Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Can we just take a moment to appreciate how CREATIVE the entire concept of this book is? I really should read more sci-fi.

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Can we just take a moment to appreciate how CREATIVE the entire concept of this book is? I really should read more sci-fi.

Genre: YA, sci-fi, dystopian, cyberpunk, adventure

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Favorite quote: “No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful.”

The year is 2044. The world is a mess, and humanity’s only solace is provided by the OASIS: an extensive virtual reality universe created by the eccentric billionaire James Halliday, a game-loving genius who, after his death, left his entire impressive inheritance to the first person to solve the cryptic riddles he left behind.

Halliday’s insanely large fortune is hidden somewhere in the OASIS, but no one has ever succeeded in finding it. Millions of “gunters” have been searching for years, trying everything to win the elusive game, but it seems that Halliday was a little too clever for his own good.

Until Wade Watts, an 18-year-old Halliday-obsessed loner living in a trailer-park in Oklahoma City, discovers the first key to the perplexing puzzle.

As the world reels in the wake of this new development, Wade finds himself in a harrowing race against the clock to find Halliday’s fortune before anyone else. But with every other gunter and an ~evil, corrupt, bloodthirsty corporation~ on his tail, this endeavor could be a little trickier- and a lot more dangerous- than Wade ever anticipated.

This book had a great concept that could have been executed better.

First of all, Wade was NOT a likable character. I don’t usually have a problem with unlikable MCs, but it was really hard to root for this guy. I found him cynical, depressing, and sleazy; he didn’t seem to care at all about anyone but himself and his crush. And he was really creepy about her. (The book also had several instances where it basically made fun of religious people from Wade’s perspective. It was nothing blatant and was partly there for Wade’s disgruntled cynic characterization, but it rubbed me the wrong way)

Wade’s general attitude just got on my nerves for most of the book, but it’s possible the whole writing style exacerbated this. I’ll get to that later in this review.

I’m still trying to determine whether Wade was even SUPPOSED to be likable, though. It’s possible Ernest Cline purposely painted him as the manifestation of this hopeless dystopian society. Or, of course, it’s also possible that Cline just wrote an annoying protagonist who tried and failed to be sympathetic.

The thing is, Wade was starting to grow on me for SOME of the book. He was smart, dedicated, and determined. But then he would act soooo… ugh I just didn’t like him.

Art3mis, the fellow gunter with whom Wade develops an unbelievably cheesy romance, served as a direct foil to Wade’s characterization. I did appreciate the way these characters were set up as opposites; while Wade turns to the OASIS to escape the darkness of reality, Art3mis is motivated by the possibility of doing good in the world.

But let’s discuss the backbone of this story: the OASIS.

The whole concept of the OASIS… amazing! I added a whole star to my rating because of it.

In Ready Player One, the OASIS is a virtual reality universe that you can access by logging into your anonymous account. There, you assume a fictional avatar persona, and can recreate yourself and your appearance however you want. All of your surroundings are simulated, and high-tech gear allows you to feel sensations in the virtual world.

The OASIS contains thousands upon thousands of different “planets” you can travel to, taken from countless TV shows, movies, and books. Always wanted to fly a TIE fighter? You can do it in the OASIS.

It’s essentially the Internet, but a fully-immersive virtual experience. And I read this at exactly the right time, what with EVERYTHING being virtual right now. I kind of wish I lived in this book; instead of Zoom, people mainly interact through virtual chatrooms, where your avatar materializes in a room with the people you wish to chat with.

Wade even goes to school in on a virtual planet. Distance learning. Virtual learning. But LITERALLY virtual reality learning. I’d take Wade’s school over Google Classroom any day!

But this brings me to the most interesting theme of this book: the whole exploration of virtual reality and it’s comparison to real-life experiences.

In Cline’s dystopian society, no one leaves their houses anymore. Because why would you venture out into the crumbling real world where everything you could imagine is right there at your virtual fingertips?

