Fridays are for Fiction: Ready Player One

Last week I was on vacation, and it was a banner week for my relationship with the Palmyra branch of the Harrison County Public Library. It’s walking distance from my house, so I should probably drop in more often even when I’m not on vacation. At any rate, I not only scored a copy of Shadow of Night, the sequel to Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches (which I read last year), but also Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

I read Ready Player One first, because it didn’t take me long to realize I was going to knock that one out really fast, and I wanted to share it with Chris. Ernest Cline was in one of the panels I attended at FandomFest 2012 a couple of weeks ago, and a couple of readers had copies of the book for him to autograph.

I would recommend Ready Player One to you if:

  • You’re a fan of dystopian science fiction a la Logan’s Run, The Hunger Games
  • You’re a child of the 80s who still misses his/her Saturday morning cartoon fix
  • You’re obsessed with 80s pop culture for some other reason
  • You love classic video games, D&D, and nerd culture in general
Ready Player One may not be for you if:
  • You have a low tolerance for vulgarity or sexual references
  • You dislike juvenile humor/behavior (the main character is an 18 year old boy)
  • You dislike dystopian fiction, 80s pop culture, or video gaming
The book jacket rundown: The energy crisis and widespread economic collapse has made life pretty miserable in 2044. If you get behind on your credit card bill, your creditors break down your door and literally enslave you, tagging you like wildlife and locking you in a coffin-like “habitation” after working 12 hour days. People deliberately get “indentured” because at least they’ll avoid starving or freezing to death. Trailer parks have evolved into “stacks,” with RVs and mobile homes piled precariously on top of each other. Three families to a single-wide is considered “plenty of room for everybody.”
Wade Watts (alliteratively named because his deceased teen dad was a comic book fan), along with most of the people on earth, spends as much time as possible in the OASIS, an immersive virtual reality. OASIS’ creator, a Steve Jobs-like reclusive genius, left his fortune and ownership of the OASIS to whomever can first find an “Easter egg” hidden behind a series of puzzles within the game. The clues are in an Almanac that consists mostly of notes about the creator’s obsession with the pop culture of the 1980s. After five years, almost everyone has given up on finding the Easter egg. Against all odds, Wade manages to discover and beat the first puzzle. Unfortunately, given the stakes, people are more than willing to kill him to keep him from getting the prize.

My take:  This book is basically a guy’s version of The Hunger Games, with nerd-fu replacing mad archery skillz, no tiresome love triangle, and a self-contained, single volume story.

  • Dystopian future where everyone is starving and oppressed? Check.
  • Scrappy main character struggling to survive on the wrong side of the socioeconomic spectrum, with a uniquely useful skill set? Check.
  • A world watching in rapt fascination as the underdog  triumphs? Check.
  • Nail-biting suspense as the evil Powers-That-Be attempt to kill him/her? Check.
  • Romantic subplot complicated by the main character’s tendency to use isolation as a major coping skill? Check.

There’s also a constant stream of sly references and in-jokes based in nerd culture and 80s pop culture. You’ll either love that, or hate it, and you know in advance which camp you probably fall in. I fell in the “love it” camp.

It’s probably also worth noting that Wade is an atheist, and displays a typical teenage-know-it-all condescension towards anyone who isn’t.  It’s a worldview that makes sense in context, given the setting and how his character relates to others in general, but some people of faith might find those passages irritating. That said, the one Christian character in the book is portrayed as unambiguously kind and generous, and the mentions of faith/worldview are pretty brief. It’s not a main focus of the book by any stretch.

I really enjoyed Ready Player One. It’s well-written, with a tight plot, bouncy dialogue and a mostly-likable cast of characters, but I’m dead center in the target audience for this book. YMMV, but I think I’ve given you enough information that you’ll know whether it’s a good fit for you personally.


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    Oh, I completely dug this book. But I am probably more in the center of that target than you are…

    1. Kat

      Oh, don’t get me wrong; I totally dug the book. I just try to warn off people who straight up aren’t the target audience.


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