Welcome to another issue of Retro Mondays, where we prepare ourselves for the future by walking perpetually backwards down memory lane!
This week I’d like to bring you a short book review of a novel that released last year. I know, I know, something that came out last year can’t possibly be retro, but trust me, all you retro junkies are going to love this.
So, without further ado, here’s my review of a novel that topped many “Best of” lists last year: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, published in August 2011.
First things first, here’s some obligatory background information. Ready Player One is a slightly dystopian sci-fi novel set in the year 2044. It centers around the life of the protagonist, an impoverished, misanthropic, orphan teenager by the name of Wade Watts. Wade is a lot of things, but above all he’s a gunter. What’s a gunter? Let me explain. In the future, a man named James Halliday (a sort of Steve Jobs/Willy Wonka figure) invents virtual reality and christens it the OASIS. The OASIS is basically the internet and World of Warcraft rolled into one. Everyone spends most of their time inside the OASIS via their haptic suits and visors. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere and do anything, as long as you have enough credits. You can go to school, take on adventures, meet people, travel to worlds that would never be possible in real life, etc. The best part of the OASIS is that it’s absolutely free, just like James Halliday wanted it to be.
But when Halliday dies, the big question everyone wants the answer to is: who’s going to control the OASIS now that he’s gone? Well, Halliday, being the genius he is, devises a virtual Easter egg hunt. Whoever can finish the hunt first and find the egg will inherit everything Halliday has left behind, including complete control over the OASIS. Hallliday places the egg itself, three gates, and three keys throughout the OASIS and also leaves behind a set of clues for people to follow. The keys, gates, egg, and clues all have something to do with the things Halliday treasured the most: 80s/90s pop culture and retro video games. The individuals who have dedicated their lives to solving Halliday’s riddles are known as “gunters,” and Wade is one of the most passionate. To win the hunt, Wade must face a slew of trials and obstacles, not the least of which is IOI, the evil global corporation bent on winning the contest in order to charge people access to the OASIS and make the world kneel to their will. It’s a race against time, and Wade will have to make some friends along the way if he hopes to succeed. Game on.
Phew, okay, you still with me? Good. Now to the nitty gritty.
I really loved this book. Seriously, if you consider yourself a nerd or gamer in any capacity, you will enjoy it and take a lot away from it. Cline’s writing, while maybe not the most original or clever at times (he sometimes uses tired cliches) is entertaining and vivid. And thank goodness for that, because the scope of what Cline is trying to convey is just mind-boggling. The OASIS is massive! There are thousands and thousands of worlds at play in Cline’s book, and Cline is skilled enough to show us just what we need to know, when we need to know it. About half of the book is spent inside the OASIS where Wade assumes the role of his personal avatar and is empowered. But we also get to see just how clever Wade is in the real world, and how strange meeting in real life someone you’ve only ever talked to online can be. The book addresses some pressing issues and asks a lot of moral questions that the world is struggling with right now. The seemingly age-old question: “how much of ourselves are we willing to sacrifice for convenience and escapism?” is always at play.
Speaking of escapism, I’d like to address the self-indulgent nature of Cline’s novel. Now, normally, I’d say “self-indulgent” is a bad quality for a book to have. And maybe I’m just smitten by the material, but in Ready Player One, I think it works. And not just because of the subject matter. In order to solve the hunt, Wade learns all manner of video games, TV shows, music, film, art, comics, etc, and Cline makes reference to much of what Wade studies. Maybe this becomes tedious at times, but it’s wonderful to discover what inspired Cline to write the book in the first place. I think it’s also perfectly in character for Wade. If I were a teenager faced with the same challenge, I’d probably write my story in much the same way, documenting a lot of what I was studying because it would be extremely important to me. At any rate, those who already know a lot of what Cline references will feel completely validated whenever they come across an obscure title or song lyric they already know by heart.
I could go on and on about this book, but I think you should really just experience it for yourself. While it’s technically listed under adult novels, I’d say it’s really more of a young adult read. But that shouldn’t stop anyone interested in the subject matter from picking it up and giving it a try. If you need a little more incentive, the audiobook is read by none other than Wil Wheaton, who’s name actually shows up in the novel at one point. I’d also highly suggest doing some research on Ernest Cline, he’s practically James Halliday himself! The man owns a DeLorean! Talk about retro cool. It’s also available in eBook format, of course.
You can find everything you need to know about Cline on his website: ernestcline.com. Shortly before the book was released last year, Cline finished the screenplay for the novel. Yessir, Ready Player One is going to be a major motion picture! And you want to get in on the ground floor of this project, don’t you? I know you do, so pick it up today!