Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Ready Player One (Novel, 2011)

Project 52: 5/52
"...Cline has written in Ready Player One a strong story..."

I'm a week late writing a review for Ernest Cline's debut novel, Ready Player One.  I say I'm late, because I finished reading it a week ago and am currently half way through Redshirts (John Scalzi) - but don't worry, I'll have something for that soon.  Back to the review - Ready Player One is, in a nutshell, about an immersive video game quest chock full of 80's references.  I guess I'd classify it as a Young Adult novel?  It's a strange one to classify, precisely because of the 80's pop culture references.

To be slightly more accurate with the book's synopsis, an eccentric billionaire leaves his entire fortune to the player who can successfully locate an "easter egg" within Oasis, a massively-multi-player-online video game the billionaire designed.  As the quote on the front of the book says, it's a little like Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

Obviously, the story is more complicated than that - it has to be.  What kind of stakes could be expected in a story that takes place in a video game?  "Oh no, the protagonist's avatar will die!"  Thankfully, this is where Cline excels: the story takes place in 2044, in a very plausible future where money is scarce and people are forced to live in RVs stacked one on top of another (seriously).

Think about all of the real-world problems we face today, and multiply them tenfold.  This creates a world where a contest to win billions of dollars - in a video game - becomes something certain people would most definitely kill for.  And that's how you effectively create stakes for a story set in a video game.

As for the 80's pop culture references, as prominent as they are, they manage to take a back seat to the story.  I realize how little sense that makes, considering how important those 80's references are to solving the clues that lead to the ultimate prize.  What I mean is that Cline could have easily come up with some other clues that didn't hinge on knowledge of the 1980's, and the story would stand up just fine.

And the story does hold up.  Cline has written in Ready Player One a strong story with characters who make choices that feel right for them.  In my book, that's what counts.  That a bunch of awesome 80's references were included as a gimmick?  That just makes it more awesome.

Some other random observations:
I was strongly reminded of Cory Doctorow's For the Win, which isn't surprising; the subject matter in both books revolve around online video games with real-world stakes.  However, I prefer Ready Player One.

I hope that the success of this book leads to more re-discoveries of some of the better aspects from 1980's pop culture.  I've already put War Games on my "to-watch" list - I've never seen it, so hopefully it's an enjoyable experience.

I noticed an IMDB page for Ready Player One.  While the story seems like it would translate well to the big screen (though I'm not 100% certain of that), I'm concerned about rights issues.  Specifically, I imagine in some cases it would be prohibitively expensive to license certain rights and the story might actually be compromised.  Well, I guess we'll see if anything actually comes from it.

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