Book Book Book Book
Commentary Commentary RSS Reviews Podcasts_Audio Podcasts RSS Blog Links Archives Indexes
Ernest Cline
Ready Player One
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Crown Books / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-307-88743-6
Publication Date: 08-16-2011
376 Pages ; $24
Date Reviewed: 08-14-2011
Index:  Science Fiction

Today, filled with bad news and worse, has become indistinguishable from the dystopian visions of old science fiction. Prophets of doom have to work hard to keep up with the network news, which for many is simply unwatchable. As it becomes increasingly unlikely that things will get better, our attempts to escape the world around us will become more serious. There's nowhere in this world left to run. Those for whom the solace of reading is too much effort can find refuge in the worlds we create online.

But for all the predictions of a world immersed in virtual realities, and the actual virtual realities that we have to hand, it is the written versions and visions of virtual reality that dominate our cultural consciousness. With 'Ready Play One,' Ernest Cline manages — using only the English language — to create a persuasive future even bleaker than our present and an enticing alternate reality that beats both our present and his future. Start reading 'Ready Player One' and you'll quickly forget about this world, and even the "real world" that Cline creates as a backdrop. Like his characters, you'll want to spend most of your time in the OASYS.

But don't be surprised if the real world, both yours and that of Cline's future, proves to be more persistent than you would expect. No matter how much you try, reality is pretty hard to leave behind.

'Ready Player One' begins with a Kennedy-esque echo, but not a happy one. "Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest." The contest in question unfolds in the virtual world of OASYS. Its creator, James Halliday, a cross between Howard Hughes and Steve Jobs, has died, and left his vast fortune to the first person who can find an "Easter egg" hidden somewhere in the literally limitless reaches of OASYS. Wade Watts lives in the stacks, crickety trailers piled one on top of another to form slums of the future, and he is determined to find that virtual treasure. The question for Wade is whether or not he can turn determination into destiny.

Cline's novel is an oddly sweet concoction of 1980's technostalgia, cut-and-pasted with a dire vision of what anyone today might see were they brave enough to just look around. The end has come, humanity has timed-out, and it's game over. All that's left is to enjoy the life you have left to live, and if that means spending your time wired up in a full-body haptic interface so you can game till you drop, then so be it. Cline's characters, Wade, "H" and the girl Wade loves, Art3mis, do have knack for picking their way through Halliday's maze. But in both the real and virtual world, the evil corporate competition is as ruthless as it is soulless.

Cline's characters come from a core of genuine affection, for the world we live in, the world we used to live in and the world we're heading towards with no brakes to push. There are real consequences for their actions in both the virtual world and the real world, so we care about them even if they can't some to physical harm in the OASYS. His computer geniuses have their obvious models, but they're as flawed as the real thing, which render them sympathetic. Corporate goons are just as shallow as the real thing, and just as annoying, which works well to drive the plot at a breakneck pace.

What ultimately makes 'Ready Player One' much more than just an upscale D&D module are Cline's excellent prose, characters we love and consequences that make sense. The prose lets Cline immerse readers into a complicated technological future with almost no effort. The characters are both garishly, cartoonishly heroic in the virtual world and (sym)pathetically weak in the real world. This strange combination gives both writer and reader the best of both worlds.

The consequences of all the over-the-top action in the virtual world — battles between giant robots and iconic videogame landscapes — are significant for Wade and for the reader. We need to fight these battles now, not in Wade's time. By then it may indeed be too late. Ernest Cline's virtual prose reality is just as immediate now, in our time, as OASYS is to the characters in his future. Readers won't just be well entertained. 'Ready Player One' literally speaks to us. We'd be well advised to listen.

Review Archive
All Reviews alphabetized by author.

General Fiction
Non-Genre, general fiction and literature.

Supernatural fiction, supernatural horror and non-supernatural horror.

Science Fiction
Science fiction, science fantasy, speculative fiction, alternate history.

Fantasy, surrealism and magic realism.

Crime, thrillers, mystery, suspense.

Non-Fiction, True Crime, Forteana, Reference.


Archives Indexes How to use the Agony Column Contact Us About Us