Friday, May 10, 2024

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I picked this up at a book store thinking I would finally read it. I had seen the movie version a long time ago and enjoyed that. Plus I'm a geek and fan of video games, science fiction, fantasy, books, anime, etc and was born in the 80s so I figured I would recognize a lot of the nostalgia hits this book is known for. Here's the Goodreads blurb:

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

Read on for my spoiler-free review.

Overall Impression

I remember seeing the movie version of Ready Player One many years ago so I was curious how this compares. While I don't remember all the details it was immediately obvious that this book is different. I remember the movie had more camaraderie between the characters, while this feels lonelier with its fixation on only the main character Parzival. The book also feels darker and grittier with depressing takes on how society can become. There are some light moments, but far less than I remembered the movie had, though it still has an epic conclusion.


There is a lot of exposition and info-dumps in this book. The author tries to portray how society has changed up to the 2040s but the only way it's done is by having the main character summarize what's happened. It's good to get a lot of information across, but it's a *lot* of information and while it's interesting, it slows down those sections of the story. It doesn't help that the second arc of the story is also particularly depressing as the tone shifts and the action slows down.

The whole plot starts off with some exposition and then the hunt for an easter egg hidden in the OASIS that will grant the user untold wealth. It's a simple premise, but heavily steeped in modern gaming culture. The hunt features deep trivia from the 1980s and old classic video games that take our characters to fantastical places. It's pretty funny to have wizards and robots and aliens bumping side to side in some crazy dance party. Folks familiar with some of today's games should feel right at home, even if they're not familiar with all of the references.


We spend pretty much all of the book looking at the world through Parzival's eyes. He is the main character and central to the story and is joined by others like Art3mis, Aech, Daito, Shoto, and others. Parzival is an uber-geek of 80s trivia especially as it pertains to James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS platform that everyone is using in that time. Everything he sees is tinted through that lens so there are an over abundance of  references to pop culture, music, movies, games, science fiction, fantasy, and other classic geek domains. Unfortunately, the story focuses almost solely on Parzival so we don't get as much from the others, which I think is a shame as it could have helped balance out some parts of the book or explored other perspectives.

Setting / World Building

This is an interesting near-future world that heavily extrapolates from some of the current trends in gaming, social media, the internet, and other comparable trends. The world is dystopian, with climate change and an energy crisis impacting most people. Most find refuge in an online experience- OASIS, a virtual reality that allows them to do all the things they would do shop, meet people, work, all from the comfort of their homes. It's addictive, dangerous, and a critical part of daily life. The whole world revolves around OASIS and what its users are doing there.

In my own life, I frequently play video games and also keep an eye on social media, so many aspects of this book were directly related to my experiences. The OASIS is pretty much several of the MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) I've played but taken to the next level. The greedy corporations buying up online spaces in order to monetize them is today's capitalism writ large. It's both depressing and instantly recognizable. I even got many but not all of the 80s references, though I was born in that decade so I didn't grow up playing an Atari or enjoying quite the same movies or books (except for much later in life). It does feel a bit odd that in the 2040s everyone is obsessed by the 1980s, but given the nature of the story and how powerful nostalgia can be it's not surprising. 

Final Thoughts

Overall this was a fun read. The world itself is quite dystopian, but the OASIS is incredible. It feels like a very natural evolution of today's online society, for better or worse. Some of the plot can feel a little sluggish with the exposition and the slowdown in the second arc of the book, but it has a good payoff at the end. The characters are OK, but not developed as well as the focus is almost solely on the main character Parzival and his obsession with the 80s, the hunt, and Art3mis. I think the concept behind this (and the nostalgia) was pretty good, though the narrative could have been better, both in terms of characters and plot.

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