Because I’m always the last one on the block to glom onto anything, I just finished Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. I had put off reading it for so long just because it was so popular, but I unexpectedly found myself with a few Audible credits so I got it as an audio book, mainly for Wil Wheaton.
Now, I didn’t hate it, but I suspect I might have enjoyed it more had I just read it, rather than listened to it. Nothing against Mr Wheaton. His performance was actually fantastic, the voices, sound effects and characterization were spot on. But I read pretty fast and while the unabridged audio book was 15+ hours long, I likely could have finished it in a couple of nights if I’d read it. I’m not sure the audio format is good for popcorn fare like this.
But back to the book. It was a light and entertaining tale, considering it was set in a fairly grim dystopian future. Briefly the hero, one Wade Watts, lives most of his life inside a giant totally immersive video game – the Oasis. Pretty much everyone else exists there too, as there is nothing in the bleak world outside it to live for. When the owner/creator of the game dies, his estate, including the Oasis, is made the prize in a giant puzzle quest set inside the game. Win and it is all yours.
The quirk, and the reason why this book was so wildly popular, is that the creator of the Oasis, James Halliday, was obsessed with the pop culture of the 80’s and so much of the Oasis, including all of the puzzles and clues relating to the game refer to the movies, video games, TV shows and music of the 80’s. Cline drops reference after reference to well known and obscure game lore, movie lines, song lyrics, manga cartoons, and 1337 hax0r knowledge, (often in place of actual plot or character development). Not surprisingly this resonates with a certain segment of the population, for whom all these references bring back their childhood in a warm, nostalgic rush. This explains the squee that accompanies most reviews of this book. I am older, by 5 years or so, than this crowd, but I suspect it is a crucial five years. My family had Pong and Intellivision, I memorised every line of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (and can still recite most of it) but the warm fuzzies of the pop cult references just didn’t do it for me. I found the writing predictable and this is where I think the audio book thing comes in. It was full of clichés and I could see them coming as it was being read. It might not have been as obvious to me had I been reading it. I would have liked to know a bit more about the grim dystopian world of the outside. It is not as much implied as obliquely suggested, that the Oasis itself is the reason for the collapse of civilisation. It’s like Homer Simpson said “Beer, the cause of and solution to all life’s problems.” He may as well have been talking about the Oasis. No matter how poor (and Wade, at the outset, is poor) everyone seems to have access to the Oasis on some level.
If there is a sequel, as Cline is supposedly working on, I’ll read it. As it there is less reason to cram it full of nerd trivia – it might actually need a story to prop it up – I suspect it will be a bit better.