Not long ago, I finished reading Ernest Cline’s debut novel Ready Player One, because everyone else was doing it and my book club assigned it. With stores plastering a signs next to it saying “soon to be motion picture!” the pressure was truly on. You know those kinds of people who read books before the movie release so they can bemoan how the book was oh my god, so much better? Yeah, I’m one of those. I’m even hoping to nab the BF’s copy of Cloud Atlas for that reason, but I’ll probably forget to ask. Also, I have this thing against reading something before the person who bought it reads it. It’s sort of like when you’re at a dinner, you buy a plate of food and you look over to see that your friend has already settled his/her fork into your plate of whatever so that they can see what it tastes like, and, no, that shit is never okay, because it is my plate of food, I get to try it first, and then you can have a bite. It’s just the law of the land! Would I guzzle down your martini/glass of wine/beer before you got to sample it? No. I wouldn’t. Because I’m not a dick. Same rules apply.
Ready Player One is a story centered around Wade (alias Parzival), a young dude who is impoverished, lives with his abusive and certifiably gross aunt, and escapes into the virtual world of OASIS, where people can’t judge him, make fun of him, or truly know him. The creator of the OASIS hides his vast fortune within the game and Wade is on a mission to find and claim the fortune, build a spaceship, fill it with junkfood and videogames, and tell the Earth to shove it. Along the way there is love, friendship, trials of those two aforementioned things, corporate espionage, corporate dickery, and at the end of the day, savior in the shape of Oregon. I’m not going to give you spoilers or a full plot outline (you can look at Wikipedia for that), but in its most basic, it is an adventure story—especially if you have any knowledge of the 80s.
At its worst, RPO is a bit flat in character depth. I really enjoyed all the characters, but at times the characters reminded me of the people I would meet back when I played WoW, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. Temperamental, egoistic, fawning over any girl that knows the difference between kobolds (you take no candle!) and snobolds, finding that all of their ideas are really badass when they really aren’t and totally upset when confronted with common sense… it isn’t surprising to me that most of the characters are under 20, because they felt that way, given that they all had the emotional depth of a protagonist from Jem and the Holograms. There are some tears and some frustrations, and no, no one is a Mary Sue or Gary Stu, yet nonetheless it is easy to get hung up on the 2D dimensions of some of the main characters. I personally found the greatest depth to be within the OASIS’ creator, because that truly was a deep and moving story.
However, that 2D dimensional quality is not to downgrade the effect of the story. The characters are painfully relatable for anyone who has found confidence or a sense of purpose behind a moniker. The recognition of yourself in the character who tries too hard to be taken seriously (Art3mis), feeling jaded when a friend abandons you (Aech), on a mission to prove yourself (Shoto), or going through a path of self-discovery (Parzival), rings deep and thoroughly, gripping that introverted part of you that indulged in games or found the simulated light of the computer to be more comforting than anything else. It’s wonderfully done, but also sort of scary, how easily I fell into remembering those days when I’d spend so many hours per day behind a hidden identity, fighting for manufactured money and glory…but it was more glory than I could obtain outside of the computer screen (but that’s a discussion for another post).
Also, if you’re paying attention to the depth of a children’s novel about video games and virtual reality, I kinda-sorta think you’re missing the point. The most exciting, page-turning aspect of the novel is the fact that you’re trying to figure out the references being spit out left and right. Sometimes they are gratuitous, but they’re always fun, in that “OH I REMEMBER THAT! I REMEMBER THAT!” sort of way, which is good, because hardly 3 paragraphs goes by without a reference to a slice of 80s media that everyone loves, or an obscure one that you can’t help but feel the author has a soft spot for. It is a semi-repetitive novel for this reason. I think it is about the puzzle, the race to the end, and beating the thinly veiled evil corporation from the innocents.
I’d say that it was a record that I teared up at the end, but depending on the level of wine pumping through my body and the time of day, I tear up at commercials. Still. It was sweet.
Overall, if you’re not a stick in the mud curmudgeon who needs to trudge through Anna Karenina lengths of book to find depth and accept that this is just going to be a fun ride with characters that are children and not bottomless pits of depth, I highly, highly recommend this novel. I inhaled it and, generally, enjoyed it. Conventional, definitely. Fun? Definitely.
Agree/disagree? Let me know below!