Ready Player One is a pretty popular (okay, that’s the understatement of the year—it’s hugely popular) dystopian sci-fi novel by Ernest Cline. The book is set in the year 2045, in a world in which many of the problems we are already starting to see today have come to a head—overcrowding/overpopulation, poverty, food shortages, gas shortages, etc.—and have left the world a dark and somewhat hopeless version of our own. Still recognizable—but much, much worse. In this version of the world, most people, including our main character, Wade Watts, spend the majority of their time plugged into a huge virtual reality world called the OASIS. The OASIS is better than the real world in almost every way, and in the OASIS, you can be whoever and whatever you want.
And what Wade wants to be is a “gunter” (short for egghunter), one of the many gamers in the OASIS who have dedicated their lives to treasure hunting. They’re searching for an “egg”, or a massive inheritance, left behind by the deceased creator of the OASIS, James Halliday. Upon his passing, Halliday announced that the egg was hidden somewhere in the OASIS and whoever found it got to keep his entire fortune, as well as gain sole control over the OASIS itself. The search for the egg is like a giant virtual reality scavenger hunt. But it’s been five years since the hunt began, and so far no one has made an inch of progress.
Until Wade does.
Once Wade finds the first “key”, the first major clue to the location of the egg, the gunter world is set aflame with a renewed interest in the hunt, and it puts Wade in a much more exciting and much more dangerous position than he ever could have imagined. Suddenly, he’s just a plain, eighteen-year-old kid who’s been launched into superstardom and is faced with one of the most daunting and exhilarating tasks ever.
I originally picked up Ready Player One because it was one of those situations where a lot of people online said things like, “hey, if you liked Ender’s Game, you’ll really like Ready Player One.” And I do like Ender’s Game, so I thought it would definitely be worth checking it out. Plus, its already rampant popularity is only growing with the upcoming March 30th release of the movie adaptation, helmed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke. I grabbed a copy of the book at Barnes & Noble one day, and to be honest, my only regret is not reading it sooner. I should have cracked it open and started reading it before I even paid for it, because holy crap y’all, I LOVED this book.
Have you ever picked up a book and gone into it totally unsuspecting, and then you ended up identifying with it so hard that it just totally gob-smacked you? That’s basically what happened to me here, and is one of the big reasons why I enjoyed this book so much. I knew I was going to love Wade and this book as soon as I got to the part where Wade explains that he uses knowledge of “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan to center himself and calm his anxieties—which is literally exactly what I do. Reminding myself of or listening to the words of Sagan is one of my biggest go-tos for putting things in perspective and is, in fact, why I got a tattoo of a quote from Pale Blue Dot. So right off the bat, I knew our MC was a kindred spirit.
But Wade wasn’t the only awesome character in this book—far from it. I think it would be hard not to totally love Art3mis, a fellow egg hunter, gamer, and blogger who Wade meets after having a long-time cybercrush. She’s pretty much a quintessential lovable badass, but one of the most likable things about her is that she comes across as much more real than a lot of people in the OASIS. Whereas many people in the OASIS create supermodel or bodybuilder bodies for themselves (you can be whatever you want, remember?), Art3mis presents herself as a virtualized version of her real body—a little short, curvy, and not trying to hide it. She even gets the opportunity to release a clothing line for curvy gunter girls in the OASIS, rather than playing into the big-boobed, tiny-waisted, perfect-at-everything, Lara Croft-esque stereotype that for some reason seems to get attached to gamer girls at every turn.
Aech, Wade’s best friend in the OASIS, is an extremely likable character, as well. At the beginning of the book, he comes off as simply a fun-loving, ball-busting bro, but once you learn more about Aech’s backstory and life (which I won’t say here so as to avoid a big spoiler for the book), the character becomes even more likable and someone who I think more readers would be able to identify with and perhaps see some of themselves in.
Another big success of this novel is the dystopian setting. First of all, y’all already know I’m a sucker for dystopian…but that being said, I have to admit that some futuristic and dystopian settings can get really tired, and I feel like I see a lot of the same impending catastrophe thing redone over and over again. The future revealed in Ready Player One doesn’t feel that way at all, and in fact, feels very, very real. I was so interested in it because as I touched on earlier, it really seems like something that could actually happen. There’s nothing over the top, supernatural, or even unimaginable happening here. In a book like Bird Box, which I previously reviewed, there is something fictional that is the catalyst for the realistic breakdown of society, whereas in Ready Player One, all we’re seeing is an amplification of problems that are already happening, so it really requires us to suspend almost no disbelief. For that reason, it’s also extremely impactful, as we can look around us and think, “Is this what our future is really going to be like? Could this really be us?” I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue me to the death on this, but in my opinion—the answer is yes. This could be us one day.
