Earnest Cline, you goddamn genius!
Ready Player One is a sci-fi novel set in a dystopian future USA as well as an entire, somewhat utopian, virtual universe. I have heard about this book through this year’s Comic Con trailer for its movie adaptation. I had, however, not watched the trailer, read any spoilers, taken a peek at the synopsis or even read the text on the back of my now treasured copy of the novel. I just started with chapter one, page one, line one. And it was the best decision I could have made. Now, I’m not here to tell you how to live your life and how you should approach this book or upcoming movie but if you can hold off on reading this review until you’ve experienced the book yourself, you’d be doing yourself a mighty favor – unless you already have, in which case, congrats! You’re already a superior human being.
Spoilers for the entire book!!
As soon as I opened the first page I was drawn into the story with no effort whatsoever. Instantaneously, Wade (or Parzival), the story’s protagonist, became a likable and largely reliable narrator taking me on a journey through his bleak and depressing life in the ‘real’ world as well as the vibrant, unbelievably imaginative universe of the OASIS. If you have ever played Second Life, the OASIS is similar to that but oh-so much better. In the novel it becomes a second, alternate and, in a way, no less real version of reality for the majority of the global population.
I can’t possibly express what an amazingly written character Wade is but you can’t outright pinpoint it at first as you could with so many YA characters. Usually you have the protagonist who is brave and smart and good-looking and the reader is reminded of those qualities at every turn. With RP1 it’s different. Cline is much more subtle in bringing out the personality and traits of his characters. Wade is a shy, introverted dork that has trouble building relationships in the real world but manages to be flirty and sarcastic in the OASIS. He is also incredibly generous and very very brave – to the point of recklessness, almost. And dear lord, is he smart. Granted, most of his discoveries related to the contest happen out of sheer luck but he would not have been able to get as far as he did if he didn’t have wit and also foresight to such an extent. But he is not without his flaws, either. Does he turn into a petty little shithead when the contest puts excessive pressure on him? Yup. Does he refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer in his quest for love and, therefore, pretty much violates another person’s boundaries? That’s another HARD yup. Does he have moments where he prioritizes his own agenda over team decisions? Check that box as well. But all those flaws make him more realistic and I’m mostly glad they were included.
The creator of this virtual world, James Halliday, was an eccentric genius. I say “was” because as Wade explains in the beginning, Halliday passed away leaving behind a fortune and no heir. Before his death, he implemented three trials in the extensive OASIS universe that lead to an Easter egg the discoverer of which will inherit not only multiple billions of dollars but also become the most powerful person in the virtual reality – indestructible, immortal, practically a god. And thus, the worlds biggest and most high-stakes scavenger hunt ensues.
For five long years, no development was made in the contest until one day, purely by chance, Parzival discovered the Copper Key that leads to the Copper Gate, giving him the chance to clear the first trial. Finding all three keys, acquiring them and clearing the gates involves 80s pop-culture (Hallidays favorite decade & tied to his childhood memories) in some form or another. Be that movies, arcade games or even something as obscure as a toy in a long since discontinued cereal box. Ready Player One is a glorious combination of 80s culture and nerd culture with some serious philosophical questions thrown in (more on that later) so OF COURSE I am disgustingly in love with it!
Gorgeous artwork by jdelgado on deviantart.com
After Parzival manages to win the first trial – thus being awarded with a clue to the Jade Key – his name appears on a globally accessible public scoreboard, skyrocketing him to fame the very second. He is closely followed by Art3mis (cyber blogger, high-level warrior/mage and Wade’s love interest), Aech (Wade’s best friend) and the two Japanese gunters (short for egg-hunters) Daito and Shoto. These avatars become known as High Five and are closely followed by ‘the big bad’. A corporation called Innovative Online Industries, IOI for short, is planning to win the contest and thus taking over the OASIS with the intention of charging users worldwide for access (contrary to the current system of having to pay 25 cents for lifetime access). Corporate greed still in full swing in 2045, apparently.
Naturally, every non-IOI affiliated user is rooting for the High Five to beat the company in the hunt for Halliday’s egg. The only problem is that IOI is literally (well, not literally) the devil. They hack the OASIS equipment to create several avatars for each person – through iris scans with a VR headset this is impossible for average users – and build virtual barriers around the key and gate hiding spots, rendering them unattainable for any gunters coming after them. They even go as far as to attempt and actually go through with murder in the ‘real’ world, Wade almost being one of the victims.
