Ready Player One
by Earnest Cline
The year is 2045. Most of the world has succumb to poverty, war and environmental disaster. 18 year old Wade Watts, like most others, escapes his harsh reality by spending the majority of his time inside the OASIS, an immersive virtual world where anything can be created. When OASIS creator James Halliday dies, his will bequeaths his entire billion dollar estate and control of the OASIS to whoever can find the ‘easter egg’ hidden in the vast virtual universe. Wade Watts, through his virtual avatar ‘Parzival’, joins millions of ‘gunters’ (egg-hunters) vying to decipher the clues hidden in Halliday’s love for 1980’s pop-culture.
Author Ernest Cline was onto a winning formula when he combined a love for video games, retro pop-culture and dystopian-future sci-fi into a single novel. The popularity for Ready Player One has spread like wildfire and it’s no surprise that the novel has apparently been picked up by Steven Spielberg for a film adaptation.
Initially, I was confused about Ready Player One’s intended audience. On the one hand, the dystopian-future, teenage competitor setting naturally lends itself to young-adult fiction (think Hunger Games/Maze runner), however the 80’s references, of which this novel is jam-packed, are well before the time of any young adult readers. However, Ready Player One turns out to be a fun sprawling adventure of appeal across generations.
Millennials will immediately connect with the concept of the OASIS, having grown up with similar platforms on a much smaller scale. Meanwhile, anyone who spent their youth in the 70’s, 80’s or even 90’s will be right at home among the retro nostalgia that fills Ready Player One to the brim. However, the retro culture is more than just a few nods and winks to Cline’s glory days, it drives the entire plot of the novel. Following Halliday’s death, the world becomes obsessed with 80’s pop-culture and it undergoes an enormous resurgence. In the year 2045 everyone is listening to Blondie, reading Kurt Vonnegut, watching Ghostbusters and playing space invaders; anything to give them an edge in decoding Halliday’s cryptic riddles. In the OASIS, entire worlds are devoted to TV shows such as Firefly or act as realistic imaginings of ancient text adventure video games such as Zork.
Of course, in a virtual world anything is possible and this vast canvas allows Cline to bring to life his geeky fantasies. Ready Player One is a bit like when you were a kid and you would gather all your different toys together and make up epic stories for them. You would end up with Spiderman fighting a Street Shark and Stretch Armstrong massacring battalions of plastic soldiers. It didn’t make sense, but it was heaps of fun. Ready Player One is essentially Cline’s play-pen with which he has filled with all of his (presumably) favorite childhood and teenage pop-culture influences. Ready Player One is to geeks what 50 Shades of Grey is to middle aged women.
Ready Player One is at times tacky and every now and then strays into reading like fan fiction. The banter between Parzival and his online buddy ‘Aech’ will also make you cringe, particularly when they argue about the merits of the movie ‘Ladyhawke’. However, where Cline succeeds is in building a fun and epic adventure, chock full of imagination. The desperate reliance on the OASIS sends a not-too subtle message about the dangers of internet addiction and where our neglect of the natural world might lead us. But Cline never beats us over the head about this. Ultimately Ready Player One is all about the adventure and celebrating a simpler era.
Ready Player One is undeniably geeky, but Cline makes no apologies for this. It is a book that was clearly written to be enjoyed and to entertain, much like the pop-culture of the past which fills its pages; and in this Ready Player One succeeds.
Ready Player One can be purchased here.