In that way, I think Ready Player One makes some subtle societal commentary, which I really enjoy. I can always appreciate some commentary on society or mankind in general that doesn’t beat people over the head with *ImPoRtAnT LiFe LeSsOnZ* (don’t even pretend like you don’t know what I mean), which I think Cline pulls off successfully here. And let’s be serious, that’s a fine line to walk.
Obviously, one of the huge aspects of this book is the gaming/virtual reality aspect of the book, which is something I really enjoyed and really identified with. In today’s day and age, I think it’s more common than ever for people to retreat into a virtual version of themselves—whether it be the Best Face Forward version of themselves that they present on their carefully tailored social media or a dragon-slaying, magical sword-wielding, Elven armor-wearing warrior who’s being extremely careful not to take an arrow to the knee—it’s something that everyone who has any access to technology can identify with at least on some level.
I personally love video games (I’m not saying enter me into a tournament, but I am copping to disappearing for two or three days into an RPG at some point in my life) and a major geek, so the video game aspect was definitely a lot of fun for me and really enjoyable. I think anyone else who is a big geek or gamer will really, really love this theme of the book—but I don’t think you have to be a gamer to love the book, and I’ll talk a little more about that later.
And if you’re not into the gaming references, maybe you’ll be into the 80s references—80s references galore.
The eccentric billionaire mentioned earlier—the one who left his fortune behind for one lucky winner—grew up in the 80s and remained obsessed with 80s pop culture for the remainder of his life, so when the hunt for his fortune began, 80s pop culture reigned supreme once again, as gunters immersed themselves in movies, music, books, video games, TV shows, and even commercials from the 1980s searching for clues as to where the egg was hidden, which brought about a resurgence in 80s fashion and a newfound appreciation for the art and media of that decade.
“By 2041, spiked hair and acid-washed jeans were back in style, and covers of hit ‘80s pop songs by contemporary bands dominated the music charts. People who had actually been teenagers in the 1980s, all now approaching old age, had the strange experience of seeing the fads and fashions of their youth embraced and studied by their grandchildren.”
This is perhaps not an unpopular phenomenon, as people often claim that fashion is cyclical, with many of the same trends coming back around again (as we see on the regular). And as I’ve mentioned before, the 80s are having a bit of a moment right now, with the popularity of Stranger Things and the resetting of movies like It into the big-hair decade itself—but then again, maybe the 80s are always having a moment. Between the constant return to the movies, 80s-themed parties, and the irresistible urge to belt out classic 80s tunes, it does seem to be a decade we can’t quite let go of.
If you’re in that same boat, you’ll love the immersion back into that decade that takes place in Ready Player One, with references to everything from Rush to Billy Idol, Ghostbusters to The Breakfast Club, and other popular geekdom references that nerds of all types will appreciate—World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars, and more.
Don’t worry, though, the book isn’t just a list of references and shout outs to favorite video games and pop culture—Cline actually skillfully weaves these references into an exciting plot that is constantly moving and was really adept at holding my attention. If at first it seems like just some sort of silly virtual reality game, you’ll realize pretty early on that the hunt has some serious real world implications and it’s actually a very high stakes situation. I was on the edge of my seat most of the time, and when Wade would make certain decisions, I was frantically flipping pages trying to figure out what exactly he was thinking and what influenced him to do what he did, as I reassured myself there had to be a reason for this crazy twist (and there always was). Wade (AKA Parzival in the OASIS) does eventually get to come face to face with his OASIS friends in the real world, which was also really high stakes for me, as I waited, holding my breath, to find out if this was going to be a literary-Catfish situation (by the way, when this book was written, Catfish wasn’t even a TV show yet. What a dark time).
Now, you all know I always like to try to balance out my reviews, but there really wasn’t much that I disliked about this book. If there were literally anything at all that I disliked about this book, it would be this one slightly cheesy line at the very end that had me feeling a little “sounds fake, but okay”.
But since there’s not too much that I really disliked about this book, I wanted to take this moment to kind of address some of the challenges I’ve noticed other people having with this book. As you know, I spook around in the world of bookstagram quite a bit (follow me here hiii shameless self promo hiii), and I’ve seen a few people saying they couldn’t get into this book and talked to a few people who weren’t sure if they would like it. Because I honestly feel that this is a really good book that makes a lot of important observations about not just the world we live in but also the way we present ourselves, I thought maybe addressing a few of these would be helpful to encourage people into reading it, rather than giving up before giving it a chance.