Luckily, he escapes unscathed and with the substantial wealth he is afforded through brand deals as the world’s #1 gunter he starts a new life that solely revolves around the egg hunt. Well, there is also a minor storyline about Parzival and Art3mis but that’s completely insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Soon, Art3mis is able to clear the second gate, Aech and Parzival following shortly after. Tensions are running high now since the contest is likely almost over and IOI is only a few steps behind them at every turn. Until they actually surpass the High Five. As luck would have it, the corporation is unable to enter the Crystal gate, giving Wade time to devise the risky and borderline suicidal plan to infiltrate IOI in the ‘real’ world, hacking into their servers and creating a series of events that will
a) allow non-IOI gunters to enter the area where the third gate is and
b) let him escape from the corporation’s HQ alive.
Color me impressed by Wade’s level of sneakiness and intelligence! Up until that point I thought he had an edge over other gunters not because he’s particularly smart (not that he is stupid, either) but because he was one of the most knowledgeable participants in the contest. Much like the distinction between talent and hard work, the difference between intelligence and knowledge and which of the two will get you farther in life (hint: it’s hard work and knowledge) is what I found to be one of the central themes throughout the novel.
A virtual battle of epic proportions between IOI and basically the rest of the world ensues and results in Parzival, Art3mis and Aech reaching the Crystal gate only to be ruthlessly destroyed by a murderous blast emitted by an IOI-owned artifact that would kill every avatar in its vicinity.
But. BUT! Since Wade is the luckiest bastard on the planet, he had previously acquired an extra life giving him the chance to continue with the last trial and in the end he does win and becomes the heir to Halliday’s not-so-metaphorical throne (splitting the wealth equally between himself and the three remaining friends of the former High Five). He also gets the girl in the end, just in case you were wondering. GO WADE!
There were too many instances to count during this book where I was on the edge of my seat, wondering, hoping that things will work out. The suspense was real! Like when he played the longest ever game of Pac-Man or when he escaped from the IOI head quarters. Yes, the novel is extremely heavy on the exposition. But I actually appreciated that very much since Cline was able to build not only a dysopian future world in reality but also an entire universe of several different, unique, ridiculously creative worlds within virtual reality. Through the extensive explanations of the contest, descriptions of Parzival’s and Wade’s surroundings, background information on 80s gaming references and much more, he was able to evade many plot holes and logic flaws and created environments in my mind that were as detailed as if I were there myself.
Now, I won’t claim that Cline had any intention of writing philosophical questions about the concept of reality in his work; maybe he just wanted to write a fun, exciting story – in which he certainly succeeded. But I, personally, felt myself musing about whether the ‘real’ world was any more or less real than virtual reality. Why is it more real to live in a bleak and dreary existence with little chance of escape than to explore your own self modeled after what you feel best expresses a ‘you’ without the boundaries and limitations of earthly possibilities? Why should a relationship be more real simply because the other person is in physically tangible proximity if thoughts, experiences, opinions and stories can be shared either way?
Listen. I’m the first to admit that technology completely overtaking my life is the number one most terrifying thing I can think of. But the whole virtual reality aspect, at least the way in which this novel described it? I have to admit, I do see a lot of benefits to it.
The moment I put down the book I immediately hopped on to YouTube and watched the trailer and I gotta say, I am not disappointed. I’m curious to see how far they are going to take it with the CGI and how they change the main plot (Wade apparently being older aka not in school when the film starts, which means a different approach to finding the Copper Key). Judging by the trailer, Tye Sheridan fits perfectly for the role of Wade and Simon Pegg as our main character’s biggest supporter? Sign me tf up!
The movie will be released on March 30th, 2018. But for now you can watch New Rockstars’s incredibly detailed analysis of the trailer:
Overall, I can only tell you: READ THIS BOOK!!! The writing is wonderful, the characters are delightful, the story is exciting and you might find yourself questioning your own approach to reality in the process of reading. Unfortunately, I’ll deduct points because, as far (as I recall) it barely passes the Bechdel test; race and gender, when presented as potential issues, are dealt with less than gracefully and Wade has no clue how to respect another person’s boundaries (which doesn’t have any negative consequences for him in the end). All that equals out to a neat