Synopsis: It’s the year 2044, and the real world becomes an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual reality utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love with any ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based into the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle. Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.
Author: Ernest Cline
There are very few books that I absolutely love and despise at the same time. It’s either one or the other for me. Ready Player One is one of those books. There is something compelling about it, yet at the same time increasingly frustrating. Ultimately, I rated it a three out of five. Let me tell you why…
What I found I enjoyed was how incredibly descriptive it was, something Cline very clearly excels at. He described the OASIS, which is a sprawling virtual reality where almost anything is possible, in such vivid detail that I could truly imagine myself there. Characters use an immersion rig, which includes a pair of virtual reality googles and haptic gloves, which allows them to enter the OASIS. Wade Watts, our protagonist, enters the OASIS and uses an avatar he created called Parzival, who looks nothing at all like him. The OASIS is a place where you can become anyone you want to be with no real world limitations. Since James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS, announced upon his death the biggest game in existence: he had hidden three keys somewhere inside the vast utopia that would allow whoever found all three keys and cleared all three gates control over the OASIS and his billion dollar fortune, it was no wonder the majority of people inside the Ready Player One world spent their every waking hours hooked into the OASIS on a search for the hidden keys. It was incredibly refreshing to see video games portrayed in an (almost) completely positive light. How many of us have ever wanted to be able to escape our real lives, even for just a few seconds? With the OASIS, it is entirely possible. It was something I was able to connect with, having been using the internet as an escape and a coping mechanism for many years now.
The character of Wade Watts divided me. On one hand, I truly felt for him. Despite his tender age of eighteen, the real world had not been kind to Wade, and his hunt for the keys would bring significant repercussions that would change the course of his life forever. To spite all the people who put him down, belittled him, or attempted to destroy his life, I was rooting for him to succeed. That being said, he came across as an elitist, believing himself to be superior to others, and he appeared to me as a ‘Gary Stu’ that begs the question: was this Cline self-inserting himself into his book? There doesn’t seem to be much Wade can’t do to the point where I was finding it difficult to believe this could happen. Towards the end of the book, Wade infiltrates the Innovative Online Industries (IOI), the main villain of the book (I’ll get to them in a second), where he remains undercover for eight days before escaping. His escape was virtually seamless, which reeked of being too convenient. It should not have been that easy, especially not in a company that large and that powerful.
The IOI are the world’s largest internet service provider, led by the CEO, Nolan Sorrento. Sorrento attempts to recruit Wade in joining the company in their Oology Division, a branch of the company dedicated to James Halliday and the hunt for the keys. Their only goal was to be the ones to find the keys to win the ultimate prize of controlling the OASIS. Wade declines, a decision that has major consequences for him. While neither Sorrento or the IOI were unbelievable as villains, the IOI were nothing but a one-dimensional, generic conglomerate that had no substance. The IOI – and Sorrento – appeared to only be in the book to tick off the ‘add conflict to a story’ box. They worked as a villain, but without Cline delving into some character development for Sorrento, he and the IOI became nothing but convenient to the story – and an allegory for everyone’s hatred for their internet service provider.
One of the subplots of the book was a budding romance between Wade – or, more accurately, his avatar Parzival – and another avatar, Art3mis. Art3mis is a female avatar who runs a popular blog dedicated to her search for the keys, a blog that Wade has been an avid follower of and ends up developing a crush on Art3mis, although he does admit the avatar could look absolutely nothing like the person controlling it, which ends up becoming a running gag through the book that Art3mis is actually an overweight man named Chad who lives in his mother’s basement. The romance itself I have no issue with. No, my issue – and a main reason in my decision to rate the book at a three out of five – is the borderline obsession Wade has. After their avatars first meet in the OASIS, they begin to regularly correspond with one another, building a friendships, which, to me, was then ruined by Wade’s incessant pestering for Art3mis to go on a date with him. That topic of conversation clearly made her uncomfortable and she declines his offer, yet Wade continues to harass her over it. Wade comes across as the stereotypical nerd who has no social awareness and no idea how to speak to women that makes him come across as creepy rather than simply socially awkward. I find that stereotype to be almost as offensive as the snorting, buck-teeth nerd stereotype. Surely, in 2018, we should have moved on from such stereotypes?
While Ernest Cline clearly excels at description, dialogue is clearly not his forte. Now don’t get me wrong, not all the dialogue in the book is awful. There are some genuine heartwarming, heart-wrenching, and downright hilarious moments that could only illicit such emotion because of the dialogue. However, there were many more cringe-worthy lines than there were not. To me, this made Cline come across as out-of-touch. Now this could be explained by the fact that this book is crammed full of 80’s nostalgia – and that it’s set in 2044! Perhaps how they spoke in the 80’s (a decade I wasn’t even born for) made a comeback thanks to the popularity of the OASIS and James Halliday, who was obsessed with the 80’s even into adulthood. It is set almost thirty years from now and there’s no telling what’s going to be popular and current, therefore some suspension of disbelief could be had. However, I still found the dialogue difficult to read due to how cringe-worthy it is.
Ready Player One starts off strong, hits a couple of bumps in the road for the middle, then picks up its pace again for the ending to finish on a high note. The characters have the marmite effect – you’ll either love them or hate them, there is no in between. The hunt for the keys, while interesting and somewhat captivating once a name first appears on the scoreboard, is full of 80’s pop culture that had been searching on Google several times during the reading as I wasn’t familiar with most of the games or movies referenced. Despite its glaring plot holes and bugbears, Ready Player One was an enjoyable read overall, although I doubt I’ll read it again any time soon.