An online friend urged me to read Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. He wanted to know how I’d react to it.
Well, having read it, I’d say it’s a geek fest – a video gamer’s fantasy wish-fulfillment story…
But it’s an excellent gamer’s fantasy wish-fulfillment story.
Wade Watts is a teenager living in a mid-21st Century American dystopia, in Oklahoma City. The world’s fossil fuels have run out, and the alternative technologies haven’t kept pace. So multitudes of Americans, like Wade, live in “the Stacks,” mobile home parks where the trailers are stacked high on steel racks. He shares a trailer with his aunt and several renters, but most of his time is spent in a hiding place, where he lives a virtual life in OASIS. OASIS is a sort of virtual-reality Facebook, where you can live an entire, ultra-realistic digital life, except for taking care of the most basic physical needs.
Most of his time is spent studying the life and work of James Halliday, the genius who developed OASIS. Halliday died several years earlier, and instead of a will he left a game. Clues, he said on a final video, are hidden in the world of OASIS. They lead to three keys, and the keys in turn lead to an “Easter Egg.” Whoever finds the Easter Egg first will inherit Halliday’s entire fortune and control of his company.
Gamers all over the world are doing what Wade is doing, but Wade is the first to decipher the initial clue. Soon others follow his lead, and he’s in a race – not only against other gamers (whom he generally regards as friendly competition and even temporary allies), but against the evil IOI Company, an international conglomerate devoting massive resources to winning the game for its own benefit.
The story is extremely well-crafted, raising the stakes relentlessly. The character development is predictable, but it goes where it ought to go, and is well done. The writing is crisp and professional. We are told that this is Ernest Cline’s first novel. He’s done himself proud.
There were elements I didn’t much care for much. The world of gamers is a foreign culture to me, and one without much appeal. Wade makes disparaging remarks about religion (though it must be granted that the one explicitly Christian character is admirable). The political tropes were somewhat tired – zero-sum economics and a corporation with a military division which somehow feels that keeping its customers impoverished is a profit-making strategy. An apologia for homosexuality is worked into the plot.
But make no mistake, Ready Player One is an excellent novel on its own terms. Recommended as pure entertainment, with cautions for language and adult themes.