This review is dedicated to my boyfriend, without whose suggestion I would not have picked up this book. So thank you, love.
I read many books that my friends suggest, but Ready Player One was a frequent suggestion among my gamer friends. When the movie came out, one friend of mine was rabid to take our group to see it but those plans fell through. And now, because my boyfriend was so eager to show it to me, and because the book’s premise really piqued my interest, I could put it off no longer. Six hundred pages later, at ten o’clock at night, I write this review with beating heart. But a heart beating with what? Rage? Excitement? Perhaps a bit of both?
In the year 2045, after climate catastrophes and raging wars have turned our world into a hellish wasteland, 18-year-old Wade Watts lives out his days playing through the immersive virtual reality oasis called, well, the OASIS. Among millions of other players looking for an escape, Wade searches for clues that will lead him to uncover the greatest prize since Willy Wonka’s magical chocolate factory: the multi-billion dollar fortune of James Halliday, the late creator of the OASIS. But whoever wins that fortune shall consequently control the OASIS, and either Wade, or some other lucky gamer, must find it before a corrupt multinational corporation does…
The consensus is that this is the literary love letter to geek culture—specifically 80’s geek culture. The games, the movies, the music, the social climate—if you grew up in that decade, the barrage of references to 80’s media will feed your nostalgic needs like nothing else. For some who are my age, I’ve noticed, this is a bit of a turn-off, since familiarity with this decade would certainly enhance the enjoyment factor. I didn’t grow up in the 80’s so what is left to enjoy about this book, if not the nostalgia?
For one thing, the contrast between the real world and the OASIS is very stark: that gaming has become immersive enough that it’s almost necessary for survival. Reality is so horrible that, without the luxury of virtual reality, there is no other reason for living. Indeed, to enjoy virtual chat rooms, battling familiar monsters and villains, switching weapons with a tap of a screen—it’s an escapist wet dream. Incidentally, other book bloggers have labeled Ready Player One as “nostalgic porn,” but I think there is a deeper theme at work than just enjoying the retrospective cheese of the 80’s.
Needing make-believe to make it through the day is quite familiar, though this book takes that concept to an extreme. The world of Ready Player One is full of famine and atomic waste, yet there is enough easy access to the internet and technology that creates a virtual world so immersive you forget that it’s fake; escapism is now a crucial part of daily life. Not that that’s not the case in our own world. After all, there are so many easy, long-lasting avenues today for us to forget about the world as it slowly crumbles around us. It’s wonderful to imagine escaping reality being so easy, and yet, when we consider what happens when we neglect what we can actually touch, and the people we actually talk to…
While the idea of the OASIS sounds like fun, it actually terrifies me that such technology could someday intertwine with daily life in such an intimate, even necessary, way. We as humans have a strange relationship with technology in that our way of life requires it, yet we know it cannot replace connections with other real people. We spend so much time online because it creates a vessel for all our secret desires, yet we wish for those desires to become flesh—something we can touch and feel. But we don’t want to risk losing that fantasy, and tainting that fantasy with reality, so we never really seek to meld the technical with the actual…
Ahem, excuse me. Amid the maelstrom of 80’s media and futuristic speculation, there is time to ponder a topic like this.
Despite my aversion to what the OASIS represents, I was still rooting for Wade and his friends to save it. I almost literally tore through the last 150 pages, enjoying every moment of the final battle, the final confrontation, and all the other trappings of a good sci-fi/fantasy.
Something that did trip me up, though, was how everything seemed impossibly easy for Wade to accomplish. He was somehow able to maneuver through every problem, no matter how huge. Even when he was in the hands of the enemy at some point, he still managed to brush it off like it was some part of a grand plan. I understand a main character being smart, but it began to seem more like a plot convenience than anything else.
Some parts of the story do drag. You do have to sift through a lot of technical jargon, endless lists, and explanations in order to return to the action. Regardless, the stakes and the tension remained high in spite of these problems.
So it looks like I am due to go and watch the movie adaptation, since I’ve cleared the book just like one clears a game.