I have not had as much time to read books as I would like lately, but many people kept telling me about Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, mostly because of its fresh take on an expanding genre and its video game setting. Even with knowing so little about the plot, my interest had been piqued for a tale that, if nothing else, at least looks to be a good kick in the nostalgia pants.
In this future fictional world, things are a lot bleaker and humanity hides away in a video game construct known as the OASIS. The man who created what is now an essential life tool has died, leaving a challenge in his will: a quest to uncover three keys and corresponding gates within the OASIS that would unlock a life-changing reward. Wade Watts is a gunter; someone who is hunting the prize left behind by a man he has never met, but knows everything about. To solve these riddles and find the keys, Wade—in his alter ego of Parzival—will have to study a line of old games, movies, and music if he wants to win the game, all while an army of corporate Sixers has his number. Catchy, right? Needless to say, the action ramps up quickly. After years of inactivity, the stakes are raised when Wade makes the first real discovery and finds his name at the top of the scoreboard.
Once the premise is established, things move along with a steady pace that makes sure the book is never boring and constantly building anticipation. Cline’s writing is easy to love, setting up the bleakness of reality and fantastic imaginary worlds recreated from pop culture, all in a few short paragraphs. The characters in Ready Player One are relatable and flawed, with some fun characterization twists, even when they are slightly predictable. Wade and his friends share engaging relationships, with some fun and authentic back-and-forth bickering and flirting. This is accomplished without the three main characters sharing many scenes together, but it works because each of them are seamlessly integrated into the world in short scenes that generate easy-to-grasp motivations and goals. The bad guys are truly evil in this story, again only needing a moment to reaffirm their position, and though most of the book takes place in a set video game world, death is a real possibility.
As expected, the book was chock-full of nostalgia, especially for those who grew up in the 80s and 90s. Some parts were almost like reliving many favorite movies and games from my youth, making me want to experience them again. The level of detail put into these sections and the wide array of geek culture brought a smile to my face, with each new name-dropped dopamine rush helping me relate to the characters more and more. These nerd references are not just for show though, as not only do the fictional lands come to life in the OASIS, but many relic items from some of the strangest books, shows, and movies are usable in the game worlds. I do not want to spoil too much, but let us just say that when Ultraman made an appearance, I was sold. Cline also incorporates a lot of made-up science fiction terminology for his world into the story, and although it took a bit, by the end, these words felt natural, which is not always easy to do.
The book was overall enjoyable; a fun trip through a set of worlds I loved, with many of my favorite things, and characters that I didn’t have to force myself to care for. There were so many moments that I was genuinely excited to see what would happen next in the quest, even if some sequences were too transparent, and the ending felt a bit rushed. The book’s themes were solid and covered a lot of ground, even with the obvious “shut the game off now and then” feeling like it fit in the end. This is a book that had me arguing with myself whether I wanted to keep reading or go play games, something that does not happen often. I have few real complaints about Ready Player One, I have already recommended it to many, and would gladly read something else by Cline. That is some of the highest praise I can give.