Book Review – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This is truly an epic book. The scope of what Cline set out to do is immense and yet clearly defined by the synopsis on the back cover of the book. When I pick up a book I try to do so based on what it appears to be of its own merits. With the recent feature film announcement and my history as a geek/nerd and gamer it was hard to not have a preconceived notion about this book. That being said, the bar was set pretty high before I even cracked the cover. As a geek/gamer I would have to say that this book met that bar successfully. As an aspiring author and writer I wasn’t quite so fulfilled.

Simply from a standpoint of incorporating pop culture references from the 80’s Cline does an incredible job. While it is likely that the parts of the 80’s that are nearest and dearest to his own heart mimic those of Halliday it lends itself to a more intimate and explicit knowledge necessary for the Easter Egg Hunt. The tidal wave of pop culture references is both a strength and a weakness of Cline’s story. While essential and intriguing there are times where the references feel like a brain dump or an opportunity to name drop. Some of the references, like the mention of the X-wing in the hanger holds no significance to the story other than to say that he also included Star Wars amongst the impressive list of 80’s references. Sadly, the X-wing was not the only instance of this.

Cline’s choice for using an MMO as the background for this adventure is likely based on the extreme popularity of that style of game in the early 2000’s, while Cline was working on his book. Ready Player One was published in 2011 while World of Warcraft was going strong, if not at the height of its popularity. World of Warcraft wasn’t the first MMO, but by many standards it is still the most successful. His usage of the MMO is both prudent and resourceful. It allows questions of who a person truly is behind their avatar and the sociological inquiries into using video games to escape the real world tangible (albeit ficticious) examples. Cline’s usage of the MMO platform also allows for his imagination and familiarity with the 80’s to populate entire sectors of planets allowing for incredible variances in the setting.

The other thing I enjoyed about this book was the overall plot and outcome. Occasionally, as a sci-fi/fantasy fan I feel like the protagonist hits every possible snag in their journey on their way to the final goal. While Wade definitely has his fair share of trouble there are instances where he gets a break and doesn’t have to “fight” each and every battle.

As a writer the aspects of the book I enjoyed were markedly fewer. The more I write and edit my projects I’m learning about the unending list of things that are required for a story to read well and enjoyably. One of the most complicated things (for me thus far) is pacing, or making sure things happen at appropriate points. This is one of my primary issues with Ready Player One. It feels like there is a lot of exposition and background before much happens, including the finding of the first key and gate. Then a long break occurs in the gunters (egg hunters) progress until a rapid succession of achievements speed things along. Suddenly, the end is in sight. I just wish the gunters progression hadn’t made the second and third gates seem like throw away clues to keep the plot moving. As far as the timeline in the book it gives the same feeling. Halliday dies and five years pass before the first key and gate is discovered. Then less than a year passes and the egg is found and the hunt is over.

There are two other plot issues which keep me from giving this book a five star review and a stronger overall recommendation. The first is Cline’s and subsequently Halliday’s obsession with the 80’s should allow for plenty of material for hints, clues, locations, and gate challenges, but the third gate is ushered in with the use of an image from Rush’s 2112 album. A record that was released in February of 1976. Along with the stretch back to the late 70’s the clue leading to the third key and the doorstep to the eggs seem to simple, the cover art from the album. Years to discover the first key, months for the second, and moments for the third.

The other plot issue I have, and I won’t spend much time on, but is significant and should be addressed. IOI, the evil corporation, tracks down Wade and threatens his life. When he doesn’t back down they set off a bomb, killing him, or so they thought. They actually murder his Aunt and all the people living in her trailer and most likely everyone in the stack below. The issue is this. How are IOI, with all their technology, money, resources, and power able to track him down, but unable to determine his login location? And secondly, without getting lost in the confusion I have with the creation of his new identity, how does IOI go an extended period of time without realizing Wade’s avatar returned to OASIS?

Despite the issues or faults I have with this book, I will reiterate that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would indeed recommend it. I guess I just wouldn’t look at it as an instant classic, but more in a category similar to big explosion popcorn movies. Worth the read, but better if you don’t scrutinize and analyze.