Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One

Ready Player One is an awesome thrill ride. Don’t know how else to describe it. Wade Watts is a gamer and hacker in a dystopian 2044. The world has changed, for the worse, and people all around the world log into the OASIS, a virtual reality wonderland, to escape the drudgery and horror of everyday life. The OASIS has permeated society to the point that Kids even go to school virtually. Wade lives with his aunt in a trailer, in what is basically a slum, but also has a hideout where he spends all his time logged into the OASIS. All his free time is devoted to winning a game, set in motion several years before by the creator of the OASIS- but he is not the only player. All over the world gamers and hackers compete to win the prize- a fortune and control of the OASIS. Clues were left behind by the creator of the OASIS- clues rooted in pop culture references from the 1980’s, his favorite decade. 

Everyone has an avatar in the OASIS, and this avatar is often more important to the player than their real life persona. Wade goes by the name Parzival in the OASIS, and when he uncovers a clue to the first puzzle in the game, he may have just taken a step into the big time. The problem is, another gamer makes the connection at the same time. Art3mis (named after the Greek goddess of the hunt) shows up, and the race is on. Art3mis is a well known gamer and blogger, and when Parzifal meets her he finds himself falling for her. Art3mis seems to have feelings for him too, but for her the game (and the prize) come first.

This is more than just a gamer competition though- there is also a company called Innovative Online Industries (IOI) that wishes to gain control of the OASIS and monetize it. And they don’t play nice. At stake is the virtual reality simulation that the entire world uses. Wade soon finds himself in danger outside the OASIS as well as in the virtual world. Tragedy strikes and Wade finds his life, both online and off, changed forever. Can he and Art3mis survive the game?

This book is just so much fun. The OASIS as described is fantastic, and the concept of clues buried in 80's movies, music and pop culture is unique.I actually thought the beginning of the book was a bit depressing, so in that sense the author succeeded in evoking the dystopian tone he was no doubt looking for. Once the pace picks up and things start happening, it turns into a real page turner.

Some personal highlights for me- getting to go inside the Tyrell building, from the movie Blade Runner, was a guilty pleasure of the first order. Love the way the author did it.  If you have a favorite movie from the 80’s, you may find it makes an appearance here. Having the classic videogame Joust play a prominent role in the story, as well as references to arcade chain Aladdin’s Castle, made me smile.

I do have some quibbles about the story. There are references to various programs and social media, such as Saturday Night Live and Youtube, that kind of took me out of the story. Does anyone think that SNL will still be on in 2044, or that Youtube will be just like today? Also Wade is something of an uber- hacker, but he’s only in high school. Sure there are good hackers that are young, I have no doubt, but some of the things Wade pulls off just strain credulity to the breaking point. I mean, really. The author lost me a couple times with that, but I just accepted it and moved on. Also, the last third of the novel just really stretched my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Wade makes a decision that risks his entire future, and bases it on a very risky gamble, and I just couldn’t buy it that anyone would risk all on such a flimsy hope.

The other issue I have is the nature of the narrative. There is plenty of good dialogue, but this is a very expository book. There are just pages and pages of description, both of the state of the world and of Wade’s own narrative. After reading books recently with lots of dialogue and witty repartee, this was an adjustment that, frankly, took me a while to get used to. Having said that, this is still a fascinating read. The ending was good, and has a great message about what’s important in life. It was also nice to have no cliffhanger, no wait for a sequel- just a good solid ending. The most fun here are the 80’s pop culture/ geek references, and the sheer imaginative scale of it all. A very impressive first novel.

From Goodreads:

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. 

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune--and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them. 

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig. 

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. 

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt--among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life--and love--in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape. 

A world at stake. 
A quest for the ultimate prize. 
Are you ready?


  1. Great review. I had a fun time reading this book, and I really enjoyed the first section of it, but the later sections were just a bit problematic for me. I still had a good time though.

    1. Thanks Pamela! I definetly thought the first part was more realistic, the last third or so just was too much. Just wasn't buying that everything would fall into place like that. He just kept pulling these references out though and it cracked me up at times.