Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If Ready Player One were a lasagna, it would be a little bit of meat, a thin layer of noodles, and a lot of cheese. Of course, some people really like cheesy lasagna, and some people haven’t eaten lasagna in a really long time and don’t remember what it’s supposed to be like so they like the first one they try. And that’s okay.
But that doesn’t mean this sci-fi lasagna is “world’s best.”
Anyway, Ready Player One has a clever concept: people in a future in which all the world is enthralled by an immersive alternate reality experience are challenged to complete a virtual-reality 1980’s-themed quest to get a lot of money. One kid with not much going for him discovers the first major clue–and learns about friendship and the meaning of life while tackling the quest.
It sounds kinda like a Lifetime movie. And really, that’s not that far off. Ready Player One’s biggest problem is being in love with references, references to the 1980s (in the U.S.), pop culture, D&D, and most of all, video games. So many references that it sometimes seems like the plot has been redirected just to fit in one more. It’s kinda like that guy from the office who just can’t let the joke alone already–everyone just finds a reason to get lunch somewhere else when he’s around.
I was really excited about this book. It was a sci-fi dystopia! There were video games! It was a best seller! But it turns out it’s mostly a fan-fiction combo of Tron and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There are lots of good ideas, but they’re underdeveloped (in favor of more references–gag), and it seems like we spend most of our time in the virtual reality of Oasis not because that’s where the story leads us but because author Ernest Cline didn’t think through all of what his futuristic world looks like. It’s also frustrating that the audience is left out of solving most of the puzzles because of information that is just never revealed to the reader (I mean, how do we know that there is a museum on a planet called Archaid?) and yet the major plot points might as well be written in neon for how obvious they are and how much they telegraph. Especially frustrating is the quite literal deux ex machina just when the protagonist gets in a tight spot. I mean, come on.
As a fan of science fiction dystopias, I was also frustrated that Cline didn’t quite think through the ramifications of his future. I mean, seriously, when the whole world is spending most of their time, in some form or another, in a virtual reality, why on earth would a guy who does that very thing be derided as a basement-dweller who never left his mom’s house? (Answer: he wouldn’t! That’s projecting current stereotypes into an imaginary 50-years in the future. The culture would have changed!) And why would anything in a virtual reality require as de rigour real-time travel? Spawn points are already a thing in our video games. Ain’t got time for that!
If you know what you’re getting—a whole lot of clever/cutesy references to the 1980s wrapped in a light dusting of futurism—Ready Player One is a fun read. Just make sure you know what kind of cheese you like on your pasta.

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