something to do with one glitched level of an obscure Japanese video game, or it might lie in analyzing the lyrics to a “Schoolhouse Rock” song.
In short, “Ready Player One” is a combination of the old and the new. While it’s true that the main characters spend much of their time consuming and conversing about 80’s culture, they do so through the most sophisticated technology available to humanity in the story. High-class immersion rigs are capable of fooling all the senses, so much so that one can have trouble remembering if one is in the real or virtual world. Despite this blurring, however, one of the novel’s themes is plain to see. “Reality is better,” it tells us.
When Parzival gets an awesome immersion rig, for example, he thinks about it this way: “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 the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.” Even James Halliday, the man who created OASIS in the first place, says, “I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life, right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real.”
My final thoughts: “Ready Player One” was a good read with some neat ideas. The author, Ernest Cline, comes up with a lot of awesome descriptions (of things both good and bad) in the world of the future, and despite the ills of virtual reality, I really want my own immersion rig. (Come on! Who wouldn’t want to take on the role of the main character in a movie? That’d be the best!)
“Ready Player One” came out June 5th, 2012 and is available in e-book, hardcover, paperback, and audio book at Amazon.com. I’d recommend picking up a copy.