Ready Player One Review – Too Much of a Good Thing

Ready Player One Review

Izzie’s Rating: 3 / 5
Characters: 3 / 5
Story: 3 / 5
Pacing: 3/ 5
Ending: 2 / 5

Ready Player One was suggested to me by a fellow geek and literary fan after I mentioned my goal to read more in 2013. When she explained the premise, I was instantly sold – in a not-so-distant dystopian future, real life is so broken and miserable that the vast majority of humanity spends most of their time in a super-high-tech, fully immersive virtual world called the O.A.S.I.S. (very reminiscent of Caprica’s “V-World”). Previous to the timeline of the book, the creator of this technology, James Halliday, has died and left Earth with the ultimate quest – find the “egg” hidden deep within the virtual world and inherit his entire fortune, including control of O.A.S.I.S. Needless to say, this puzzle piques the interest of the entire planet – including greedy uber-corps that threaten the freedom and sanctity of the otherwise open world (sound familiar?).

Ready-Player-One-Review-CoverThe story plays out like a typical hero’s journey, the adventure of four young enthusiasts as they try to be #1. The whole spiel sounds great, in theory. And it was certainly fun at points. But unfortunately there were a handful of issues I had with the book that greatly hindered my ability to enjoy it as much as I could, or perhaps should, have.

While the book includes footnotes detailing the infinite culture references that are literally strewn about on every page, it’s still at times distracting and almost shaming. I’m sure author  Ernest Cline had no intention of assuming every person who picked up this title would know everything referenced, hence the notes, but it takes away from the fun.

I’m a nerd for sure, but a selective one. I’m just not the type of person who’s going to try and know everything about the entire history of geek culture, and I’m completely content with this. But since the vast majority of story centers around a man’s obsession with 1980’s geek and pop culture, and the 80’s is a decade I just personally do not have much of a fondness for, much of what should have spoken to me was lost.

Because of this, many of the moments that I knew should have been “Hey, that’s awesome!” were just mediocre. Every now and then I’d get a reference or an outright mention of something I loved, and those moments were pretty fantastic. So it seems as though the more you know, the better the book will be.

My other big issue was that it felt like the story was way too “try-hard”, ironically because of its obsession with smashing in as many nerd culture references as possible, including aggravating use of “leet”ish verbiage. Newb, Hax0r, faggot, pwned. Spare me.

It reminds me not too much of the movie Gamer: in both instances the focus of trying to be authentic ultimately feels unnatural and forced – and it detracts greatly from an otherwise great concept. Some stuff just doesn’t translate well from fantasy to “reality”, so to speak.

The protagonist is relatable to a point but also a bit two-dimensional. He just feels so typical. Awkward, socially inept,  and with way too convenient of a skill set.. His companions aren’t much better, but as a group they are a well-rounded crew. The most in-depth personas belonged to secondary characters – from the cold hearted main villain to the almost jolly fairy-god-poppa we find in Og.

It isn’t a terrible book, by a long shot. It does ask us to reflect on a lot of issues we presently face – battles between free information and corporate control, the steady decline of modern society, loneliness and companionship, and the ever-growing use of entertainment media as a means of escapism. But all of that seems vastly under-explored and overpowered by the desire to make this feel like we’re following a character through a game.

I think anybody who’s looking for quick, easy to digest read who happens to love the 80’s will greatly enjoy it. The more casual among us may find the book more frustrating to get through, though.

In either case, Warner Bros has the rights to the book, and I have a good feeling that the story will translate a lot better into film and is something I would look forward to seeing. Cline has also mentioned in passing that a sequel is definitely being considered, but is not a priority for the time being. He has said that he plans on doing more stories within the same world, if not a direct sequel.