Updated on June 2, 2015
19. ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline
I’ve heard the buzz about Ready Player One for a while, and I finally decided to buy it after seeing it highly recommended by a Booktuber whose opinion I used to respect. Now I’m not so sure any more. This book is just awful.
Wade Watts is a teenager in a futuristic world, in which the fabric of society is collapsing and people are increasingly escaping to OASIS, an online computer game made up of thousands and thousands of different worlds. When the founder of OASIS dies, he sets a complex quest for all the players; the winner will gain ownership of OASIS and inherit his fortune. At first there is huge enthusiasm around the quest, with players becoming either ‘Gunters’ (‘egg hunters’, individual players) or ‘Sixers’ (employees of an evil corporation that wants to take over the game and plaster it with advertising).
I have SO MANY problems with this book. First, I’m not a fan of the ‘chosen one’ storyline anyway and Ready Player One is the worst example of this trope that I’ve come across. Wade is oh so humble and hard-working, and his finely honed knowledge will eventually lead him to complete the quest, but of course he won’t forget about his friends along the way because he’s just a boy from the sticks with noble aims and a golden heart. It might sound like I’m just hating on a nice character, but that’s not it: Wade’s actions often contradict his golden boy persona. For example, at one point he indirectly causes the deaths of hundreds of people and doesn’t seem even slightly cut up about it. Also, for someone who wants to save OASIS from the evil advertising Sixers, he’s oddly not afraid to sell out his name to promote products as soon as he gets the slightest bit of influence. It feels more like Ernest Cline has decided this character is good and, rather than actually making him that way, he just tells us about it at every opportunity.
The other characters aren’t much better. There’s the Best Friend who’s always got Wade’s back but isn’t quite as great as him, the one-dimensional archetype of a Villain in the leader of the Sixers, and the Love Interest with something to hide. In fact, they all have something to hide – most of the characters only know each other online, and when they meet in real life they must reveal what they really look like. The Best Friend is actually not a boy, but a black, gay girl! And a massive point is made of the fact that Wade is so good because he still likes her anyway (even though fucking obviously any half decent human would). Potentially even worse is the Love Interest, who says throughout that Wade won’t fancy her when he meets her. When they do meet she’s just as hot as her avatar, but she has a strawberry mark on her face. Wade (who has previously informed her what a nice guy he is) tells her that she’s beautiful (because she can’t reach that conclusion on her own) and they kiss. I’d like to see how good guy Wade would have reacted if she turned out to be morbidly obese. His nice guy head might have exploded.
As for the writing style … there isn’t one. Honestly, this entire novel reads like the first draft of a story, like Cline just hammered it out and never went back to edit. There are absolutely ENORMOUS exposition dumps, not to mention pages and pages of lists of 80’s pop culture. The idea is, the great quest is based around the OASIS creator’s favourite era – the 80s – so we get to hear about all the research Wade has done into the era, which will help him on his quest. This consists of lists of TV shows, movies and music – I mean PAGES of the stuff – which is not only boring but, I’m quite convinced, impossible for Wade to have consumed in its entirety. Yet we’re meant to believe that he has, and that he remembers it all with such clarity (because he’s a genius) that, when the quest demands he take on the lead role in the movie WarGames, he is able to run through the dialogue of the entire film without messing up. Yeh.
This book is just an absolute disaster, and I’m quite sure that most of the positive reviews have come out of pure nostalgia-blindness. Every other word is an 80s reference, probably placed there to make the reader think, “I remember that thing!”, but which just comes across as cheap and crass. The writing is somehow both fast-paced and dull, the characters are flat stereotypes and the storyline is thoroughly predictable. For a premise that could have addressed a lot of interesting ideas, it managed to avoid all depth and wallow instead in the shallow end of cheap nostalgia.
“As terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness.”
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.