The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

James Halliday was the world’s greatest video game mogul. The pioneer of virtual reality software, OASIS, Halliday transformed the way the world lived their every day lives. People now spend the majority of their days logged into OASIS, traveling, working--even attending school.

When Halliday dies a multi-billionaire with no apparent heirs, he leaves behind a set of clues to a hidden artifact called Halliday’s Egg, somewhere inside OASIS. The Egg could be on any world, in any place, found by anyone. And the finder of the artifact will inherit Halliday’s fortune.

Wade Watts is an eighteen year old gamer living in the slums of modern America. Along with millions of others around the globe, he too has dreams of finding Halliday’s Egg. Armed with an insane amount of geek knowledge, and inherent tech savvy, Wade finds himself suddenly thrust into circumstances he never imagined when he stumbles across the first key to the egg. Now he’s up against monsters, traps, crazy gamers and domineering corporations in the biggest cyber race the world has ever seen.

Ernest Cline’s debut novel, Ready Player One reads like the lovechild of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and an MMORPG. It’s fast, fun, and full of geeky nuggets of unconventional goodness. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Ready Player One is the feel-good sci-fi book of the summer.

Wade’s is a casual, personable, relatable character. Far from perfect, but willing to change. It’s his eagerness and drive that really propels the novel in the first place, and we readers just have to follow along. Not that we mind much.

Plot-wise, Ready Player One is almost always made of pure awesome. At it’s core, it’s a genuinely epic quest through the heart of geekdom that will keep readers both engaged and playing along. There’s a brief lull in the middle of the book, yes. But come on people, I finished it in one sitting. There’s not much to slow you down.

But the magic of Ready Player One really lies in the author’s geek technique and mode of storytelling. Every time Wade is presented with a clue in Halliday’s hunt, readers will scramble to connect the dots right along with him. Sometimes they’ll be able to scrap together some semblance of an answer, and sometimes they’ll have to wait for Wade to figure it out first. But it doesn’t really matter either way. The magic of the book lies in the fact that readers feel involved.

Of course, none of this would’ve worked with Cline’s obvious love and affinity for geek culture (which is also apparent in his film, Fan Boys), and I applaud the author all the more for it. This isn’t to say that the less science-fiction inclined won’t appreciate the book, but those of you with geek cred will enjoy it all the more.

In the end, Ready Player One is a risky sort of novel. In a market currently dominated by dark or dystopian selections, Cline’s debut stands out as a quirky piece of feel-good fiction, and once the sci-fi community catches wind of it, it’s popularity will spread like wildfire.

By the end of the year, every geek with a bookshelf will be asking: “Are you ready, Player One?”

Ready Player One hits shelves this Tuesday. Make sure to run out and get it! NOW!

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