Ready Player One is Ernest Cline’s debut novel. It follows a teenaged protagonist, Wade Watts – screen name Parzival – through a dystopian future where the world is beholden to a virtual reality called the Oasis. Well, everything awesome happens within the Oasis, while the outside world – the real one – has gone to complete shit. The eccentric billionaire who designed the Oasis, James Halliday, dies and bequeaths his entire fortune, along with control of the Oasis, to the person who finds three hidden keys. Thus begins the massive manhunt through a seemingly limitless universe across 372 pages of look-at-how-neat-it-is-that-I-know-this 80s pop culture references.
This book hinges on those gratuitous 80s references – everything from movies, television, music, to arcade games. Cline shits them out with such enthusiasm it’s as though he ate a Pac-man cartridge and got afflicted with 80s culture diarrhea. Reading this book instantly transports you directly into the mind of a super geek who wants to show you what the perfect game would be like if it were up to him to make it. No writing skill required. Seriously, this book lacks even the most elementary literary craft (character development, conflict, dialogue, climax). I honestly have no idea how this book slipped past an editor.
Every Gunter – gamers who are devoted to finding the keys and winning Halliday’s ultimate game – have somehow managed to not only master dozens of video games, but also managed to manipulate the laws of physics to allow them to watch every 80s movie, tv show, listen to every album – to achieve a level of proficiency that enables them to act and quote Matthew Broderick’s character in Wargames – all in their spare time over the space of just a few years. All so they are better prepared to unravel the clues that lead to each key.
Combine that simple logical deficiency with the fact that these gamers, who always act alone so as not to give any other player any advantage, must also contend with a massive interconnected “collective” of gamers under the employ of a company who is able to instantly switch out players at any moment so as to always have an expert at the helm. This book tries hard to be the Da Vinci Code but ultimately doesn’t negotiate the Pitfall! See what I did there?
The author took an excellent premise and smothered it with clichéd dialogue, slow pacing, cardboard characters, and predictable conflict. For a science fiction novel, it’s also a little hard to believe they’re still using laptops and Youtube in 2044. But whatever.
The only thing that frightens me more than this unfortunate book’s merits is that Cline will most likely be encouraged to write another one. Maybe Warner Bros. can hire a different writer to handle the screenplay.