Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

In the last month I have joined a podcast dedicated to book reviews. This is a totally alien thing for me as I am SO much more comfortable typing out my criticism or praise rather than speaking out loud. This is partly due to my entire life feeling like the more I speak the less interesting I get – sisters can do permanent damage to your self-esteem – but also because I can edit what I type. You can’t edit what you say once its fallen out of your mouth.

Why am I telling you about the podcast? Well apart from a cheap plug (Dewey Decibal System) the second podcast concerned the book I am about to review on here. Between myself and the two hosts there was a huge difference of opinion – namely that they loved it and I hated it.

OK perhaps hate is a strong word here, I mean I finished the damn thing so it wasn’t so bad that I threw it in the bin. It just wasn’t to my taste.

Ready Player One concerns the near future when life has become all about escaping the real world and immersing yourself into an MMORPG (massively multi-player online role playing game) called the OASIS. The creator of this world, James Halliday, has recently passed away and set the world a task – find the Easter Egg he has hidden somewhere in this Universe he created and you can inherit the Earth, almost literally.

This sparks a hunt so massive that people forego their real lives and become almost permanently immersed in the OASIS as whatever avatar they have chosen to be, calling themselves ‘Gunters’ (honourable) or labelled ‘Sixers’ (corporate drones attempting to gain the key to the OASIS for evil corporation IOI – see Empire/Alliance/Umbrella/Weyland-Utani Corporation).

The protagonist of this story is Wade Owen Wilson, a poor boy from the ‘stacks’ (trailers stacked 20 high) whose sole enjoyment from life comes from being a Gunter. This teenager sparks the biggest race in online multi-player game history when he finds the first key (and clue) to pass the first stage of finding the elusive Egg, five years after Halliday’s death.

We follow Wade in the OASIS and outside of it, battling the evil Sixers, joining up with fellow Gunters, falling in love, having his heart broken, all the while being almost constantly barraged with the most obscure references from the eighties.

So why did I dislike this book so intensely? For starters it was written like a teenager. Not in the sense of ‘yes I can really believe this is a kid in trouble here, I can hear his voice’. It was amateur and focussed on bombarding me with detail I neither needed or wanted rather than develop the characters.

Cline created a world that was scarily believable – at least the glimpses of the real world he shows us – while the OASIS, though magnificent in concept, has too much time spent on it with explaining all the nerd-tastic references to old computer games and the endless god-awful eighties moments. This is because Cline made Halliday obsessed with the eighties, rather like himself I suspect.

Now I can forgive references to gaming, old computer systems, arcades and the sci-fi TV shows that make countless appearances despite me not fully understanding them. I can forgive them because this is a book called Ready Player One and is about a quest to find a hidden Easter Egg. I’d be an idiot to complain about gaming references.

What I could not stand was being hit over the head with the nineteen eighties, an era I was barely part of but have seen enough of on film and heard through music to know it was partly awful and partly magnificent. Within pages I was sick of reading about teenagers arguing over the merits of Ladyhawke and Sixteen Candles (the latter by the way is an awful film that glorifies rape of inebriated girls). And it just didn’t stop, the whole way through I got increasingly bored of the eighties because how it came into the story wasn’t clever or interesting. Take the latest Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy, it used the eighties to punctuate jokes and was the only pop-culture that Peter Quill could reference. Wade and the rest of the OASIS have no excuse apart from Halliday’s obsession, which Cline gave him.

Something else that irritated me was that Cline clearly used Wade as a mouthpiece for his own frustrations with the world. Within pages our protagonist tells the world how stupid it is for believing in God and destroying the Earth. Cline didn’t give me a chance to know Wade before finding out how angry he was so I did not read the Atheist rant and cheer (despite being of the same opinion) because it was just that, a rant. Cline ranted at me using Wade. It was not appreciated.

There were elements I enjoyed in the story. Sometimes Cline managed to capture small moments of true teenage awkwardness between Wade and his lady love Art3mis, while toward the end of the book he created tension and excitement in places as the quest for the Egg got closer to its conclusion.

But overall this book was two dimensional reading when it should have been a sense overwhelming experience. The writing was flat, the eighties just too much and I failed to care about any of it enough to want to finish the story for any other purpose than to have read it for the podcast.

Would I recommend it? If you are a gamer, grew up in the eighties and didn’t hate it, then yes – read this book. But if your nostalgia only goes so far to know that Simple Minds was the final song in The Breakfast Club then I think perhaps this is one to miss.

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