Review of “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

When I was looking for a non-packed book to read, I decided I could no longer avoid this tribute to the 1980’s set in 2044, in light of all the positive reviews.

In a world devastated by wars, poverty, and disastrous political and ecological policies, anyone who has the financial means retreats into the virtual world of OASIS, a multiplayer online game that, as the hero Wade Watts recounts, “gradually evolved into the globally networked virtual reality most of humanity now used on a daily basis.”

The appeal was easy to ascertain. The real world was unpleasant and violent. In OASIS, you could make the world be whatever you wanted. You could even build your own private planet! You could be whoever you wanted as well. As Wade explains,

Before long, billions of people around the world were working and playing in the OASIS every day. Some of them met, fell in love, and got married without ever setting foot on the same continent. The lines of distinction between a person’s real identity and that of their avatar began to blur.”

[Thank heavens this never happens in real life! Um, well, except sometimes.]

OASIS was invented by eccentric James Halliday, who has just died as the book begins. Upon his death, a posthumous video is released announcing that Halliday’s billions will go to anyone who finds the hidden prize in a game he created before he died. He provides the first clue, stating that there are three hidden keys to open three secret gates. It is also made clear that finding the keys requires an immersion into the culture of Halliday’s favorite decade, the 1980’s.

Wade, age 18, is a loner whose parents are dead and who spends virtually [sic] all his time inside the world of OASIS. And since Halliday is one of Wade’s heroes, he also already knows a lot about him and his best-loved era.

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Like many of the so-called “gunters” (those searching for the treasure), Wade now spends even more hours watching reruns of 80’s sitcoms, listening to 80’s music, watching 80’s movies, mastering 80’s video games, and hanging out in virtual chat rooms with other gunters. After five years, Wade becomes the first one to accomplish the first stage of the quest. He is instantly famous, and his life is instantly in danger.

Several others join him at the top of the scoreboard, including his best virtual friend Aech, and his virtual crush, Art3mis. But the rival company of OASIS is also looking for the prize, and has the money and resources to threaten the lives of any individual seekers who experience success, such as Wade and his friends.

The game becomes a race against the clock, and a contest for more than money. And perhaps the scariest thing of all? In order to vanquish the bad guys, Wade has to meet his comrades in real life!

Evaluation: I enjoyed this book, but not as much as bloggers for whom The Eighties is more meaningful. Back then, I watched MTV a lot, but otherwise I was somehow Missing in Action. Also, I recently read Reamde (see my review, here), which I found to be a much more sophisticated look at life in a virtual world and the people who design it, play in it, and use it for other purposes. Nevertheless, this book was still an entertaining read, and I would definitely recommend it for those who are into playing any sort of computer games.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2011

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24 Responses

  1. I’ve heard a lot about Ready Player One, but for some reason I haven’t been drawn to it. (Maybe I’m too old LOL)

  2. I liked this one more than you did. I was familiar with some of the pop culture because of my own experiences and the rest from listening to Vance. lol

  3. Thanks for the honest review — everyone swoons over this book but I’ve been dubious, and you’ve confirmed my concerns. I spent a good chunk of the ’80s abroad and don’t have the emotional connect so many do.

  4. I’m not a gamer but I did grow up in the 80s so maybe I would like this book. All of the people who have recommended it to me in real-life have been Trekkie types so I wasn’t sure…And you cracked me up with the Thank heavens this never happens in real life comment!

  5. See, everything about this book was MY THING…the video games, the music, the movies. Plus my son is a pretty serious gamer now and I know all about Easter Eggs and this virtual stuff he can do. So this audio pretty much blew my geeky mind. I’m glad you read it though!

  6. I also loved this one, and listened to it with my whole family during a long car trip. They are all gamers and computer people, so they enjoyed it as much as I did. I was a middle-schooler and teenager in the 80’s so I got all the references and was all excited when I did. It was a fun book for me, and had me thinking about all those pop culture icons when I was young. Excellent review today! Even if you didn’t love it, I love it that you gave it the same care and consideration that you would a book you loved.

  7. My husband and I don’t read too many of the same books but we both read an enjoyed this one. It’s not a thinking kind of book but it was fun.

  8. I thought it was a bit of lightweight fun. I did get Reamde at your recommendation though … just haven’t gotten to it yet.

  9. another book I own, always mean to read and have not yet. in the 80’s I was buying a house, starting a new job..that I still have…dull, dull.

  10. Yeah, the eighties are completely meaningless to me and so are the nineties because my parents never let me watch or listen to anything and then I developed Stockholm Syndrome and basically refuse to listen to or watch anything until Firefly in 2004. Ah everything changed that joyous Christmas.

  11. I was wondering … I haven’t read it. I was in grad school in the 80s, didn’t watch much MTV, was out of the country doing research for some of, started my editing business .. I guess I was a grownup. LOL

  12. I didn’t do any gaming in the ’80s (except for the occasion round of Pac Man at the laundromat) but the premise of this novel sounds interesting to me. Maybe I’ll check it out.

  13. I grew up in the 80s but did not play any video games. So many have ranted and raved about this one so I was curious to read your review of it. I still want to read it so I’m checking to see if my library carries a copy. Thanks for the honest review!

  14. The geek in me loved this book plus it was relevant as the 80s were my decade. I haven’t read Reamde yet but I intend to… it’s just that Stephenson’s books are so looooong, it’s a big time commitment.

  15. I am not a gamer but I always remember the 80’s fondly. I remember my big permed hair, my stone-washed jeans, my Brat Pack crushes, and all of the awesome music sang by guys who looked a little like girls. I must read this at some point. The size is too much for me right now.

  16. I think you make a great point here. I loved this book because I was a child of the 80s and loved all of the references. It was like a flashback in time for me…

  17. My oldest loved this one and I have it on audio. I can’t wait to listen to it so we can talk about it. He’s fascinated by the 80’s!!

  18. I definitely liked this one more than you did … even though I was barely alive during much of the 80’s … I still thought it was fantastic!

  19. I have seen a ton of good reviews for this one and had gone back and forth on whether to bother with it but ultimately I don’t think it’s anything that interests me. There sure were a lot of people though who loved it.

  20. I enjoyed this one quite a lot but I’ve also heard that Reamde is much better. I have the latter on my wishlist, so I hope to get to it soon.

  21. It’s interesting you say that this book is much better for people who find the 80s much more culturally relevant because I feel like the people who are most into it are the ones who came of age in the 90s (my generation). Hmm. Honestly, the storyline doesn’t appeal much to me, but like you, I see review EVERYWHERE and maybe I’m missing out.

  22. I think I’m the only blogger I know who just did not like this one. I found the premise interesting but it got so repetitive for me. I will have to pick up Reamde to see if that one works better for me.

  23. I think this one is definitely a winner on audio–when i read for a second time (book club) and picked up the paper I could see some of the youth in the writing. I haven’t read Reamde but I have read his Snow Crash which I really enjoyed and also was reminded of while reading this one.

  24. I just came searching for this review on your site. Just finished it and as I was getting ready to review it, I thought – hmm, this is dystopia, I bet Jill has read it. And OF COURSE you have ;-)

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