READY PLAYER ONE | Ernest Cline
Kindle edition | YA | Sci-fi | Thriller | 386 pages
Released 18 August 2011
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines–puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win–and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. – GOODREADS
Ready Player One has been one of the most hyped movies lately. The book had been on my TBR list for quite a while and I decided to read it before seeing the movie.
The world has evolved into a society filled with even more inequality than we have now. Most people live a hard life in trailer stacks (a form of housing where trailers/containers are haphazardly stacked on top of each other – see book cover) and endure a world that’s challenging and unforgiving. Imagine growing up in that environment, but then imagine having an escape that you could retreat to whenever you feel the need.
The OASIS is that escape. It’s an incredible free virtual world where people (regardless of where or how they live) can be whatever they want and live exciting lives and explore incredible worlds. Just strap on a virtual headset and leave your troubles behind. This is how, Wade (Parzival), has grown up. He learned everything he knows online – he knows no different (Like my kids who have grown up with Apple keyboards, which are frustratingly different to the normal keyboards that I grew up with – they find standard keyboards alien!). And so there is the fundamental problem. Everyone is so poor and tormented by the real world that the escape from reality has become a natural daily obsession for most. The virtual world has overtaken the real world. No one wants reality – they just want virtuality.
Add to that a chance to become the sole owner and controller of the OASIS (worth $500b) and you have a recipe that drives the world’s virtual obsession to an incredible new level. The underlying story centers around hidden eggs within the virtual world that need to be found. The one who finds the final egg first becomes the winner of the OASIS. The creator’s intention to pass on his legacy to a deserving player is challenged when a company hellbent on total control and profit comes into the mix. It’s a recipe for conflict and challenge worthy of the most complicated online games.
I was engrossed in this book from the start. Hooked from the get-go. The settings are extreme and varied, changing from one page to the next but never becoming confused. The virtual world has the power to do that, so it makes sense when it does. One core fact that this book portrays so well is how easily we can be drawn into things that aren’t real. It shows us the extreme and of how best friends, connections, and relationships form even though players have never met in reality. It shows the power of the virtual world in masking the identity of players who have created a ‘life’ that is everything they want but don’t really have. It also explores the power of data and of how it can be used against us.
Although it’s extreme, I believe it’s a very real scenario. And as AI starts to explode in the years to come, it’s not an unimaginable outcome. We are already obsessed with our phones and online interaction is already overtaking face to face. It’s just a matter of time before we retreat further into our own virtual worlds. I hope we don’t lock ourselves away in our homes like they do in this book. I believe this story is a warning – one to remind us to stay grounded in the real world. But with all of the terrible things that hit the real headlines each day, it’s easy to see why we would want to retreat and hide from it all.
Another cool aspect of this story was the nostalgia. Pop culture from the 80s was a core component of a story with never-ending references to everything from songs to games to places to people. I loved this as it added so much detail to which readers could relate. I won’t go into detail but there is a section of the book that includes a Monty Python classic – I chuckled out loud as the coconuts clopped.
A lot of my reading is done on my commute to and from my day job in the city. The whole virtual reality thing took on another level as the movie was being heavily promoted around me while I read. Many times, as I stood reading the book on the train platform, the trailer for Ready Player One looped on the big screens around the station. It was moments like that where I felt like I was in the game, reading the story in a virtual background of the sounds, the music, and the vision of the story.
In short, it’s a feast of the author’s imagination that explores the world of virtual reality and all that comes with it. Due to it’s core content, this book is rich with settings that span time, space, games, movies, memories, and places. The huge mix of material has been put together so well. This is my best read of 2018 and I think it will be a hard one to top. Highly recommended.