and now, for something completely different.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline – book review

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.  Don’t read my lame post, go buy this book and read it instead.

I have to stop reading the same sets of books and branch out some more, otherwise I might never read another book like Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline) again. I got it for my birthday last year on Kindle, and when I finally got around to reading it, I found I couldn’t put it down. It called out to the child in me who grew up in the 1980s, it called out to the video gamer in me, it called out to the geek in me; this book was not deep in any way, but it was a shout-out to everything that was awesome in the 1980s and a love letter to anyone who was born in the late 1970s to enjoy it. It proved to me ultimately and was a cry for justice that the virtuous geek is truly the greatest hero humanity has ever produced.

You should just stop reading this review now and go get the book.

No, seriously; did you not read my last statement?  Go read the book.

The book is set in the future, in the year 2044. Things are not good for the human race. Resources are scarce, most of the population is poor, and in many parts of the world anarchy reigns over the establishment, which pretty much exists in name only. Entire cities worth of underprivileged people live in communities called stacks, which are row upon row of mobile homes, stacked on top of each other in sketchy frames.  They are a fire department’s worst nightmare.  They are the residents’ worst nightmare.  They are the reality of the world that people live in.

In this world, following the success of games like World of Warcraft, two men named James Halliday and Ogden Morrow have created the ultimate escapist online experience, called OASIS, run by their company Gregarious Simulation Systems (GGS). Much of the world’s economy now surrounds providing access to and providing equipment for playing the game, which for many people is better than reality.

Tragedy strikes the OASIS community when Halliday – the main technical brain behind the online world – suddenly dies.  Many saw him as quite possibly the most powerful man in the world with his controlling stake in GSS.  He was certainly the most powerful being in OASIS, where his character had the ability to do anything at any time: the rules didn’t apply to him since he made them in the first place.  Who will control the game?  Who will inherit Halliday’s vast fortune?  Well, not even James Halliday himself knew the answer to that question.  As his will, he leaves a quest, fully supported by his surviving business partner, Morrow.  In a video, he remembers a simpler time when he first fell in love with video games, a time when a game was made by one developer on their own, when creating that game was an art.  As a signature, that developer would put in “Easter eggs:”  little sub-games or nuances that only the developer knew was there, unless they told someone or a player stumbled onto them by chance.

The quest is simple.  Halliday has put three Easter eggs into the vastness of the OASIS universe.  The first person to find those eggs and unlock their secrets will inherit Halliday’s legacy.  The person to do it will be quite possibly the most powerful person in the world.  The only clues are his video, his life, his interests and hobbies, and a sort of manifesto, “Anorak’s Almanac” – a book supposedly written by Anorak, his OASIS avatar.

So begins the biggest (well, online at any rate) Easter egg hunt in the history of the human race.  Excitement and hopes are high as people scour every corner of the game, looking for clues.  Nobody finds any, however, and interest wanes.  Many people start to believe the eggs don’t exist, that it could all be an elaborate hoax to ensure that Halliday’s legacy is never claimed.  People that keep up the hunt become known as “gunters” (egg hunters), and put varying amounts of dedication into the pursuit.  They become a fractured and factionized anti-community of people with like-interests.  Some work alone and both shun the help of others and refuse to give any help, some discuss ideas freely, some are friends but keep their secrets to themselves, and some just pretend to know what they’re doing for the notoriety.  Halliday’s videos are dissected for clues.  His biography.  Favourite movies.  Favourite games.  The soundtracks to the favourite movies.  No detail is overlooked, but no egg presents itself.  Even within the gunter population, interest begins to wane.

This is where the story of Wade Watts begins, ten years later in 2054.  He’s an orphan from the stacks, with only a junky school-issue OASIS rig to his name.  School in this day and age is conducted in OASIS, so everyone gets basic access.  Being school issue, he’s limited in the OASIS universe to working from the school planet he attends, so he does most of his (obsessive) research in online databases from that one location as Perzival (his online avatar).  While he holds his beliefs and information close, he still keeps a rival in the egg quest as his best friend.  Aech has more mobility than Wade does in the online universe, but their real life socio-economical differences are sidelined when they are online and discussing the quest.

Everything changes one day when Perzival finds something, and then the whole world begins to watch.  Everyone including Innovative Online Industries, the internet provider for much of the population of the world.  They control access, and they want to control and monetize the OASIS universe with Halliday’s controlling stake in GSS, ruining it for most of the OASIS users.  The chase extends to the real world, with very real threats to Wade’s own survival, and that of his friends.  Geeks are tough, though, and the race is on to find all three Easter eggs.  His friends Aech, Art3mis, Akihide, Shoto and Og are at once allies and adversaries, but in reality all are in it to beat the massive IOI corporation from controlling what they see as the only shining light and the largest fortune in the world.

This really is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in a future time, with the legacy of Halliday playing the part of Willy Wonka.  It’s an amazingly fun read, and the pop-cultural references on every page leap out one after the other.  I took this screenshot of the Wikipedia entry for the book, just to show the sheer magnitude of references Cline collected for this story:

The scale of the pop-culture references in Ready Player One are conservatively labeled as … expansive.

Honestly, this is one of those books that I could see myself reading once a year, just because.  It’s a joyous romp through my childhood, and incredibly satisfying in its conclusion.  You don’t need to be deep, philosophical and use all the mechanical tricks of modern fiction and the English language to spin a good yarn, and this book just leads you straight through a big giant tunnel of nostalgia and awesome.  And it does it in a giant freaking video game.  What self-respecting geek couldn’t love that premise?  The book is so insane, that Cline even spun an easter-egg of his own into the book, which became a contest to win a DeLorean, and yielded a new world record score in Joust for the Atari 2600!  Now that is dedication to nostalgia.

Seriously, I hope you didn’t read past the third paragraph, and you took my advice, and you’re now reading Ready Player One instead of my lame article.  What an awesome book!!


One response to “Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline – book review

  1. Pingback: Redshirts – by John Scalzi | azzurriffopubijix

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