Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This book came around with little fanfare in my library and I find that a crime. Few people talked about it or promoted it despite the fact that it was on the New York Times Bestsellers List for weeks. At the time, I guess my nerd radar was off because I never picked it up until now. So when Ernest Cline, the screenwriter of the funny yet flawed Fanboys, showed up a couple of weeks ago for his second appearance of the NSFW Show podcast, I instantly put this on my to-read list. Add to the fact the contest that is going on based on the book to win a DeLorean and my nerd antenna was tuned in.
The only developed characters in the book are Wade Watts and his fellow “gunters” (egg hunters) Aech and Art3mis. Wade is our narrator, set up to be a brilliant and resourceful kid despite his poverty and social awkwardness. We follow him as he becomes more powerful and famous throughout OASIS and how this changes his relationships and his mental attitude. He is a fun character, but his hero journey has little in way of growth. Wade is a good guy and despite a few moments of grief or pain he pretty much stays a good guy.
Aech, Wade’s best friend, and Art3mis, Wade’s love interest, also get little in the way of growth as characters. The only growth they are given are in the way of information discovery as Wade finds out more about their real lives behind their OASIS avatars. I can blame most of the lack of character conflict in this novel on the avatar structure which sets up pretty good social commentary on how people hide behind anonymity online but little else. Also, some parts of the novel are rushed with almost montage-like scenes (which may fit the 80s themes) where we are told “the characters really like each other because of x, y, and z activities and likes they share.” Not a bad thing to do in an a book heavy on its action and adventure aspects, but I would have liked some quiet character moments.
I burned through this book in one night and two lunch hours. As a treasure hunt type of novel, when the action revs up, you find yourself turning the pages faster and faster to see what happens next, then going back to see what pop culture references you missed. And that is what makes half this book fun, the references. If you were a child of the 80s that had movies, TV and video games as your primary child rearing devices, this book should hit every chord in your brain bringing back memories on nearly every page. If you don’t know a lot about that kind of stuff... well, the story is enjoyable, just get ready to skip a lot of sections describing in detail various video game scenarios and tricks. A solid book that leans heavily on nostalgia, but still makes you wonder what is going to happen next.
As far as I can tell, this book has not been banned or challenged in the year it has been published. However, like the video games it references, expect to see this one crop up from time to time with allegations of crude language or adult themes. And it does, just like the movies in the 80s did that showed kids screaming and kicking Wolfman in the nards (10 points if you get that). You may be tempted to slip this into that really cool 11-year-old’s hands like my cousin did with his used copies of Stephen King, but be warned that this book about people playing a video game contains murder, violence, language, and references to Zork that may frustrate even the coolest of modern kids and terrify the adults in charge of them.