A Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Ready Player One, a dystopian fiction set in 2044 and Ernest Cline’s first novel, is quickly becoming known for this memorable one-word review, from author John Scalzi: “Nerdgasm.” Cline pushes our nerdgasm to its limits, stuffing the narrative full of every 1980s reference readers may know and then some more. Lucky for us, Cline’s novel consists of more than nerdy references; it is also a thrilling tale of escapism and obsession, penned by a very talented, and often very funny, storyteller.
In Cline’s 2044, all of humanity’s fears have come true; we have killed the earth, leaving behind a depleted husk with few natural resources, global hunger, and little hope. In Cline’s “stacks,” which are trailer parks grown upward, teetering towers of poverty, we find Wade Watts, our allieratively-named, mega-nerd hero. An orphan, Wade wanders between his aunt’s trailer and his Fortress of Solitude, the back of an abandoned van, spending most of his waking hours plugged into the OASIS.
Five years before the novel’s beginning, James Halliday, legendary video game creator, died. Halliday began creating videogames in the 1980s, and he remembered that decade like the legendary Troy. For him, everything good came from the ’80s, all of the best music, movies, and games. Except for one game. The OASIS, Halliday and his team’s last creation (c. 2012), is an acronym for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. Immersive virtual reality, a topic Cline handles so lightly and easily that it’s difficult to believe he is not speaking from experience. In 2044, the OASIS is no longer a game: it is life. The fact that the earth’s problems continue to grow while most of the population sits motionless, living in the OASIS, lies beneath Cline’s narrative, a subtle warning.
Halliday, heirless, leaves behind one final game: a virtual Easter Egg in the OASIS (like a secret message hidden in the game’s coding). The first person to find the Egg, to complete the game-within-a-game, wins his fortune. For five years, the Egg Hunters, or gunters, swarm the OASIS but cannot unscramble Halliday’s first riddle. Wade, now in his last year of virtual high school, is smarter than all of the other gunters, natch. The competition has quieted over five years, but no one has stopped researching Halliday’s obsessions, re-watching WarGames, listening to Rush albums, playing every classic video game to perfect scores.
Then, as we knew he would, Wade solves the first riddle. The game really begins as Wade, his virtual best friend, his virtual crush, millions of other gunters, and an evil company seeking control of the OASIS—and, in effect, the world—compete to solve the next riddle, to find the next key.
Cline simultaneously excites readers for the future—the OASIS, after all, sounds pretty awesome—and cautions us not to lose touch with the real, the tactile, world. It’s a delicate balance. The story could easily have veered too cautionary, but Cline’s undeniable enthusiasm for the future of gaming reins in the warning, reminding readers that real friends can be made online, real adventures had. Wade’s immersion in the OASIS means he lives his life a little like a game, a little recklessly and over-the-top, and treats the game like life, with earnestness and devotion. Cline’s novel beautifully balances the two worlds and suggests that happiness lies in neither world but somewhere between—a harmony of the real and the ideal.
Score: 5 / 5 avatars
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Crown Publishing Group, August 2011