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Book Review: Ready Player One
Geek culture seems to becoming into a new place. After years of amassing its own subculture and history, geeks are bringing their love of their hobbies to the forfront of entertainment. As told a love story and coming of age tale through gaming and music, now comes Ready Player One, written by Ernest Cline as the truest love letter to the 80s, retro video games and geekdom. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
The book begins with a quick description of OASIS, the greatest thing to happen to the internet and gamers since the beginning of time. A virtual reality of the highest order, this is Ultima Online and World of Warcraft brought to the infinite. A fully customizable world where anyone can be anyone, it's a geek's dream come true. Planets are made to be exact replicas of Dungeons and Dragons modules, Joss Whedon shows and old video games.
In this great system is a contest. The creator of OASIS left his entire, billion dollar fortune plus control of the rights to the game, to whoever found his hidden Easter Egg. To find the egg, players must work through clues and challenges based off of popular and unpopular 80s pop culture; from Zork to Wargames, from Joust to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The story follows gamer and social outcast Wade Watts, known in came as Parzival. He's a gunter, someone who's dedicated his young life to winning the contest. He's also saturated in 80's history and drops information about unknown games as often as he breathes.
When Parzival is the first to find the beginning clue to the contest, his world erupts and becomes both more exciting and dangerous. He now faces threats both in-game and in real life. Not only that, but now he's forming a strong relationship with the girl of his dreams, the dedicated geek known as Art3mis. Along with her and his best friend Aech, Parzival is now at the forfront of solving the game's contest.
The book shines the brightest in the beginning, when the desription of the game and rules wash over the reader like a dream come true. You love the book immediately because you want to live there. It's the best world there could be, only it's not real. As Parzival lives his boring life, you know how easy it is to escape into a game and forget your life's problems. When he solves the first riddle and begins exploring a replica of Dungeons and Dragons, you want to be able to do the same thing.
I read this in two days. The first day I was in love with the book and ready to give it the highest praises only halfway through. The second day wasn't as fun, as the book seems to lose some of its steam near the second act. It's not that the book is ever bad, but the earlier excitment burns out as it goes along. It's always fun, but too much of a good thing can be a problem. The book is almost four hundred pages and while it never feels too long, the pacing could have been helped by some trimming. Parzival needs the room to grow, but even I can only handle so many refrences of Rush and Pacman.
But even with a bit of a slowdown, the book hits the gas at the end and finishes with a satisfying conclusion. In a way, the book itself follows the pattern of many 80s underdog movies. The villian, the evil IOI company, is like the Galatic Empire in power and scope. Our heroes our just kids with computers; how can they hope to defeat the powerful corporation looking to control OASIS?
This book is a refrence gold mine, filled with humor, adventure, action and some ingenious twists. The love story is a warm one and the bond between Parzival and his friend Aech is pure 80s goodness..
Not only that, but this is a cyberpunk novel I finally enjoyed. Like The Windup Girl, it's not as straightforward a cyber novel as Neuromancer, but its a punk book nonetheless. If this gets around enough, it could easily usher in a new genre of cyberpunk, one inspired by the days of Captain N: The Game Master.
If you've ever dreamed of owning your own Delorean, flying with the Firefly crew, becoming Ultraman or taking on a Lich King in a game of Joust, this book is for you. Fans of cyberpunk, science fiction and happiness will also enjoy this book. It's the perfect way to spend an afternoon or two, being reminded that play can take some serious moments.