“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

A selection for one of my book groups, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was something both I and my husband wanted to read. It does a clever job of handling how to include 80’s geekiana in a book without making it set in the past or conveniently obsessed with it in the present by setting it in the future. A rich, Asperger-y Bill-Gates-y guy dies in the 2040s, and leaves his fortune to whoever can solve the riddles he leaves behind in the virtual reality he created, The Oasis. Turns out we destroyed the planet and spent more and more time playing with gadgets till people barely went outside and interacted, and The Oasis became exactly that–what people retreated to. Wade, an orphaned teen, manages to solve the first riddle then becomes enmeshed with others–some honest, some evil, none in between–seeking the fortune by solving the riddles.

It’s like Westing Game with a dash of Ender’s Game, but just a dash, because while this is a fun read, especially for those of us who grew up on the same pop culture diet that’s celebrated in the book, it’s not much beyond that. It’s a boy book: young orphan boy goes on quest, makes friends, finds (chaste) love, fights evil empire, is helped by benevolent old man. Fun, but it doesn’t ask any complex questions and the characters never quite got three dimensions, which is perhaps unsurprising in a book about virtual reality.

It’s also the kind of book that prompts nagging questions after its over that leach away at my opinion of it. The expository opening is awkward; its purported audience would know the history of the world till then, though its actual audience doesn’t. In a critical scene in which the main character is threatened, a simple statement of fact would prevent something bad from happening. Then, when that something bad happens, it never feels like its given believable weight. A character is described as Rubenesque, but is 5′7″ and 168 pounds. (Was it in The Pick Up Artist that Robert Downey Jr. tells Molly Ringwald that she has the face of a Chagall and the body of a Rubens? Yet, I don’t think the reference in the book to Rubens is ironic.) A character at the end has long hair, when long hair makes no sense in this future, virtual society.

I really wanted to love this book, and I merely liked it. I tore through it, though, and had fun while I was reading it. In the end, though, it felt like watching one of those “I Love the 80’s” shows. Fun, funny, but with questionable long-term value.

One Response to ““Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline”

  1. Kate Says:

    Very similar response–though I had real issues with the quality of writing. I wanted to love the book, but there were just too many times I was pulled out of it with the thought, “wow, that was a really bad sentence/line of dialogue.”