“A cross between matrix and Time Bandits that makes Ernest Cline’s sci-fi debut a provocative read.”
Some argue that today we live on little more than borrowed time, as day by day we use up more of earth’s dwindling natural resources. Such a view brings with it a view of future years being ridden with poverty, pollution and social depression. It seems that in Ernest Clines novel “Ready Player One” that view is now a reality.
The novel is technically set in two places. The first is in a dystopian future not too far from our present day. Poverty and pollution is a rife on the planet, and those who manage to survive amongst the starvation and filth usually end up killed in one of the many wars or terrorist attacks. The second is a sprawling alternate virtual reality named “OASIS.” Accessed through the use of virtual headsets and computers, the OASIS is a magnificent utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live, play and fall in love on any of the tens of thousand planets. It comes as no surprise that most of humanity uses the OASIS as a means of solace from the dismal reality around them.
Amongst these two settings lies the novel’s main protagonist Wade Watts, a rather nerdy teenager living in the squalor amongst the slums of America. Everyday he jacks into the world of OASIS under the name “Parzival” and looses himself in the virtual adventure from dawn till dusk.
The opening of the book doesn’t dither in pleasantries, immediately opening with the death of the billionaire inventor of OASIS James Halliday. With no heir to inherit the massive billion-dollar empire, Halliday prior to his death, decided to conceal within the vast labyrinth of the OASIS an Easter egg. Soon after the televised announcement of his death, riddles created by Halliday were released to give players clues as to where the egg may be hidden. The first player to find the egg wins not only complete control of the OASIS, but also the entire of Halliday’s 240 billion dollar fortune. For years people have obsessively searched the OASIS, including Wade.
Not too far into the book, Wade deciphers the first riddle and discovers the first key needed to find the egg. This inadvertently makes him a worldwide sensation and suddenly he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors and corporations. They not only pose a threat to Wade in the OASIS, but also in the real world as they try to kill him before he discovers Halliday’s egg. The continuous transition between reality and fiction works well throughout the novel. It keeps you engaged by the fact that for Wade, the billion dollar contest presents a clear and present danger for him in real life as he gets ever closer to finding the egg.
As each riddle is deciphered it soon becomes apparent that Halliday’s love of the 80s has been the basis for each challenge in the contest. Any fan of classic video games, the 80s, and Monty Python flicks can’t help but smile at this point. As Wade approaches each challenge, the obstacles are littered with 80s references, brandishing its styles, music and great films of the era (such a the famous War Games film starring Matthew Broderick.) Targeting such an era plays to both the novels strengths and its weakness. If you are a fan of classic video games, and the 80s era, then this novel will serve as a superb blast from the past. However if you’re more of a reader that prefers to live in the new and now, then it is likely that you will struggle to connect with the story and its abundance of 80s references.
Along the way numerous characters are introduced in the OASIS such as Wade’s best friend “Aeich” who (like Wade) has become an obsessive hunter for Halliday’s egg. The book even goes as far as to give Wade a sci-fi VR love interest named “Art3mis.” Whether it be the brash banter between Aeich and Wade or virtual femme fetale of Art3mis, they add depth to the novel and serve as a soundboard for vital information pertaining to Halliday’s contest. Along with the friends accompanying Wade through the story, a villainous organisation known as IOI serve as the main antagonist. They systematically kill anyone who comes close to finding the egg. It isn’t before long that they turn their attention to Wade and his friends.
On the whole the novel is clearly written, well structured and builds to great intensity as you read your way to the concluding climax of the book. Along the way it poses interesting questions as to whether technology is really benefitting humanity, as well as presenting thought provoking ethical dilemmas throughout. However, given the interesting and complex nature of the story the actual style of writing is simple, perhaps too simple. Its style most certainly isn’t as abstract and complex as a Palahniuk novel. At times Cline leans a little too much into telling instead of showing. This issue is particularly prevalent when the novel delves into the real world away from the OASIS. It takes a very linear structure of “I did this, then I did this and then I did that.” This almost wordy listing of actions can in areas become exhaustive and dull when in reality it should be fast paced and engaging.
The book has some issues of show and tell and being a bit specialist with its 80s interest in places, however the originality and fantastic Matrix-esque sci-fi story makes it an entertaining novel for any budding geek or gamer.