In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
I borrowed this book from an American friend who was extatic about it. At the moment we’re both travelling through the UK, so I had to read it as quickly as possible in order to return it to her before she leaves the country. Fortunately, the British train system is both confusing and slow, so I could read a good chunk of it while being stuck in London. It is a nice and entertaining read, and I finished it long before my deadline. I later found out that this is the August read for the Little Book Club, which made me even more eager to discuss it.
The premise of the book is very interesting: a poor boy who lives in a dystopian future has to complete an Easter egg hunt in a virtual reality. Cline describes this world, the OASIS, in great detail, which makes it almost as lively for the reader as it is for Wade. Unfortunately, this makes the beginning of the book rather slow. The entire first quarter of the story is devoted to explaining Wade’s situation, the OASIS and the quest he wants to complete. There is no action but Wade going through an ordinary day of school. Though these descriptions are very interesting, they strike as a very detailed fantasy of the author rather than the actual beginning of a story.
The Firefly universe was anchored in a sector adjacent to the Star Wars galaxy, with a detailed re-creation of the Star Trek universe in the sector adjacent to that.
Cline’s tendency to lose himself in details also comes forward in his many references to ’80s pop culture. The creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, was obsessed with many ’80s films, tv series and songs, so in order to find his easter eggs, Wade has to immerse himself in this culture. Though Cline’s many references to ’80s pop culture may be nice geek material for other fans of the area, they serve no purpose for the story itself and only slow it down.
You know you’ve totally screwed up your life when your whole world turns to shit and the only person you have to talk to is your system agent software!
Several people on the Little Book Club forum have commented on the romance in the book, often agreeing that it slows the story down and “kills the momentum”. I, however, feel that it is a very important part of the story, as it raises many issues about online contacts and relationships. This romance is crucial for many of Wade’s realisations about the OASIS and therefore certainly does move the plot forwards.
USA Today describes Ready Player One as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix“. (You can read their very enthusiastic review by clicking here.) Though I can see where they are coming from, I don’t believe this novel deserves such high praise. The story is too detailed and needs some time to get going. However, as soon as the plot really takes off, it is an interesting and engaging read, that I can recommend anyone who is a fan of the ’80s.
p.s. If you’ve enjoyed this book, do check out the Ready Player One website, full of interesting extras, updates and drawings.