Book Reviews: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Well… this is divisive, don’t you think?

I read this particular novel when filming of the adaptation began up the city of Birmingham. It’s one of those novels that gets hyped up hugely and yes, you can get swept up in it. I’ll admit, I love geeky things. I am obsessed with The Walking Dead (comics, novels, series, console and mobile games), I love Marvel and DC, I love Sonic and Mario as well as nearly all retro video games. Hell, most of you know I’m a huge fan of the 1980’s as a whole. Remember when I wrote those tales about Jack Blake as an homage to the 80’s action genre?

You’d think I’d love Ready Player One and that I’d be bouncing off the walls since the trailer for the film was released. Yeah… no.

I enjoyed reading it… to an extent. There are tons of problems with it which I’m not going to gloss over. To begin with, it’s an obvious love letter to the geeky 1980’s pop culture treasure trove that’s been mined quite a lot recently. The main character is Wade Watts, an overweight teenager who lives in the stacks (an admittedly creative way to convey the slums – dozens of trailers stacked on top of each other which I’m sure won’t be emulated at all!). I’m not going into great detail on the story as I’m pretty sure that most of you can deduce what happens from the basic details. Wade must use his knowledge of James Halliday to deduce where the keys are to discover his easter egg and gain ownership of the OASIS. The villains are IOI, headed by Nolan Sorrento. On his journey, he’s aided by his best friend Aech as well as Art3mis, Daito and Shoto.

Think about it; a poor kid with a gift comes across a plot device that kickstarts the main story along with a love interest, the death of a side character and a reveal about another.

Yep. It doesn’t do anything different

First off, we get it. It’s an homage to a bygone era that a lot of us (including myself) adore. However, if that’s your story’s main strength then you need to work on your tale some more. You’re not trying anything different, instead you’re borrowing too much from the past to compensate. All the beats are there; the hero gains, loses and in the end wins it all. This doesn’t even count as a spoiler as you can pretty much guess what is going on from the first chapter. Don’t get me started on the love story… oh boy. This might be a personal bias; I dislike love stories for the most part. They tend to detract from the narrative, feature unrealistic expectations and end in a sappy glow that most certainly would not happen in real life. Think about it. The love interest is Art3mis, a strong-willed gunter who is one hundred percent focused on her goal of finding the keys and discovering the easter egg. Of course she’s going to fall for Wade, break up with him and then reunite with him later on in real life (outside the OASIS). She’s a prize to be won, not a person with feelings, emotions and their own motives. This plot line could have been taken out and it would not affected the novel one iota. Just think of every film where this type of romance blossoms due to the idealised perception of the writer.

Secondly, while Ernest Cline has built up an interesting world, he doesn’t really do much with it. Society had come to a standstill, everyone lives online in VR and there’s a villainous mega-corp that rules the real world. Why not deconstruct the virtual reality? One part that irritated me was when Wade moves into his own apartment and, due to his weight gain (sitting around immersed in VR does not burn calories!) he decides to buy workout equipment and suddenly, he’s as fit as a fiddle. So instead of exploring the ill effects of living in the Oasis, he glosses over it with a lame explanation that reduces exercise to a mere handwave. If you hit the gym then you’ll know this to be a laughable explanation. No one is asking for a step-by-step critique of how he gets into shape rather it’s as though Ernest Cline wants Wade to have elements of a Mary Sue. I’m guessing the love story wouldn’t pay off if Art3mis saw his overweight self rather than the Adonis Ernest Cline wants him to be?

Thirdly, nothing about the supporting characters feel original or even memorable. Art3mis is just a love interest, Daito and Shoto are just there to add some variation and I-R0k is just a comic relief jerk who just pops up a couple of times with little to no effect on the plot. Aech is Wade’s best friend and he is revealed to be… Helen Harris. She is a black lesbian who uses a white male avatar to avoid scrutiny in the online world. Now, this could have been used to shine a light on the bullshit handed out by trolls online however during the reveal, it just feels like a hamfisted attempt by Ernest Cline to lecture the reader. Racism and sexism are sadly still prevalent in 2017 which makes the fact this is is relegated to a plot twist even more insulting. The prose is stilted as though it’s making it loud and clear to the reader ‘this is an awful, awful thing!’ without saying anything meaningful about it.

There are tons of things wrong with this novel. A lot of what is established could have been a good pay-off; show the consequences of the OASIS, get rid of the heavy worship of James Halliday and don’t shy away from the reality of the world they live in. Instead, Ernest Cline throws all of his 1980’s knowledge into the prose as though he’s trying to cover something up. I heard his second novel bombed and is even more reliant on pop culture (he doesn’t describe anything, he just compares it to a film/video game) which I honestly do not want to read. The fact he’s now writing a sequel to Ready Player One doesn’t bode well if he is returning to the novel that made him so big in the first place. Again, I did enjoy this novel in parts but I have a feeling this is going to become the next Da Vinci Code. At the time, EVERYONE was reading it and discussing the lineage of Jesus. Now, it’s a running joke akin to Twilight and the films haven’t fared much better.

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