Ernest Cline – Ready Player One
Read By: Wil Wheaton
Length: 15h 39m (384 pages)
Genre: Science Fiction
Started: 01 May 2014
Finished: 28 May 2014
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? Recommended by a friend.
Spending all your time
playing video games might
finally pay off!
Summary: Wade Watts is a high-school kid who spends all his time on the internet… or more accurately, in the internet. By 2044, the dwindling supply of natural resources means that everyday life for most people is pretty crappy, and so almost everyone takes refuge inside the OASIS, a virtual reality open-source platform that allows users to interact via avatars, attend school, play games, or visit recreations of their favorite worlds. The OASIS was originally designed by James Halliday, a brilliant but reclusive tech genius who, upon his death, announced he had hidden a series of secret “Easter eggs” somewhere within the OASIS, and that the first person to find all of them would win Halliday’s fortune and control of his company. When Wade heard about the contest, he immediately devoted himself to solving Halliday’s puzzles, becoming a dedicated “gunter” (egg-hunter). Halliday had a passion for all things 1980s, so Wade has been obsessively playing early arcade games, watching 80s movies, listening to 80s music, etc., for the past five years. In all that time, the scoreboard has remained blank – no one has been able figure out Halliday’s first clue, not even the “sixers”, minions of a corporation that’s trying to seize control of the OASIS by any means necessary. But when Wade stumbles upon the first egg, he achieves immediate fame… and places himself in more danger than he realized, both in the virtual world and in the real one.
Review: After some initial misgivings, I wound up really, really enjoying this book. It is maybe a little too on the nose to call a book that is all about losing yourself in a virtual reality world “immersive”, but this book was incredibly immersive; so much so that even weeks later I’m still thinking about the world of the OASIS and bits of the story.
I didn’t get into this book immediately. I actually put it down for a week or so after listening only to the first chapter, since the depiction of the post-energy-crisis world was simultaneously too depressing and too plausible to make for the kind of listening experience that I wanted at the time. And even when I picked the book back up, it was pretty slow going for a while; there’s a lot of infodumping up front about how the OASIS works and what its rules are and who Halliday was and his whole biography and what the rules of the game are and the history of the gunters and the clans and the sixers and all of the worldbuilding all the time. Stuff doesn’t really start to happen (i.e. Wade doesn’t start to figure out the clues) until about Chapter 7 or so, so that’s a huge initial investment of time and mental space before you start getting any payoff.
But the good news is that once all the worldbuilding is done and the plot starts moving, it keeps moving, and it’s a really engrossing story. I was a little worried that I wasn’t going to get a lot of the references, since I have never played any MMORPGs or World of WarCraft or SecondLife or anything like that, nor am I particularly into video games in general… nor do I have much personal experience with early 80s pop culture. But it turned out that either I knew enough about those things to follow along, or Cline does a really good job of explaining them, because even though I hadn’t seen a lot of the movies he references, or played a lot of the games (I did love me some PacMan, though), I still got really into Wade’s search for the egg through the virtual versions of the 1980s. There are a few things where I think my lack of knowledge tripped me up a little – for example, if the OASIS is open-source, why does it cost money to build/buy things inside of it? – but in the grand scheme of things, they were pretty minor.
The audiobook production is really good as well. Wil Wheaton is a good narrator, well-matched to Wade’s voice, and since he (and Cory Doctorow) are referenced in the book as being watchdogs of the future internet, that gave me a bit of a kick to hear him, as Wade, talk about himself. Overall, this book is fun, incredibly imaginative, and has some interesting (if not arrestingly novel) things to say about what happens to culture as it moves more and more into the digital virtual sphere. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Definitely highly recommended for gamers and other varieties of nerds, particularly those in their 30s & 40s who grew up in the 1980s… or others who have a fondness for arcades, classic D&D, and nerd culture.
First Line: Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest.
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