The smash hit science fiction debut from Cline in 2011, Ready Player One has been written about and reviewed many times since. What more can we say here at SFBook?
Cline’s story is a first person narrative that describes a new virtual utopia woven out of eighties culture. The real world socio-economic gap has widened drastically, leaving most of society living poor and compensated only by their virtual lives in the OASIS network. James Donovan Halliday of OASIS is a latter day Kevin Flynn and Willy Wonka rolled into one.
The first thing that grabs you is the weight of eighties nostalgia woven into the story. If you have no knowledge of pop culture, roleplaying and computer games of this decade, then this may leave you cold, but there is something for everyone who played anything during the Reagan and Thatcher years.
The concept is clever and appealing, the plain tone engaging and nerdy. Wade, our main character is both identifiable and pitiable for the life he is forced and obsessed to lead, questing for the Easter egg left in Halliday’s vast virtual universe. The balance towards tell and not show, means the story relies on your nostalgic interest and the depth of cultural reference does make the read slow going at times, as our hero feels the need to describe his latest investigative interest, but there’s a charm here that carries it.
This is a quest narrative, divided into three parts by the elements of the challenge, but also playing the standard narrative structural cards. Act 2 is suffers a little bit under the weight of exposition and Wade’s apathy when he achieves homeostasis in real life, but gradually the setbacks rekindle his fire to solve Halliday’s puzzles. The barnstorming finale of the third act is pure theatre and intentionally so. You know some of these tricks have been played on you many times, but when mixed up with all your childhood memories, you can’t help but fall for them all over again.
Occasionally the tone is a little mixed. Wade’s family tragedy is a shocking moment in the text, as is the circumstance of his everyday life, but these are quickly wiped away by the reward and demand of Halliday’s puzzle. Similarly some of the solutions to the real world dilemmas present themselves a little too easily and cause us to question their convenience.
Ernest Cline describes himself as a screenwriter and you can certainly see Ready Player One as a big screen or small screen adaptation. The images of nostalgia cry out for a return to our cinemas and televisions and much of the dystopian real world setting would benefit from a vivid visual portrayal. However, the franchise costs and copyrights of many of these cultural icons may be too complicated to resurrect. Either way, we have a fine book that drags you along to its end and delivers what it set out for you, right at the start.
Written on 5th November 2015 by Allen Stroud.
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