Cline uses this novel concept to raise the question of whether technology is a true replacement for real life.

Ready Player One‘s answer to this question is a resounding “no”.

It’s repeatedly stated that the “real world” has been neglected as a result of humanity’s enamored love of virtual reality. Instead of fixing the world’s problems, everyone instead prefers to escape them by living through a screen. Or, I guess, not a screen. A computer simulation. Same idea, though.

And it sounds a lot like us right now. Since March, I’ve been spending all day every day on the Internet, and it is not healthy. I’ve been using it to avoid responsibilities and procrastinate the things I’m actually supposed to be doing.

Ready Player One‘s main theme is that technology, specifically virtual reality, shouldn’t be treated as a replacement for real life. Or at least that’s what I read into it.

I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist.”

I was getting really excited towards the end of the book because I thought Cline was finally going to go there and end the book a certain way. Bring the dystopian philosophical lesson full-circle. Like I would have done if I were tasked with writing the ending to this book.

But nope. Instead the book ended with a terribly cheesy and synthetic dialogue scene with only a hint of what I had been hoping for.

Upon reading the last paragraph, I said aloud, “Please don’t end it THERE.” Then I turned the page: Acknowledgements. Ugh.

I also was not a fan of the writing style. The very first thing they teach you about creative writing- and I’m not even GOOD at creative writing- is to “show, don’t tell”. I’m not sure Ernest Cline ever heard this piece of advice.

Everything is written in an overtly matter-of-fact, almost robotic way. The epitome of telling instead of showing. “I did this, then I did this. I felt this because this. I said this. Then she said this.” There was no personality or inflection.

There were also SO many info-dumps. The exposition and the explanations of the dystopian universe and its workings were fascinating; I didn’t mind those.

But occasionally- no, every few pages- there would be some huge condescending info-dump about some random thing that I did not care about. Like the various details of Wade’s outfit. Or the entire plot of some obscure ’80s show along with its publication date, country of origin, popularity, and the entire life story of its creator. Lots of TMI moments, too.

Speaking of all the ’80s references, I told my dad he should read this book because it features all the stuff he’s made me watch: WarGames, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Back to the Future, Star Trek, Star Wars, Knight Rider, etc. But about 200 pages in, I was growing VERY tired of reading “’80s” or “1980s” every other word. It’s ’80s pop culture. We KNOW.

Cline also kept explaining obvious things that didn’t need any explaining, which unnecessarily lengthened the word count AND made me want to skim even more than I was already skimming.

Example: Wade goes by an alias in the OASIS, since he wants to keep his real identity secret. At some point, a character who was only supposed to know his fake name calls him “Wade.” And the book says:

“I froze. Had he just used my real name?”

Yeah, OBVIOUSLY.

There was also this weird thing where characters would spout out the main lesson or some extra info-dumping or some more repetitive information that we already knew, which drastically stunted the dialogue and made me cringe quite a lot.

All of these things together gave the writing the compounded effect of insulting my intelligence.

But even though I didn’t adore the writing or the characters, I genuinely think this book is worth reading if just for the concept.

Well this was a LONG review (1490 words!) and I didn’t even use that many quotes! I adhered to my August goal in writing this review right after finishing the book, which, I guess, explains my very opinionated mix of raving and ranting in this review.

Have you read Ready Player One? What did you think of it?

10 comments on “Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline”

  1. I read Ready Player One a couple of years ago because I happened to stumble across a copy in the library, and was actually very pleasantly surprised. I had previously avoided the book because I’d thought that I wasn’t super into 80s pop culture and wouldn’t like it, but then I was so engrossed! I don’t think Wade was meant to be likeable, either, but I still found myself rooting for him enough to care 😁 I do agree with you that the writing could have been better, though 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoy reading your review. I have also recently read this book, and I can totally reciprocate your disappointment when I turned the page to find Acknowledgements staring straight at my face. The ending of the movie has done a better job in bringing the lesson full-circle.

    Liked by 1 person

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