Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Genre: Science Fiction
In the year 2044, 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.
A lot of my friends had raved about this book before I read it but I tried to keep my expectations in check. I’m not much of a gamer so I did wonder if much this might be lost on me but I’m a big fan of geek culture (I wrote my dissertation on it, in fact) so felt like this might be something I’d appreciate.
I thoroughly enjoyed Cline’s dystopian vision of a future filled with high-rise trailer parks where the lines of reality are blurred between on- and offline. Broadly, Cline poses interesting questions about the nature of reality and what constitutes ‘real’ in terms of our relationships with one another. There are thoughts here too about the internet as a force for global equality and unity and debates about the construction of identity. And though this is essentially a fast-paced adventure story, I was intrigued by the dichotomy of the virtual community and the physical isolation of the characters.
I think I’ve probably made it sounds far more cerebral than it is, but it was these undercurrents that created the foundation for what was an technological ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ style escapade. I do think a lot of the cultural references were lost on me and I’m probably not enough of a gamer to fully appreciate it, however this didn’t prevent me from getting caught up in the competition and being compelled to see it through.
I found Cline’s writing style such that I sometimes felt like he was trying to describe a movie, and so, much like when you try to do this yourself to a friend, he ended up focusing on a succession of actions and plot points and missed out a lot of the emotion and nuance. I do feel like this let it down slightly, although I’d be interested to hear it as an audiobook as I wonder if this might actually be a better medium for his style of writing. I believe Wil Wheaton narrates the audiobook and I can imagine this would suit it immensely. Despite this, I really enjoyed the virtual universe and felt there was just enough at its heart that it didn’t feel too far out of the realms of possibility as a future that may await us all.