Ready Player One – A review

Ready Player One is a novel by Ernest Cline.  It is listed as one of the best books of the year for sci-fi/fantasy by Amazon.  I t is the sixth book on that list that I’ve read and it is a compulsive read.  Quick and a page turner.  I started it on Thursday and finished it on Friday.

But I can’t say that I liked it.

Ready Player One is a treasure hunt story like Davinci’s Code.  Wade spends all his time in the virtual reality simulation called OASIS.  Here he hunts for a prize that will win him billions of dollars.  The developer of OASIS has hidden a prize within the simulation and the first person to find it inherits his whole empire.  Opposed to Wade (online alias Parzival) is the evil corporation IOI.

The treasure hunt is interesting and it is based on a thorough knowledge of geek trivia from the 80s so I was able to play along with the characters in the book.

My issues with the book are numrous.  But the biggest is that for a sci-fi book it is entirely focused on the past.  Wade and his cohort live in the 2040s, but exist in a virtual reality that worships the 1980s.  There is little to no futurism in the book – it is set in a dreary future of poverty and environmental collapse where people retreat into their virtual reality.  Little time is spent in the real world exploring its causes and effects, but 95% of the novel is set within the game.

The game itself isn’t a novel concept.  Part Tron and part WoW it seems to ignore more modern constructs like social networking, wireless communications and tablets.  And they spend their time in the virtual reality playing even older games like Pac Man, Galaga and Joust.  They listen to 80s music like Oingo Boingo and watch 80s movies and television.  Seemingly there has been little history that occurs between the 80s and the setting of this book – at least none that is shown in the novel.  The exception is one reference to Wil Wheaton and Cory Doctorow as paragons of geek culture that came off as more pandering than clever.

As a treasure hunt this book works fine.  As a piece of science fiction it fails for me.  Perhaps its position as the best book of 2011 on the Amazon list gave me false expectation.

If you want to try a book on that list I’d recommend Leviathan Wakes.  (Several of my favorite authors like China Mielville, George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss are also on the list – there is lots there to like.)

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