Ernest Cline is a massive nerd, and oh boy are we lucky to have him. Ready Player One was his first published novel, and at the time of writing this review he has published one other novel by the name of Armada. He is also known for his screenplays, such as 2009’s Fanboys. For a first novel, Ready Player One has made a huge splash, earning many awards and winning a movie deal (which seems appropriate for a screenwriter-cum-novelist). It is, however, not Ernest Cline’s first foray into writing. That’s important in light of the sort of book Ready Player One could have been.
There’s some stuff I need to get out of the way before I get into the meat of this review, so stay with me for a moment please.
I have a rocky relationship with Whitcoulls, as I imagine many a seasoned reader does. I’ll not go into detail about it here, but a while ago I purchased a book there for $2 in the bargain bin. That book was not Ready Player One. It was called Game Runner and until today you’d never heard of it. It was about a young man in a dystopian future where everyone escapes life by playing an MMORPG that they are all addicted to.
It wasn’t a very good book. I could talk about why, but I’m not reviewing Game Runner, I’m reviewing Ready Player One (believe it or not). I bring this up because the two books share a premise. I don’t know which came first, and I don’t much care. I could google it, no doubt, but Ready Player One is a good book whether I google its release date or not. So as you read this review keep in mind that I have read the equivalent of Ready Player One done badly, and pity me ever so slightly.
As mentioned, Ready Player One follows a young man, Wade Watts, in a dystopian future where the world has gone to shit and everyone plays an incredible MMORPG. It provides its users with free education, has a currency which has bled into the real world and in every other regard but name has replaced the government and its functions. Buy that premise? Good, moving on.
In the game are a series of secrets, or ‘Easter Eggs’, and Wade Watts is one of a group of players who have made it their life’s calling to search for these three secrets. So far, no-one has found any of them. Whoever does find all three wins the multi-billion dollar fortune of the game’s deceased founder. There’s your plot, plain and simple, all laid out in the first pages of the book.
The game itself was designed by an uber-successful nerd with a love for the 80’s, especially its games. The book is filled to the brim with 80’s nerd culture, and some of it is obscure enough that readers who actually grew up in the 80’s won’t even know it. You won’t care though, because what matters isn’t your love of the 80’s, it’s Wade’s love of the 80’s. Ready Player One is a 300 page nostalgia trip. I wasn’t even alive in the 80’s and I found it awesome. The thing is though, I’m an avid gamer, so of course I loved it. Some people aren’t, and those people might not like this book. So is the book just pandering to gamers and cashing in on a combination of that and 80’s nostalgia?
Well, kinda yes…
There you have it folks, that’s the biggest flaw of Ready Player One. It’s indulgent as hell. It’s like eating chocolate for dinner only here’s the thing; you don’t feel guilty about it afterwards. In fact, you feel great! Chocolate is god damn delicious! You just ate a whole ton of it! Are you going to limit your enjoyment of that by fussing about nutritional value? Maybe normally you would, but tonight just shut the hell up for once and enjoy the chocolate you just ate. This is the experience of reading Ready Player One.
I found the plot kind of predictable. But then again, see above.
I found the prose a little simplistic. But then again, see above.
I felt the story played out its beats in a very unoriginal way. But then again, see above.
Does every book have to have some revolutionary, mind-blowing twist? No! It can just have a good enough twist. The characters don’t have to be entirely fresh concepts (we’ve certainly ready characters like Wade Watts before); they just have to be believable. And as evidenced by the existence of Game Runner, the whole concept of the world doesn’t have to be the only one of its kind either; it just has to be the best one.
I don’t mean to say Ready Player One is only good by comparison. I mean to say that if you think it’s possible for Ready Player One to be bad because it’s simple then you have no idea how easy it is to get a ‘simple’ book like Ready Player One wrong. Game Runner is evidence of that, as are pages upon pages of unpublished novels on thousands of gamers’ PC’s. You won’t read a better version of Ready Player One.
It’s not one of the greats, but it’s definitely one of the goods, and it’s well worth the read. Books don’t win awards for no reason.
If the fact that Ready Player One is simple ruins your enjoyment of it then I’m sorry to say that your fun compass is way off. You’re too busy thinking about the nutritional value, rather than the delicious bowl of chocolate you just ate.