Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars ★★☆☆☆
Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One begins in the year 2044 in Oklahoma with our main character, Wade Watts. It’s a year when the world is finally crippled by everything that we fear will happen in the future – climate change, overpopulation, economic stagnation, and adverse technological expansion. The only escape from these horrors is a virtual reality called OASIS. Imagine an impossibly hyper-realistic version of an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) where characters slip into and out of their problems with a push of a button, and that’s the OASIS.
Watts’ mission from the very start of the novel is to find a virtual Easter egg hidden deep within the worlds of OASIS by the creator himself, the deceased James Halliday. The first person to discover it will inherit Halliday’s multi-billion enterprise, including complete control over the OASIS.
Halliday’s childhood love for the ‘80s results in a generational throwback, as egg hunters (‘Gunters’ for short) make it their life’s mission to live, breath, and think ‘80s in order to solve the puzzles relating to the whereabouts of the egg.
In truth, the conceptual makeup of this future world isn’t exactly new. The core issues of this novel have already been discussed many times in other popular YA novels, and even with a new concept, it’s difficult to create a dystopian world without seeming passé. So, what exactly is Cline bringing to the genre that’s new?
As nerdy as it sounds, it’s probably the use of ‘80s trivia that raises it above the pool of hundreds of other similarly formulated teen books. Although intimidating and at a certain point, a little excessive, the pop-culture references do arguably enhance the overall theme of the book from an allegorical point of view. The ‘80s was a decade when all the dark predictions, like climate change and technological codependence, rose to mainstream awareness. It was also the time when technology, as we know it today, was in its infancy stage. The whole vintage technology obsession, in all its pervasive geek glory, admittedly makes sense in the context of this novel.
However, a large part of what could have been explored at a deeper and darker level was touched upon in a disappointingly superficial light. While Cline was too busy describing how awesome everything is in the OASIS in Watt’s quippy 18-year-old voice, the true depravity of the state of the world fails to ring true. Okay, so Watts mentions being poor and hungry a couple of times in the beginning of the book, but what about the actual disturbing stuff? What’s going on in with the rest of the world? Who’s doing all the dirty work if everyone in North America is just supposedly vegging out with their virtual reality headset on for most the day?
These questions are never answered. Let alone really mentioned at all. And it makes the biggest question of them all, glaringly obvious. How’s a kid who’s so obviously invested in the temptations of the OASIS that he’s made it his life’s mission to obtain Halliday’s egg going to call the shots in the end when he finally gets it?
But for all its lacking in the thought-provoking category, the book makes it up in its addictive quality and kick-ass plot sequences. There’s always another quest to go on, another puzzle to solve, another bad guy to beat. The reader just doesn’t have the time to get bored, let alone even put the book down. It’s no wonder why Ready Player One has amassed so many fans, and that there’s currently a movie deal on the table with Steven Spielberg—a film icon of the ‘80s and director of many of the movies referenced in the book—signed on to direct. All the elements of a literary success are here. It’s just a matter of time before we find out whether or not more people will be hopping on this bandwagon.
*Update: The movie was initially scheduled to be released this year on 15 December 2017 but has been pushed back to 30 March 2018 to avoid competition with the upcoming Star Wars movie.