I’ve seen nothing but gushing reviews for Ernest Cline‘s geeked-out, 80’s nostalgia-heavy debut novel Ready Player One, a book set in 2044 and featuring a team of teenagers trying to beat a mega-corporation to winning the grand prize in a virtual reality “egg hunt.” Warner Bros bought the movie rights before the book even hit the shelves. As an 80’s child myself, and a casual fan of science fiction, I was eager to follow the buzz and give Ready Player One a shot.
Cline’s choice to set the book in 2044 was interesting, since it’s a future most of us can’t envision quite yet, but will likely be around to see. Connecting this fuzzy future to the very concrete past of the 80’s – a decade many readers of Ready Player One lived through – gave the book a unique feeling of suspension between past and future. And the “present” in this book is equally disorienting, since it’s primarily set in the global virtual reality world known as OASIS, where some users spend every waking moment (in this future, people go to school, work, shop, interact, and communicate almost entirely in the OASIS). The somewhat unusual relationships between past, present, and future in Ready Player One made it almost a dreamlike read for me, blurring lines between what was real and who was who.
Aside from the unconventional setting of time and place, though, I wasn’t particularly “wow”-ed by much in Ready Player One. It’s positively steeped in 80’s trivia, which was amusing at first, but felt gluttonous after a while. The plot itself – an “egg hunt” within the virtual world of OASIS that affords the winner vast riches and power – was interesting at some points, but just too thin at others. (Which I found surprising, since so many reviewers have called it “unique” and “wildly original.”) I also didn’t find any of the main characters – a ragtag collection of teenage “misfits,” each gifted in their own way with technology and gaming – particularly compelling, though they were likable enough. Ultimately, I found myself flipping through page after page at a few points in the book, just trying to find the next instance of action or development.
On the whole, Ready Player One was fairly entertaining. It will be interesting to see if it eventually makes it to the big screen, and what Hollywood will do with it. Especially since the message at the end of the book has so much to do with not getting caught up in the seeming or imagined, but with what’s real and true and right in front of us.
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