Ready Player One by Ernest Cline | Hits and Misses

Ready Player One Book Review Paige's PagesPUBLISHER: Broadway Books
August 16, 2011
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It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.  Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based on Halliday’s obsession with ’80s pop culture.  And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.  Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. 



Stellar Concept & Worldbuilding

The world of Reader Player One and the plot premise are captivating and original.  If I rated this book on the idea alone, I would give it five stars.  I enjoyed watching the universe unfold and learning about its complex rules of engagement.  I stayed hooked until the end.

I was fascinated by this depiction of Earth circa 2044.  This setting inspires gripping themes because it is both unsettlingly familiar and fantastically foreign.  We’re looking at environmental decline, global poverty, and a population shirking reality through the internet.  Once we venture into OASIS’s faux-utopia, we are forced to question what really matters.  Identity?  Integrity?  Saving the planet?  Self-preservation and actualising one’s ideal self?

 Perfect for Book Clubs

Ready Player One will divide readers, though everyone will agree this story generates conversation and engages the imagination.  For YA and adult readers of all ages, this is an awesome book club pick.  Read it before the movie is released in 2018.  While I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, I can think of plenty of friends who would get a lot out of it.



Hand-holding & Cop Outs

For the benefit of readers without any ’80s pop culture knowledge, the narrator Wade Watts scrupulously explains every reference.  While this is congruent with his character, it drove me nuts at times. The pleasant surprise of recognising a nostalgic reference wears off when Wade proceeds to deconstruct the reference for laymen over the course of several paragraphs.  At times, I resented that Ernest Cline didn’t trust me to pick up references without holding my hand.

“It looks just like Rivendell,” Aech said, taking the words right out of my mouth.  I nodded.  “It looks exactly like Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings movies” (p322). 

Exposition is heavy-handed throughout Ready Player One.  The first several chapters are virtually nothing but exposition.  Sometimes the exposition made me feel patronised, or like I was twiddling my thumbs for the story to continue.  While history/lore is helpful for worldbuilding, some of it felt like overkill.  There were aspects of the story such as Wade’s real world setting that I found far more interesting, but were granted relatively little attention.  

The setup for the romance subplot is a total copout.  Instead of showing us the relationship developing so we can be invested in its success, Wade sums up the entire courtship in a few sentences using the kind of language you’d expect from a lovesick teenager who “never had such a powerful, immediate connection with another human being before” (p174).

Is Wade Too Perfect?

As a general rule of thumb, if Wade thinks it, it’s the correct answer.  Wade is too perfect – if he needs an impossible high score, just give him a minute and he’ll be right back to you.  Although the stakes and adversaries Wade faces are compelling, I knew there was no real danger of him failing.  Also, his thought processes sometimes made me roll my eyes.

Wade only refers to his emotions a handful of times.  Besides grand notions of love or vengeance etc., Wade doesn’t pause his running commentary of his actions to describe how he feels – physically or emotionally.  He always manages to handle every situation with perfect poise, leaping from success to success.  The tone of the narration – especially the omission of emotional language – doesn’t reflect the high stakes.


Final Thoughts

Overall, Reader Player One is an incredible and thoroughly enjoyable adventure.  The execution of its fantastic premise is flawed and, at times, frustrating.  However, this didn’t stop me from having tons of fun.  What is your review of Ready Player One?  If you’ve read any other work by Ernest Cline, how does it compare?  Do you have high hopes for the film adaptation?




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