Granted, it just won’t be for some people. I get it. Everything is not for everyone. If the only type of books you like are books about princesses and fairies, then yeah, stick to books about princesses and fairies. You will find none of those in Ready Player One (save for a few for-looks-only appearances by princesses in a coin op video game or two). I love my fair share of princesses and fairies, of course, but I have pretty diverse reading tastes, so I’m more than open to other things, which I think is an advantage because I discover so many books that I really adore. But at the end of the day, if you don’t like this type of book, then you don’t like it, and there’s nothing that can be done about that.
But if you’re apprehensive or just not sure if it’s for you for one of the following reasons, maybe I can help.
Video Game References/Not a Gamer
I’ve definitely seen a couple people say and talked to a couple people who feel that they will not enjoy this book because they aren’t gamers. And to be honest—you really don’t have to be. It’s not like you’re not going to get what’s going on if you haven’t been playing Legend of Zelda since before you came out of the womb. It’s okay.
Most of what you need to know—how the OASIS works, what the video games that Wade/Parzival is playing are—is explained in the book. It’s not like the author makes some obscure reference to a game and then expects you to follow along blindly. So for example, I play video games, but I didn’t know what some of the arcade games or coin op games were that Wade was playing. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t follow the plot—the narrator would explain what the game was and how it worked so that we could see what he was doing. You might appreciate some of the references a little more if you’re a gamer, but that isn’t to say that you won’t understand what’s happening.
As far as the OASIS theme and the concept of living in a virtual reality or as an avatar of yourself, I really don’t think that’s such a far-fetched thing to be able to identify with. As previously mentioned, we all put forth some virtual version of ourselves, whether it’s a tailored look at our lives via Instagram, the best and wittiest of our thoughts via Twitter, or an avatar in a video game. This isn’t an out of this world concept that only gamers will understand. It’s more of a modern day concept than anything.
So don’t let the fact that you’re not a gamer hold you back from reading and really enjoying Ready Player One—it’s a moot point and a nearly non-existent obstacle. Basically, if you exist in the world today and have absolutely any concept of technology whatsoever, you’ll get it. Y’all are smart. You’ll pick up what’s going down.
Another objection I’ve seen to this book is that it “seems weird”. Well, sure. But isn’t that a good thing? There are definitely some super “weird” moments in Ready Player One, but I think the “weirdness” most people pick up from it is the OASIS/living in a virtual reality concept and the futuristic setting. To which I would say: it’s sci-fi. It’s extremely relevant sci-fi, but at the end of the day, it is a sci-fi book, so if that is something you wholeheartedly object to, that may be why it seems “weird”. But in defense of the book, I would say that it’s one of the less weird sci-fi books out there. Rather than constructing some alternate-universe world where everything is different from our own, this takes place in our own world—just a much more extreme version of our own world. Trust me, it’s pretty easy to get on board with (especially if you’ve ever gotten on board with any of several popular franchises which have much more unbelievable versions of the world, like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings).
Too Much Information
I’ve also heard some people complain of “info dumps” in this book, which is the kind of thing that just makes me feel like some readers will never be happy no matter what you do—and that’s true, and there’s not much we can do about it. It seems like if the author hadn’t given us ample information, people would complain that they didn’t get what was going on because they weren’t gamers or didn’t understand the 80s references, whereas when he does give us information, then they complain of info dumps. Yes, there’s a lot of information in Ready Player One—there’s a lot of pop culture to explore and a lot we need to know. But I always felt that Cline did an excellent job of weaving it into the narrative and into the world building, so we could sort of immerse ourselves in it and watch the world be created around us while also picking up the things we needed to know to follow along with Wade’s journey. By no means does it read like a text book or an exhaustive Wikipedia page, so don’t let that hold you back!
Alright, alright, I’ll wrap things up. Trust me, I could go on for ages about this book, and you may see another blog post about it in the future, but I know this one is getting a little lengthy. I have a lot to say! There’s much more amazingness I didn’t touch on—from the “POV” channels that sound like Cline was able to accurately predict the perhaps perverse future of YouTube to the absolute deplorability of the rival gunter group, the Sux0rz (okay fine they’re called the Sixers)—but this is why you need to read the book! So you can see all the amazingness for yourself!
By this point, I probably don’t need to tell you that I rated this book a 5 out of 5 stars.
It is so, so good, and I highly recommend it—even if you’re a bit apprehensive, you should definitely give it a chance. Even though I’ve purposely avoided watching too many trailers for the upcoming film adaptation so as not to skew my own visions and perceptions of the book, I am definitely going to see it in March. I already know the book will be better because, be serious, the book is always better than the movie…but I’m still excited to check out Spielberg’s vision of the novel brought to life (even though I already know one thing they changed and I’m a bit grumpy about it lol).
What about everyone else? Have you read Ready Player One? What did you think? Are you going to see the movie? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk. <3