Random Review: Ready Player One

I meant to write a proper review of this, more fitting to the blog, but it’s been so long that the feeling is gone and you’ll all have to settle for what I wrote on Goodreads.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, 372 Pages

The basic plot is this: a Steve Jobs-type computer game-design guru died and left a puzzle for the world. Whoever solves it inherits his gaming empire, and control of the world-wide online environment known as the OASIS. The clues to solve the puzzle require a knowledge of everything James Halliday ever liked during his life: a whole bunch of films, television shows, games, and bands that were popular during the eighties. Impoverished, isolated, obsessed geek Wade cracks the first clue and the race is on.

This book was truly dreadful, the only reason my husband and I finished was because I read it aloud on a long car trip and we took to mocking it with added lines and created a drinking game from its repetition of words and phrases like “classic”, “vintage”, and “one of Halliday’s favorites”. Had we actually been drinking rather than miming, we would have been dead within two chapters. The basic plot is cribbed off of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, endless references to 80’s pop cultural artifacts are substituted for creativity, and the main character is utterly unlikable. There were a few points where the author might have taken the literary road slightly less traveled, but he plays it straight (and cliched) every time.

I am loathe to skip anything when reading, but after the third straight chapter of near-endless infodump my husband insisted we jump forward to the point where something actually happens. Dialogue reads like a thirteen-year-old boy’s IM conversation, and as an MMO player I would certainly know.

I picked this book up because I read to my husband on long trips, and having finished our last series we were looking for something new. This seemed perfect: gamer geekdom, D&D, epic quests, 80’s stuff…we love all of those things and are deeply immersed in that culture.

Sadly, it turned out to be an overhyped litany of loosely-related 80’s creative properties linked by a threadbare plot and the occasional political/environmentalist diatribe. Spend a little more time in the real world Cline, and less time patting yourself on the back for being smarter/more informed than everyone else.

I suppose I do have more to add:

This book disappointed me on a level most don’t achieve because I so wanted it to be a good, or at least fun and frothy, read. It is apparent from the author’s every sentence how much he looks down on other people, and his main character is a rather obvious author-proxy. He goes into mind-numbing detail explaining each of the bits of 80’s ephemera he inserts into the narrative. For example: he explains, at length, the premise of Family Ties. It’s insulting. I read the book because I was familiar with almost all of the things he fervently referenced. If I weren’t, I would still be perfectly capable of using Wikipedia/Google. It absolutely cripples the narrative.

He has serious continuity and logic issues: his main character is in his late teens and yet there are several movies and years-long TV series that he claims to have viewed literally hundreds of times each. I believe that maybe mid-thirties Cline has lived long enough for this to be true, but teenaged Wade? Who is required to be in school six hours a day? Not buying it. Wade is also a bit of a sociopath, many people die (people he has personal relationships with) because of him and  he displays no emotion other than fear for himself. Wade is rude, cocky, dishonest, and socially stunted. He seems to have no concept of the reactions he is likely to provoke in others when he treats them callously, or dismisses them out of hand. His attempts at flirting and romance are unintentionally hilarious, not to mention presented via pages and pages of IM conversation.

The level of pandering to geekdom is also nausea-inducing. In this novel, Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher of Star Trek: The Next Generation and current host of TableTop) is president of the OASIS and Cory Doctorow (BoingBoing) is his VP. Wheaton also narrates the audiobook, natch. There is a Wozniak-insertion to match the Jobs-insertion. Two characters of foreign (non-U.S.-American) nationality are rendered in downright offensive stereotypes. In the OASIS, Wade drives a DeLorean with a Gostbusters decal on the side. It’s embarrassing.

This might make for an entertaining film, where it is not possible to bore the audience to tears with too much infodump (unless someone opts for a thirty-minute Star Wars-style exposition opener). As a book, it’s downright painful. It’s clear that Cline is a Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master at heart, holding his players captive while he rambles on in love with his (very limited) storytelling ability. Forgive me, because I am about to get gross: this is literary masturbation. Gamer geeks like Cline are a dime a dozen. Just because people have stopped listening, doesn’t mean you are smarter. It just means you are boring.

Chair Rating:

Torture device.

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6 responses to “Random Review: Ready Player One

  1. This book is something I might have picked up from the reading the description of the story (80’s games, geeks, Steve Jobs, is all stuff that I like to read about!) You’ve saved me the aggravation of 372 pages of disappointment.
    Keep up the good work here at Ink. 🙂

  2. I keep going around and around in my head on what’s so bad about just throwing everything you love into a blender and making a book from the result. I suppose the only answer is that it’s all in the execution.

  3. Pingback: Random Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan | Ink

  4. Pingback: Ready Player One – Pedantic, Pandering, Horseshit | Supercenter Nation

  5. Pingback: Random Review: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom | INK

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